Luol Deng made his debut tonight for the Cavs against the Utah Jazz. However, he was by no means a focal point, as the Cavaliers stole the show with a 39-point third quarter, putting the Jazz away in Utah, 113-102. Kyrie had 25, 17 of which came in the third quarter, as the Cavs took their second blowout win in a row, and started off their five game West road swing off right by dismantling the Jazz.
The Cavs started out with a pretty solid offensive showing. C.J. Miles, averaging 22 points per game in January, continued his rapid pace with 11 first-quarter points, and Luol Deng made his presence known very early. Deng’s first bucket came on an excellent cut to the basket on a lob from Anderson Varejao, and then hit a turn-around off a post-up a few possessions later. Richard Jefferson also had a torrid start to the game, with six points right out of the gate. Both teams looked pretty solid early offensively, and ended the first quarter tied at 26.
Miles made the play of the half to open the second quarter, tipping a pass away from Trey Burke and throwing down a soft dunk at the other end. The Cavs did well to stay with the Jazz offensively, but things just seemed out of sync for the team once they brought the starters back in after starting the quarter with a lineup of Jack, Miles, Waiters, Clark, and Zeller. The ball movement was lazy, and the Cavs did not handle the ball well, particularly while rebounding, where Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao were unable to retain rebounds they had a hand on, losing the ball several times to Jeremy Evans, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors. Kanter in particular had a big second quarter, finishing the half with 10 points and 5 rebounds. For the Cavs, Varejao did grab nine rebounds, but was held scoreless, and Kyrie had a pretty rough go of things, shooting 2-7 for five points. However, the Cavs were able to keep the offense churning thanks to seven points from Dion, and went in with only a 49-46 halftime deficit.
The third quarter was an entirely different story. The Cavs’ so-called “big three” had a huge quarter, particularly Kyrie. The Cavs hit their first six shots of the quarter, and turned their three-point deficit into a five-point lead pretty quickly. The Jazz countered with some Trey Burke and Alec Burks threes and more Richard Jefferson old man magic, but then, Kyrie took over. A quick And-1 and another drive for free throws made it 69-63, and then, a big run started with a ridiculous fast break. Thompson snagged a rebound, threw an outlet pass to Kyrie, who forced a throw to Dion. Waiters made a fantastic save going out of bounds, and hit Tristan Thompson, who initiated the play and was ALREADY UNDER THE BASKET for the dunk. This play, a huge hustle play from all three of the Cavs’ major young guys, was like the light turning on for the team. After an Alec Burks three, Kyrie went nova. He hit three consecutive jumpers, including a ridiculous heat check three to cap a 16-6 run and make it 80-68. Jarrett Jack closed the quarter with a buzzer-beating three, and the Cavs won the game by this point. an 85-70 lead was there for them, and was the product of a perfect Cavs quarter. Kyrie was cooking with 17 points in the quarter, Dion played smart, Tristan killed Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams down low, and the Cavs cooked a terrible Jazz defense to put the game away.
The fourth quarter was mostly a formality. This game was won with the Cavs’ first real circus quarter of the season in the third, and the Cavs put a terrible team away after a sluggish 1st half. We always hear about the Heat having their “Flying Death Machine” quarters, where it’s just a circus of threes, hustle plays on D, and half court lobs that teams can never come back from. Well, the Cavs finally had a quarter like this. It was a quality performance across the board. Is this a sign of things to come? We shall see, because it’s still the worst team in the West and a team who can’t play defense. But it still was a great performance.
Five quick notes from the game:
- Deng was somewhat out of sorts all night offensively. This is going to happen when a player is inserted into a brand new offense, on the road, and playing a significantly lower number of minutes than he’s used to. Deng played just 21 minutes tonight, finishing with 10 points. He played pretty well defensively, and did move pretty well without the ball, but it seemed that he was really out of it at times, particularly in the second quarter, when he was a non-factor. This, of course, isn’t a great representation of what Deng will bring to the team over the entire season. I think as the road trip goes, Deng will be able to assimilate more into the Cavs’ lineup, and the team will figure out how to use him more effectively defensively. I think Deng did perfectly fine in his first game for the Cavs.
- Tyler Zeller on Enes Kanter was a particular bright spot. Kanter’s a big boy, and did finish with a double-double (15 points and 10 rebounds). However, when Zeller guarded him, Kanter was significantly less effective, as Zeller effectively cut off Kanter’s space to work in the post, and was able to run the floor far better than Kanter could ever dream to. Zeller finished with 10 points and six rebounds off the bench, and for having to battle with such a solid post player, he held up very well, far better than Varejao did against Kanter. As has been the case ever since Bynum was suspended, Zeller was very impressive tonight.
- I get that the Jazz backcourt is thin, and they’re all pretty bad defensively, but what a game from the Cavs’ backcourt as a whole. We’ll talk about Kyrie shortly, but Dion Waiters had 17 off the bench, preying on Utah’s lack of an athletic wing to keep up with his driving ability. He also hit a few circus shots, and his defense was pretty good throughout the game, particularly in the second quarter, when the Cavs were struggling and Waiters kept a solid three-point threat in Brandon Rush quiet. C.J. Miles was the spark plug early for the Cavs, with 11 first quarter points and 17 for the game. He didn’t play much in the second half, as the Cavs decided to roll with Waiters while it was working, but his January torrent continues. Jarrett Jack also quietly had 12 points on 5-6 shooting and zero turnovers, which might be the most impressive performance from everyone in terms of sheer craziness.
- OH HELLO MR. IRVING. Kyrie’s stat line after one: five points, one rebound, three assists. His final stats? 25 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and five steals. His third quarter needs to go in the Hall of Uncle Drew with the Knicks game last year, the Brandon Knight crossover, the Team USA fast break, and the Toronto game-winner. Kyrie just could not be stopped. He was also very active on the defensive end, making life hell for Trey Burke, and keeping the Jazz from sustaining what little flow they had offensively. Again, Burke’s a rookie and his defensive abilities are…lacking. However, when Kyrie goes on one of those face-melting hot streaks, it’s a joy to watch.
- I was very unimpressed by Derrick Favors tonight. He finished with 12 points and 6 rebounds, and got abused on the boards by Tristan, especially in the second half. His post moves aren’t really developed, and he seems a step slow when operating down low. He also really didn’t play well when tasked with protecting the rim, as C.J. Miles and Dion continually beat him for buckets inside on drives. Mind you, I really enjoy watching Derrick Favors. He was at times the only bright spot for the Jazz last year. However, he was nowhere to be found tonight. Kanter played so much better than Favors, which is the opposite of what I expected, due to the Cavs’ bigs having the ability to stretch the floor. However, on a night where Andy was a non-factor on offense and the Cavs’ bigs attacked the boards with aplomb, I’m not sure Favors was ready for it, and he got outplayed.
PG Kyrie Irving-25 points (9-18FG, 3-3 3PT), 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals
SG C.J. Miles-17 points (6-7FG, 1-1 3PT), 1 rebound, 1 steal
SF Luol Deng-10 points (4-8FG), 1 rebound, 1 steal
PF Tristan Thompson-18 points (9-12FG), 15 rebounds, 2 assists
C Anderson Varejao-2 points (1-6FG), 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Dion Waiters-17 points (6-13FG, 2-5 3PT), 1 rebound, 2 assists
The Cavs continue their road trip with a game Sunday against the Sacramento Kings. That one starts at 6:00ET.