Fresh off a highly disappointing and thorough defeat by the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home tonight hoping to write the ship and keep their incredibly slim playoff hopes alive against a team that has had their number this entire season, the Charlotte Bobcats.
The first half was a brick fest that saw the Cavaliers shoot 30 percent from the field and 25 percent from three. Charlotte was not much better, ending the half at 37 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep. This kind of ugly, defense-oriented game is exactly what the Bobcats like, and they led 40-33 at the half. Part of the problem was the inability of the Cavaliers frontcourt to score, as Spencer Hawes, Luol Deng, and Tristan Thompson scored eight points on 3-15 shooting, and part of the problem was that Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters were looking for their shot rather than running the offense. Irving had only two assists at the half, which was two more than Waiters.
The second half was another story, at least for Irving. The Cavaliers franchise player was electric, scoring in a variety of ways, pushing the ball nearly every play, and playing with as much emotion as he ever has in his young career. Behind Irving, the Cavaliers were able to take the lead in the second half only for the Bobcats to tie the game and send it into overtime.
The Cavaliers led for much of overtime, and like the end of regulation led by three with less than two minutes left, unfortunately it was not meant to be. Behind the play of Al Jefferson and Walker, as well as some great hustle plays by Cody Zeller and Gerald Henderson, the Bobcats were able to escape with 96-94 victory, clinching just the second playoff appearance in franchise history.
PG Kyrie Irving – Irving had one of the truly great scoring games of his career, shooting 16-31 (5-9 from three) and setting a new career high with 44 points. He also had seven rebounds, three steals, and eight assists (six after the first half) as he almost single handedly won the game for the Cavaliers. His defense was also some of the best of his career as he fought through screens and held Kemba Walker to 7-23 shooting.
SG Dion Waiters- Waiters had one of those nights that shows why the rest of the NBA isn’t as high on him as Cavalier fans are. Waiters had fourteen points on 5-16 shooting and only one assist. He also had a few plays where he didn’t hustle back on defense as he thought he was fouled. One play was so bad that Cavaliers announcer Fred McCloud called Waiters out on this as it was happening on the floor. Cavalier fans become irritated with Irving’s attitude at times, and rightfully so, but Waiters is right there with him. The difference is that Waiters is not nearly as good of a player and is actually a few months older.
SF Luol Deng – Deng was hounded by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist throughout the night, and finished with five points on 2-10 shooting (0-3 from three). While Kidd-Gilchrist only had four points himself, he also only took four shots. Games like this will make you wonder exactly how much the Cavaliers or any team should pay Deng in the offseason.
PF Tristan Thompson – Thompson did a nice job on the boards with twelve rebounds and also had three assists, but he also had only four points on 2-8 shooting. Thompson is absolutely petrified of taking a ten to fifteen foot jumper, no matter how much teams lay off him. Until he is confident here, it will be easy for teams to guard him since they know all of his shot attempts are coming right at the basket.
C Spencer Hawes – Hawes had seven rebounds and four assists and also hit a big three near the end of overtime to make the Bobcats sweat, but it wasn’t a great game for the big man. Al Jefferson absolutely abused him in the post and Hawes shot only 2-7 around the basket. If he resigns with the Cavaliers, getting Hawes to play solid defense within the system should be a priority for Mike Brown.
Although he didn’t play at all in crunch time, Tyler Zeller was highly effective off the bench tonight. He finished with five points and eight rebounds in just seventeen minutes. As Anderson Varejao ages, Zeller is looking for and more like an effective first big man off the bench.
Mike Brown was disappointed in the team’s consistency throughout the course of the game. He felt the effort came and went with several players, particularly on the defensive end. In particular he though the team relaxed on the weak side of the floor defensively late in the game, something that simply cannot be done in a close game against a playoff-caliber team.
The Cavaliers continue their home stand with a matchup against the Detroit Pistons this Wednesday. Since their draft lottery slot seems fairly set, it would be nice to see the Cavaliers continue their solid effort as they play out the rest of the season.