For three and a half quarters of basketball, it looked as if the Cleveland Cavaliers were on their way to repeat performance of Tuesday’s loss against the Indiana Pacers. In those three and a half quarters, the game played out largely the same: the Indiana Pacers struggled from the field, the Cavaliers kept it close and, at the start of the fourth, the Pacers started to pull away, looking to blow out their division rival for the second time in a week.
But then Dion Waiters, on his bobble head night, woke up and got hot at the right time, pulling the Cavaliers within two with 20.4 seconds on the game clock. At the very least, the Cavaliers would be in a position to tie and play their fourth straight overtime game at Quicken Loans Arena.
But after Waiters missed, the Cavaliers were gifted one last chance, as David West missed one of two free throws. However, in those final moments, Cavaliers forward Earl Clark stepped out of bounds, ending any comeback hopes for the Wine & Gold. With the fans filing out into the cold, the final buzzer sounded and the Cavaliers fell by a final score of 82-78.
C.J. Miles lead the Cavaliers with 21 points in possibly his best game of the season, while Waiters added 14 off the bench. Paul George lead the Pacers with 16 points.
“We did a great job of covering for one another,” coach Mike Brown said post game. “We showed grittiness and toughness and that’s a pretty good team in the other locker room, so you give them credit for getting the win, but I definitely liked the fight our guys showed tonight.”
The first quarter started off similarly to to the Cavaliers-Pacers matchup from earlier this week, with both teams struggling to get into a groove offensively. For the Wine & Gold, the only player who looked good early was C.J. Miles, who had eight points in the opening period. Tyler Zeller also looked solid, as at one point, he grabbed his own miss and put the ball in for two points over Roy Hibbert. Still, at the end of one the Cavaliers trailed Indiana by a score of 22-18.
In the second, the game continued at the same pace and tempo and with a similar outcome. Indiana continued to lack fluidity on offense, but the Cavaliers were just worse. The quarter’s major highlight came when struggling rookie Anthony Bennett put-back a Cavaliers miss with a thunderous two-handed slam. On an ensuing possession, C.J. Miles took the ball coast-to-coast, niftily avoiding Indiana’s efforts to strip the ball and scoring. But after two the Cavaliers trailed 44-35.
The second half played out similarly, as Indiana started to take control of the game late in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter, the Pacers took their lead all the way up sixteen. At that point, with a little over nine minutes left to play, it looked as if the Cavaliers were on their way to yet another drubbing at the hands of an elite team.
But then, as the game went below the nine minute mark, the Wine & Gold made their push towards a comeback. That comeback was lead by Waiters, who just four points heading into the final period. But his ten point outburst – coupled with solid defense on Indiana – brought the Cavaliers back into the game. Waiters was also superb passing the ball down the stretch, attacking the rim and dishing to teammates for open looks.
As the clock winded down, and the game and just 20.4 seconds left, the Cavaliers had the ball left with 19 seconds left on the clock. Waiters got the ball on the inbounds, attacking the rim on an isolation set that ultimately resulted in him being rejected at the rim by Hibbert after getting past George. At the post game press conference, Brown admitted that the play was his call and it came down to running a pick & roll for Waiters or an isolation call for the second year guard. He also noted that Waiters’ fourth quarter burst solidified that fact that Waiters would handle the ball at the end of the game.
“Obviously Indiana is a good team and Paul George is a good defender, but Dion in that situation is very good,” he added. “I flipped a coin on that one.”
It then looked as if the Cavaliers were done there, but they got one last chance, after David West made one of his two free throws.
But on the inbounds, Earl Clark received the pass and stepped out out bounds – finally ending the Cavaliers comeback and giving Indiana an 82-78 victory at Quicken Loans Arena.
PG Matthew Dellavedova — 41 minutes, 11 points, 3-10 shooting, two assists, three turnovers
All in all, I was impressed by Delly tonight. It was his first real run handling the ball and running the offense for an extended period of time and he passes the eye test. He had some ugly turnovers (as did many Cavaliers) but he filled in admirably for Kyrie Irving. I’d like to see how’d he function as a backup point guard for extended periods in the future. Too bad Jarrett Jack takes away those minutes.
SG C.J. Miles — 37 minutes, 21 points, 8-13 shooting, 2-5 from three, six rebounds
Miles’ would have been the Cavaliers’ MVP tonight if it was not for Waiters’ fourth quarter scoring outburst – but more on that later. When he was on the floor, he made the Cavaliers offense function better as a whole and was an asset on both ends of the floor. He carried the Cavaliers offense in the first half and was all in all the Cavalier who played the most complete game.
Moving forward, if Miles can continue to play like this, I’d like to see him get more minutes at the three spot. Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee have been fairly awful so far this season and Miles would fit in nicely alongside with Irving, Waiters and Jack in the backcourt. The Cavaliers could then play more uptempo and spacing would be improved as well. I doubt we will see – especially with Waiters the sixth man now – but a blogger can dream.
SF Earl Clark — 24 minutes, 4-9 shooting, 3-5 from three, 12 points
I don’t know if I can defend Earl Clark anymore. Stepping out of bounds was just a dumb play and he didn’t have a very good game overall. And he might still be the best Cavaliers small forward.
PF Tristan Thompson — 35 minutes, 13 points on 4-10 shooting, 10 rebounds, 5-5 free throws, +/- of -6
I liked how Thompson played tonight against David West, one of the league’s best power forwards. He missed an easy open put-back early in the game, but played solid as a whole. He hit the boards hard and had a few strong moves to the basketball where he finished his (even if one was ruled a travel). I still want to see more about from Thompson on offense, but he played well overall.
Side note: The day Tristan Thompson develops a mid-range jumper is the day I forever swoon over his game.
C Anderson Varejao – 27 minutes, seven points, 3-9 shooting, 13 rebounds, +/- of +14
Varejao was excellent tonight frustrating Roy Hibbert, again causing problems for the Indiana center on the boards. His quickness let him get inside again and again. He struggled on offense, but time & time again, was important for the Cavaliers on defense and on the boards. His +14 +/- score speaks to that truth.
G Dion Waiters – 32 minutes, 14 points, 6-17 shooting, 2-6 from three, five assists
Dion was excellent in the fourth quarter after an awful start to the game. I had the Cavaliers all but dead in the fourth quarter when they found themselves down by 16, but Waiters single handily brought the Cavaliers’ back with some timely buckets. When Waiters is on, hitting his shots and also creating shots for others by attacking the rim, he is just awesome to watch and a great asset for the Cavaliers.
All in all, Waiters was just excellent tonight down the stretch. This is the Dion Waiters that is a a part of the Cavaliers future. This is the Dion Waiters that the Cavaliers refuse to trade for half a season of a slowed down Pau Gasol. Fourth quarter Dion Waiters is the best Dion Waiters and at the one you want to see every night off the bench.
I questioned it early on, but I ended up really liking Brown going with Dellavedova in the starting lineup and keeping Dion Waiters coming off the bench. It was a smart choice, as Waiters added something necessary to the Cavaliers second unit on a night where it needed it. Brown also deserves some praise for again designing lineups that frustrated Indiana. And in the fourth, Brown stuck with a lineup that, lead by Waiters, got the Cavaliers on a comeback trail. If I had to give him a grade, I’d give him a B, which isn’t all that bad.