Some doubted whether or not Kyrie Irving’s return to the court as a starter would help the Cleveland Cavaliers (31-45, 14-25 away) or hurt their newfound chemistry in a matchup against the Orlando Magic (21-54, 17-20 home). Well, following a 119-98 victory over Orlando, in which he scored 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting from the field and also dished out eight assists and grabbed six boards, I think the doubters should rethink themselves. Although he wasn’t the star starter for the Cavs, his return proves that Cleveland has a much better shot at making the playoffs with him in the lineup following a drubbing of the Magic on the road.
Cleveland started off the game fast by rushing down the court and using rapid and accurate cuts to get to the hoop for easy points. Orlando, however, was able to respond to Cleveland’s stealthy attacks. In order to counter this Magic momentum, Cleveland head coach Mike Brown signaled for a timeout with the Cavs down 11-8.
Following the timeout the Wine & Gold went on a 9-0 run to go up 17-11 on the Magic, before Jameer Nelson knocked down a trey to end the shutout start after the Cavs recouped on the bench. As they have done lately, the Cleveland starters continued to share the wealth on offense. After Spencer Hawes hit a signature three to put the Cavaliers ahead nine, he found fellow frontcourt mate Tristan Thompson down low for a “maple smash” to extend the lead to 29-18.
The Wine & Gold continued to be an energized bunch, as Jarrett Jack took a steal coast to coast for the slam to push the advantage to 13 points. Orlando was able to creep back with a fast-paced offense of its own, but the Cavs still went into the second frame with a commendable eight-point lead.
To start the second period Hawes knocked down another well-attempted three, putting Cleveland back up by double digits once again. Hawes started off the first half of the second quarter extremely hot, knocking down both of his three-point attempts and making good on two more field goals, putting his team back up 13 points.
After Hawes’ outbreak, the Cavs continued to push the pace and run up the scoreboard against the Magic. Quick thinking and slick moves by players such as Kyrie and Thompson pushed the score to a 60-44 Cleveland advantage with just under three minutes to go in the half.
Cleveland continued to pour it on behind the stellar play of the starters, who accounted for 63 of the 70 points in the first half. With just under a minute to go until halftime, a wide-open Matthew Dellavedova beyond the arc pushed the Cleveland lead over 20 heading into the final 24 minutes of play.
On top of holding a 70-47 advantage over the hapless Magic, the Cleveland starters combined to shoot 72.7 percent from the field in the first half. The plus-seven turnover advantage that the Cavs held over Orlando contributed to the first half dominance as well.
Cleveland started off the third quarter with the same amount of energy that they played with over the first 24 minutes, but a 9-0 Orlando run with just over four minutes remaining in the third frame brought Cleveland’s 26-point lead down to 17. Following a timeout that came in response to the Orlando run, Cleveland came out with an offensive burst of their own, scoring 10 straight points to go up 27 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter. In fact, every Cavalier was playing as if they were in turbo mode, scoring 19 fast break points and 50 points in the paint as a team at the end of 36 minutes.
Leading 94-68 heading into the final frame, Cleveland already had three players with 20 points apiece: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Spencer Hawes. After missing eight games even Kyrie was contributing at a high clip, chipping in 15 of his own on 6 of 7 shooting from the field.
Although Orlando was able to cut the lead to below 20 at the halfway point of the fourth quarter, Cleveland continued their same resilient assault of the Magic in an attempt to fully finish off Orlando. Jarrett Jack and Waiters continued to shoot at the heart of the Magic, looking to finish off Orlando for the four-game season sweep.
With two minutes remaining and the game comfortably in control, Mike Brown passed out some reserve time, and Cleveland continued to win by double digits over the Magic.
The Cavaliers will be on the road for one more game; a game that holds a lot of importance in regards to Cleveland’s playoff push. With a loss against the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks, along with the New York Knicks, now only stand two games in front of the Cavaliers. Cleveland could come one game closer of Atlanta with a win on Friday at Phillips Arena. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving – 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while shooting 7 of 8 (87.5 percent) from the field
After missing eight games, Kyrie returned to the court as a starter to help his team continue its push for the playoffs. His near-perfect performance was much needed, and having Irving back the rest of the way will only better Cleveland’s playoff odds.
SG Dion Waiters – 26 points and three assists, while shooting 10 of 15 from the field and 3 of 3 from three
Those who doubted Dion being able to mesh with Kyrie once he returned to the starting lineup are foolish. Of course this tandem is going to be better. Both players are just going through growth spurts, but when they’re both at the top of their game, nights like this one are most often the result.
SF Luol Deng – Eight points, while shooting 4 of 7 (57.1 percent) from the field
Luol didn’t stick out too much tonight, and that has a lot to do with the fast break offense that the Cavaliers were running. Thompson, Waiters and sometimes Hawes benefited tremendously from the fast pace of the game. Deng played his role; he just didn’t light up the score board.
PF Tristan Thompson – 20 points and 11 rebounds (five offensive), while shooting 6 of 10 from the field and 8 of 8 from the free throw line
Thompson regained his confidence against Indiana, and it poured on over to this game. I have a feeling that we’re going to see this possessed Thompson the rest of the way.
C Spencer Hawes – 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while shooting 7 of 16 (43.7 percent) and 4 of 7 (57.1 percent) from three
Hawes had a tremendous start to this game, and that really threw off the Magic defense for the remainder of the contest. This starting lineup is going to be crucial the rest of the way, as they accounted for 76.5 percent of the points scored against Orlando.
PG Jarrett Jack – 13 points, four rebounds and four assists, while shooting 5 of 9 (55.6 percent) from the field
Jack was killing it with Dion during their time together sans Irving, but his return to the bench was just what the Cavs need from a backup point guard. He was resilient in the fourth quarter and he continued to be a main contributor for this Cleveland squad Wednesday night.
Hey! It looks like Coach Brown is finally getting the hold of this whole managing minutes thing. His starters are performing at the highest level they have this season, the bench is still contributing as much as they need to (even withouth Anderson Varejao and C.J. Miles) and this team is playing fast, in-your-face basketball. If Brown can keep the same formula going the rest of the season, there’s no reason why this team can’t make the playoffs.