The Cleveland Cavaliers took the court tonight in Washington D.C. for the first time since letting go GM Chris Grant. And for the first time since January 24th, they were victorious, beating the Wizards 115-113. Dion Waiters, coming off the bench, led the team with 24 points. Kyrie Irving added 23 points of his own, and handed out an impressive 12 assists. For Washington, PG John Wall matched Irving with a double-double, scoring 32 points and dishing out 10 assists.
The game’s final two minutes seemed to take forever, as the Wizards would not quit on the game. With 1:58 left, the Cavs owned an 11-point lead but Washington was resilient. After two Martell Webster three-pointers, which made the game 115-113, it looked like the Wine and Gold would let the game, somehow, slip through their hands. This was especially true after Jarrett Jack missed two free throws with two seconds left. He did deflect the ball out of bounds, leaving the Wiz with only .2 seconds to get a shot attempt off. The laws of physics would hold strong, not allowing them to get a shot off before the buzzers sounded, meaning a Cavalier victory was preserved.
Opposite to the way the game finished, the opening quarter was virtually a defensive-less track meet. The teams were trading baskets all period long. It is highly possible that not one defensive stop was recorded during the first 12 minutes. CJ Miles, one of five Cleveland players in double figures, had 12 points by quarter’s end. He did so with a mixture of jump shots and finishes at the rim. The team still trailed Washington by six, 38-32, at the start of the second.
What was discussed in the huddle before the second frame began is not known for sure, but whatever it was worked. The Cavs had a new found energy defensively, no longer afforded Washington open perimeter looks or carved out trails to the rim. The uncontested shots that Webster, Wall and Trevor Ariza had at the start of the game disappeared during the second quarter. A key contributor to this defensive effort was (this is not a typo) Alonzo Gee. With Luol Deng missing his first game since joining the team, minutes opened up at the wing spots. Gee took advantage of his opportunity, scoring 11 points with a couple key putbacks, and defending intensively. It looked slightly odd seeing Gee get minutes again, but it easy on the eyes.
Heading into halftime, the Wine and Gold lead 67-63. Had the team put forth the same defensive intensity for the entire first half as they did in the second period, the Wizards would not have had 63 points in only 24 minutes of play. The Cavs needed to carry this effort over into the second half. And for the most part, they did.
There were a few instances where it was lacking, but there was a noticeably different effort level after the first quarter. FSO’s Fred McLeod and Austin Carr kept making note of this during the TV broadcast. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Cavs were up 94-85.
As probably evident by the scoring totals of the teams through three periods, each team had a handful of guys who really contributed. Besides Wall’s 32 points, Marcin Gortat added 19 and Ariza had 14 points and six rebounds. Nené, a Brazilian teammate of Varejao’s, grabbed eight rebounds and netted 13 points as well. The Wizards had a slew of players contribute tonight and because of it, they almost were able to extend Cleveland’s losing skid to seven games. The streak did end though and now, the question is posed will the Chris Grant firing be what it takes to get this young and talented, yet underperforming, team back on track? One game is not a enough sample size but tonight was still a promising outing by the Wine and Gold.
PG Kyrie Irving- 33 minutes, 23 points (5-11 FGM-A, 13-13 FTM-A), 12 assists, -2 +/- differential
It was up in the air during the day if Kyrie would suit up due to illness, as he did not participate in shoot around. But he did and made the most of his night. In the first half alone, he had 12 points and 10 assists. All of his scoring came on only 11 field goal attempts, which is impressive. 13 shots from the line indicates that he was attacking the rim tonight and not settling for outside jumpers. But more importantly tonight, I thought Kyrie made the other four guys he was on the court with better. I have been waiting to see this for a while. He was looking to distribute but also use the threat of his scoring to open up teammates. Well done by Irving tonight.
SG Jarrett Jack-12 minutes, 0 points (0-3 FGM-A, 0-2 FTM-A), -1 +/- differential
Thank goodness for the box score because without it, I’m not sure I would have known if Jack even played tonight. He was pretty much a nonexistent tonight in the capital city. To put things in prospective, Jack was about as productive tonight as 113th Congress has been. Yes, that bad. He just did not do anything to help the team tonight. The only note worthy thing he did was miss two free throws down the stretch. Not good tonight from Jack.
SF CJ Miles- 25 minutes, 18 points (7-11 FGM-A, 2-3 3PM-A), four rebounds, +7 +/- differential
Luol Deng was scratched from the starting lineup last minute due to illness, probably the same bug that Kyrie had, so CJ was promoted back into the starting lineup. And he did not disappoint in his return to the starting lineup. He concluded the contest with 18 points, most of which game early on. But it was his jump shooting in the opening period that kept the Cavs in it. I think Coach Brown should keep him in the starting lineup, but at the two-guard.
PF Tristan Thompson- 36 minutes, 10 points (5-10 FGM-A), eight rebounds, two steals, -16 +/- differential
Tristan played a lot of minutes tonight, so do not let his +/- affect your view of his game tonight. Overall, I would say he did a good job down low. His 10 points were scored quietly, almost all were from close range, except one midrange jumper. Defensively, he was in the right spot most of the time. One thing I would like to see him improve on his outlet passes. I think a lot of the time the team misses possible transition buckets due to poor outlet passes after rebounds. This was not a great performance from Tristan but it got the job done nonetheless.
C Anderson Varejao- 22 minutes, 6 points (2-5 FGM-A, 2-2 FTM-A), five rebounds, +4 +/- differential
This was a relatively quiet game, much like Tristan’s, from the Wild Thing tonight. The best part about his game though, was the limited minutes. Andy becomes more injury prone as his minutes increase so any time that his court time can be kept down, yet still keeping the team competitive, it should be done. Props to Tyler Zeller and Anthony Bennett (not a typo either) for stepping up in the front court tonight and allowing Varejao the ability to rest up.
SG Dion Waiters- 32 minutes, 24 points (11-18 FGM-A, 1-2 FTM-A), one assist, +5 +/- differential
It was a really great scoring performance off the bench by Dion tonight in the victory. The team needed him, and Kyrie acknowledged the importance of his performance in a postgame interview. He shot the ball well tonight, and attacked the rim a handful of times too. There were a few instances where I thought he was over dribbling or only looking for himself but I am not trying to be nit-picky with him after playing such a crucial role in the victory. I would love to see assist totals become more consistent, as one helper is not really a great statistic from someone who handles the ball a good amount but even with that said, Dion was hands down the best player of the bench tonight and he should be applauded for his efficient game.
I do not have much to say about Coach Brown tonight. I did think he did a nice job getting his guys through this situation. You might consider the firing of Grant a distraction but it did not show tonight. Coach Brown got the team focused on one thing, and that was going into the Verizon Center and coming out with a W. They did just that so good job Coach Brown. I also loved how he gave Bennett ample minutes tonight, and Bennett took advantage of those. Keep playing the young guy and hope he discovers his touch as a result of that. I also appreciate him not playing Earl Clark at all tonight. Thank you.
I would like to see Coach Brown keep Miles in the starting lineup and put Jack back on the bench. Jack was pitiful tonight and needs to be bumped out of the starting lineup. A lot of people said Brown, not Grant, should have been relieved of his duties Thursday so with that said, Brown did a nice job coaching the team on the heels of a firing and kept them focused on getting an important win.