Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers play with a pulse, outlast Washington Wizards 115-113

A win is a win is a win. That’s mainly the big takeaway from tonight. Forgive the late almost-collapse, but the Cavs looked like a team tonight, and that was the best thing to see after yesterday’s firing of Chris Grant. Doing that against one of the league’s best teams and an unofficial rival? Even better.

I really can’t overstate how good the Cavs looked offensively in the first half. Against one of the better defensive teams in the league, the Cavs consistently got solid looks offensively, and even were nailing the looks that weren’t so good. The Cavs shot 59.5 percent from the field in the first half, and were led by quality shooting performances by C.J. Miles, who had 14 on 6-8 shooting in the first half, and Dion Waiters, who went PUJIT God and hit 6-7, mostly from midrange. Tristan Thompson was active on the boards early, and Kyrie generated the offense very effectively, with 12 points and 10 assists. He even kicked out to three-point shooters on drives a couple times, which is something he’s done disturbingly rarely this season. Even Anthony Bennett had seven points and was perfect from the field. Again, the Cavs scored 67 points in a half. Against a top-ten defense. Holy crap.

Unfortunately, that first half resulted in only a four point lead, because the Cavs’ defense left a lot to be desired. Washington made it rain from three in the first half, using excellent ball movement to open up their shooters for seven threes on ten shots. Unsurprisingly, Martell Webster was the leader here, hitting 4-6 threes in the first half. Many might remember his game last April when he had 12 points and lit the Cavs up from three in the first quarter of a double-digit win. Marcin Gortat was also effective inside, going for 12 points and seven boards. Neither of these teams could stop each other, but the Cavs made a few more solid hustle plays than the Wizards did, and that’s how we ended up with a Cavs halftime lead.

In the second half, however, that defensive performance improved by quite a bit. Washington started settling for jumpers, particularly Bradley Beal, who cooled off majorly while being guarded by C.J. Miles. Trevor Ariza stayed hot, but Webster and Gortat did not, and the Wizards scored 22 points in the third, while Cleveland had 26. Kyrie continued to will himself to the line, putting up 17 through three to match a new career high with 12 assists, and C.J. remained effective offensively as the Wizards just could not defend the perimeter. There was a scary moment in the third, as Kyrie landed awkwardly after contesting for a rebound with Gortat, and ended up heading back to the locker room. However, nothing serious occurred, and and he eventually returned to the game in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t like the Cavs needed Kyrie, however. With a comfortable 93-85 lead after three, Dion continued to explode, going 11-18 for 24 points. Delly played admirable defense on John Wall. Bennett continued to do things that could be considered acceptable basketball plays. And most importantly, the Wizards just faltered offensively. The Wiz stayed with the Cavs early because they pounded the ball to Gortat, moved the ball well, and hit open threes. None of that happened late. Instead, we got to see Beal and Wall settle for contested jumpers, Jan Vesely post ISOs (???), and even got blown Wall AND Beal fast break finishes.Meanwhile the Cavs continued to cook, with Dion finishing at the rim and an Alonzo Gee putback slam that finished the Wiz for good. However, the most impressive part was the hustle plays. From Varejao stealing rebounds from Nene and Gortat, to Kyrie’s charge taken that eliminated a Beal three, to Dion attacking late in the shot clock over settling for jumpers, the Cavs made the plays they needed to in order to keep Washington from coming back. Even after a few late-game antics like Webster nailing a big three and some John Wall magic, the Cavs stood tough and hit the free throws they needed to put it away. That, more than anything, is why they won their most inspiring game they’ve played in weeks.

Roster Analysis

The Starters

PG Kyrie Irving – 23 points (5-11 shooting, 0-2 from three), three rebounds, 12 assists

Missed much of the second half with the ankle quasi-injury, but he actually played really well in the first half. Kyrie came out seemingly determined to outclass John Wall, which he did until the injury. Kyrie didn’t have a huge scoring flurry, but he didn’t have to. Instead, Kyrie did it by playing solid defense, facilitating for teammates for 12 assists, and consistently getting to the line. We saw Kyrie’s handle at work as well, as it seemed Kyrie went out of his way to try to destroy Wall off the dribble. Results were mixed, but it was fun to watch. Regardless, we saw Kyrie tie a career high in assists, pass off drives to open shooters, and make 13 of 13 free throws on the game. Pretty good game for the All-Star Starter.

SG Jarrett Jack-0 points (0-3 shooting)

Played 12 minutes. Took three shots. Missed three shots. Was so-so on Beal. Really contributed nothing else.

SF C.J. Miles-18 points (7-11 shooting, 2-3 3PT), four rebounds, two steals

Starting as a last-minute addition after Luol Deng sat with an illness, Miles was the offensive spark plug that got the Cavs’ huge offensive effort rolling. His huge first quarter made it quickly apparent that he was the right choice to start, and he scored every which way you can score, and that provided a little bit of versatility for Cleveland. He was a great player for the Cavs tonight.

PF Tristan Thompson – 10 points (5-10 shooting), eight rebounds, two steals

After getting off to a great offensive start with a transition slam and a nice put back, Tristan had a pretty quiet game. He wasn’t really a big piece offensively, because Kyrie, C.J., and Dion took that baton, but I must say he did hold Nene to just 13 points, and I felt that his defense rebounded after an atrocious last two weeks.

C Anderson Varejao – six points (2-5 shooting), five rebounds

Wasn’t necessarily impressive tonight. However, he still made several nice hustle plays, as each rebound he grabbed seemed to be contested, and he made a few great passes and defensive plays late in the game when the Wizards attempted to make a comeback. Even though he didn’t get many chances offensively, he did still operate in the flow of the offense and help create looks on several Cavalier buckets, and that was nice to see.

Bench Stars

Dion Waiters-24 points (11-18 shooting, 1-3 3PT), 4 rebounds

After a few games where he was just awful, including getting only 11 minutes in the Dallas game, Waiters rebounded in a huge way against his draft nemesis, Bradley Beal. While Beal struggled to just 9 points on 4-15 shooting, Waiters created points in a variety of ways, and he was even finishing at the rim and contesting shots well. In particular, Waiters hit all of the terrible shots he usually takes, which I am still unsure of whether that’s a good thing or bad thing. But 24 points and great late game play is what it is, and I’m happy with his game. But we can’t call him the only bench star. Because we have to give props to…….

Anthony Bennett-8 points (3-4 shooting, 1-2 3PT), 6 rebounds

This was one of Bennett’s best games as a pro. He did well on both ends, which is outstanding to see. Offensively, he moved well off the ball, hit a three, threw down a dunk, and was generally a factor when he was out there! (Shhhh give him his moment). Defensively, he was active as well, including a solid post defense moment where he stripped Marcin Gortat in the first half. I really liked watching Bennett tonight. He’s been turning a corner this season, and I hope he keeps up this run he’s been on for the last two weeks.

Coaching Breakdown

A fairly good game. Washington tried to push the pace and spread the ball around early, and it felt like Brown kept his wits and was able to keep being creative offensively, which makes no sense even as I type it. Brown pulled Jack when it was clear he wasn’t being a factor and Waiters was murdering everyone, and he stuck with that, even inserting Delly over Jack when Kyrie got hurt to great effect. He even drew up a fun hot potato inbounds play late to burn clock on the Wizards and limit fouling opportunities, which was awesome. The team played with a visible fire tonight as well, which might be the most important part of all.

Tags: Anderson Varejao Anthony Bennett C.J. Miles Cleveland Cavaliers Dion Waiters Kyrie Irving Tristan Thompson

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