Make it four in a row for the Cavs.
They held off the New Jersey Nets 96-91, and in so doing improved their
record to 21-12, the best in the Eastern Conference. It was not
the prettiest win in team history – the Cavs held a 16 point lead
in the second quarter, but New Jersey pared the deficit to eight by
halftime. Then in the fourth quarter – much like the Cavs did
against Milwaukee the previous night – the Nets finally broke through
and took their first lead in a long time about halfway through the quarter,
Unlike the Bucks the previous evening,
the Cavs pulled themselves together and responded. Cleveland scored
13 of the next 17 points to take a 91-85 lead with a little over a minute
remaining. The game came down to the free throw drill in the final
minute (New Jersey’s Richard Jefferson hit a three pointer and also
had a three point play on an inexplicable foul by LeBron James), and
the Cavs hit enough of them to make the home locker room at Quicken
Loans Arena a happy place.
For the second straight game, somebody
other than LeBron led the Cavs in scoring, as Drew Gooden (coming off
his 31 point/16 rebound effort against Milwaukee the previous evening)
and Larry Hughes both had 21 points. LeBron had 19 points and
a game-high 13 rebounds, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas also had 16. Vince
Carter and Mikki Moore (Mikki Moore?) led the Nets with 18 points
apiece, and Jefferson added 17.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like
April: One of the keys to the Cavs’ success last season was their
terrific record in close games, especially in the later part of the
season and in the playoffs. In game after game, they played particularly
good ball in the waning moments, and often eked out victories.
The 2006-07 Cavs are starting to take
on that aspect of last year’s team. They were particularly impressive
in not folding their tents after New Jersey, after three quarters of
trying, finally broke through to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
They stepped up their defense (including two steals by LeBron, one of
which led to an easy reverse dunk at the other end), got some fast breaks
(the dunk by LeBron, a layup by Hughes), and grabbed the lead right
back from the Nets.
Yesterday, I wrote that the Cavs were
emerging from their early-season cocoon. The Nets game was another
step in that direction. They are looking like the team that some
of us (no names) predicted would win 57 games.
But He’s Still Not An All-Star:
In my review of the previous
night’s game against the Bucks,
I lauded Gooden for his strong performance, but also noted his inconsistency
throughout the season, and wondered if I had just doomed him to a week
of sub-par performances. Gooden certainly didn’t act like he
was jinxed last night, as his 21 points and 12 rebounds gave him his
third consecutive double-double. It was the sixth time this year
that Gooden has had 20 or more points in a game.
As was the case against the Bucks, Gooden
had his best stretch in the waning moments of the game:
Gooden is emerging as a solid option,
particularly on those nights when LeBron does not quite have his top
game. Is he finally figuring out the game? Could the reverse
soul patch that he is growing on the back of his head has powers beyond
Timing Is Everything: While
Damon Jones hit only three field goals (two of them three-pointers)
during the game, he sure picked opportune times to make them.
His first three-pointer, at the outset of the second quarter, gave the
Cavs a 30-21 lead, igniting a 13-3 run. His second make from beyond
the arc gave the Cavs a 65-60 lead after New Jersey had trimmed the
lead to two. And his other basket (a garden-variety jumper) also
came after the Nets had cut the Cavs’ lead to two. It wasn’t
quite as impressive as the bulletproof Miracle Bra; eight-point games are not that noteworthy.
Jones just seemed to hit his shots at particularly opportune points
in the game.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE GAME:
Bay of Cavs: John F. Kennedy
was widely lauded for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. However, a college professor
of mine (Tom Bogart, if you’re out there reading this … how have
you been?) sneered at the praise heaped on Kennedy. His stance
was that Kennedy’s heroics were necessary only because he had so wretchedly
botched previous events (most notably the Bay of Pigs invasion the previous year), thereby creating the situation
that required a heroic response. Without debating whether that
particular instance is true, I have always been impressed by that concept
– while it is nice to respond strongly during a tough time, it’s
even nicer to not let the tough time develop in the first place.
These ramblings do have a point:
the Cavs made the game much tougher than it had to be, as they blew
a 16 point lead that they had taken midway through the second quarter
(at 42-26). New Jersey then went on a 12-4 run to cut the lead
to eight points by halftime, and then further sliced the lead to three
in the opening moments of the third quarter. The Cavs’ defense
was porous both inside (giving up several dunks and layups to Moore)
and out (New Jersey hit three three-pointers during these minutes, including
two by Kidd).
I’m not faulting the team for not extending
its 16 point lead. It takes quite a bit of energy to sustain a
run like that, and it’s rare for the other team to never respond.
But are we asking too much for some sustained defensive intensity?
They’re Watching The Tape:
One of Coach Mike Brown’s defensive tendencies is to bring one of
his big men out past the three-point line to double-team the opposition’s
ball handler. Said big man will then go back to guarding his man,
usually getting there with the grace and speed of a hippo on Valium.
New Jersey must have seen this tendency, because whenever Ilgauskas
or Gooden would step out, whoever they were guarding would go under
the hoop. New Jersey got several easy dunks and layups as a result.
Most of those were by Moore; I don’t know if the Cavs just decided
to let Moore try to beat them, and that they would have reacted differently
had the opposition’s big man had a more impressive pedigree.
Regardless, it does seem to be a weakness that teams are beginning to
I’ll Keep Saying It: The
Cavs are a poor free throw shooting team – in fact, they’re the
worst in the league, hitting just over 69% of their attempts -- and
they will continue to make games much harder than they need to be if
they continue to Rodman their throws off the rim. They were 17
of 26 from the line last night. Hit four or five more of those
throws, and then you (meaning I) do not have to bite your (my) nails
during the final minutes.
These observations are completely unscientific
and may in fact be contradicted by the game logs, but they sure seem
true to me (Note to readers: That is your cue to research these
items, then e-mail me with your findings. Don’t worry, I’ll
give you credit.):