we all knew, Carlos Boozer’s return to Quicken Loans Arena did not
engender a friendly response from Cavs’ fans. They booed him
loudly; they booed him often. They serenaded him with any number
of signs: CARLOS LOOZER, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN,
after last night’s game, which the Cavs won by a mark of 82-73, the
real name for him is: Carlos Who? Although he had a fine
game with 19 points and 14 rebounds, Boozer was largely outplayed by
his replacement, Drew Gooden.
the first half, the teams looked to be on the verge for a miracle cure
for insomnia. Despite the normal Saturday-night buzz, the additional
“hops” (yes, take it literally) from earlier St. Patrick’s Day
celebrations, and the buzz generated by Benedict Boozer’s return to
Cleveland (the last time he was here, he placed a knife squarely between
the shoulder blades of a blind man), the crowd of 20,562 was falling
asleep. At the half, the score was 32-31, Utah. That’s
more like an early-second-quarter score on most nights (or a mid-first-quarter
score if you are in Phoenix).
has been their tendency throughout their winning streak (which now stands
at eight games), the Cavs really picked up their pace in the third quarter,
scoring 29 points in the frame. They extended their lead to ten
points (72-62) with a little over seven minutes remaining, then survived
a Utah surge to emerge with the win (which increased their season record
to 41-25, still two games behind Detroit in the Central Division).
James just missed a triple-double, as he scored 24 points, pulled down
17 rebounds, and had nine assists. Sasha Pavlovic backed him up
with 21 points, most of those coming in the first half. Boozer
and Mehmet Okur each scored 19 points to lead the Jazz.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
Here’s Why They Won:
When these two teams met in Utah last month, the Jazz slipped away with
a one-point victory. The main reason they won that game was point
guard Deron Williams, who torched the Cavs for a season-high 33 points.
Especially in the final quarter of that game, Williams was driving to
the basket almost at will. Larry Hughes and Eric Snow, who defended
Williams for most of that game, were powerless to stop him. When
Williams wasn’t scoring, his penetration was leading to easy baskets
for his teammates (he had 12 assists).
night was a completely different story. Thanks to persistent in-his-shirt
defense by Hughes, Williams scored only 12 points (on 5-of-14 shooting),
and dished out seven assists. Both of those figures were below
his season averages (he was scoring 17 points and getting over nine
helpers per game before last night).
of the credit goes to Coach Mike Brown as well. He did not allow
Eric Snow to guard Williams much the entire game. Williams is
small and very quick; in other words, he is exactly the kind of player
who gives Snow fits on defense. Coaching is largely about not
putting your personnel in situations where they are likely to fail.
Mr. Final Four Minutes:
I am starting to think that the Cavs should sit Zydrunas Ilgauskas until
the final four minutes of the game. That’s when he does his
best work; may as well have him rested for it. Last night, with
four minutes remaining, the Cavs had the ball and a very tenuous 73-69
lead. LeBron launched an errant three-pointer. That’s
when Z kicked it into high gear (yes, he has a high gear; it just looks
like everybody else’s second gear):
Z did not do that much the rest
of the night – he scored only two other points (for a total of eight),
grabbed a minuscule four rebounds, and turned the ball over thrice –
but his performance down the stretch saved the game.
(Well, Almost) Minutes: I already mentioned LeBron’s stats
for the game. Just want to make sure you all don’t think I’m
taking him for granted. (By the way, he had an off night last
night. He couldn’t hit an outside shot – or one from 15 feet,
as we’ll see later – with any consistency. When you put up
24, 17, and 9 on an off night, you’re pretty good.)
Isn’t Utah First In The League
In Rebounding?: Answer: yes, they are. But the
Cavs trounced them on the boards last night, 61-41. The Cavs’
61 boards included 21 at the offensive end (that is Really, Really Good).
LeBron led the way with his 17 rebounds (which was his best of the season
and one off his career mark of 18 rebounds). (As much as I like
his thunderous dunks, his long-distance shooting spurts, and his laser
passes, I especially appreciate the way he can go head and shoulders
above the rest of the tall timber to grab a key rebound.) Gooden
had 12 boards, including seven on the offensive glass. Hughes
had eight, which is terrific for a guard. Anderson Varejao and
Donyell Marshall each came off the bench to grab seven boards.
All of those extra opportunities on offense were the difference between
driving home happy and driving home to kick the dog.
Moondog, You Have Some Competition:
Late in the game, after Gooden grabbed yet another offensive rebound,
he was fouled. After the whistle, he was standing with his back
to the basket along the baseline, perhaps 15 feet from the hoop.
Without looking, he flipped the ball over his shoulder. Swish.
Yes, I know that it did not count. Yes, I know that he probably
could not do it again if he tried a hundred times. I never said
that it was difficult to amuse me.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT
If It Had Been A Game Of HORSE,
He Wouldn’t Have Made It To “O”: Yes, he played great
defense against Williams, and he did grab some rebounds, but that’s
about all that Hughes did last night. He shot an abysmal 2-of-17
from the floor. That’s his worst shooting performance of the
season. (Research Note: I didn’t check this.
It’s possible that he may have had an even worse shooting night earlier
this season. But that would require skimming over his game logs,
and I like my eyes too much to make them do that.) He was
also responsible for six turnovers, including a double dribble violation,
which is something you usually don’t see unless your game ticket includes
the words “Junior Varsity”.
Hey, It’s A Segue!:
Speaking of turnovers, the Cavs surrendered the ball 19 times during
the game, including 13 in the first half. Double dribbles, carries,
traveling, offensive fouls, a LeBron pass to Joe Tait at courtside …
if nothing else, the Cavs deserve praise for the variety of ways they
discovered to give the ball back to the Jazz.
Fighting Molasses With Molasses:
Early in the second quarter, Coach Brown had both Eric Snow and Ira
Newble on the floor. I had two worries:
Those substitutions slowed the
pace of the game even further (see earlier comments re: insomnia cures),
and had me flipping through other channels (I checked CNN for more details
on the Samara, Russia plane
crash; when you’ve
flown through that airport twice, bringing home your adopted children,
you tend to pay a little more attention to the story).
realize that Brown did not have many other options available.
Daniel Gibson is still recovering from a toe injury. Damon Jones
has been ineffective in recent weeks. But I don’t quite understand
why neither of those players was active for last night’s game.
(The last I heard, Gibson was healthy and ready to return.) I
also don’t quite understand why Shannon Brown, who has looked very
good in several recent games, was chained to the bench. Coaching
should not be about playing down to your opposition: you should
WANT to create a mis-match for the other team. Your team is slow
and tired? I’ll put a team of athletes (LeBron, Sasha, Hughes,
Varejao, Gooden/Gibson/Brown depending on how much size I’m willing
to concede) on the floor. Let’s see you do something about it.
(By the way, Snow and Newble sat the entire second half. The Cavs
outscored the Jazz by ten points in the second half. I do not
see those facts as unrelated.)
Bear, Woods, Diet of Watermelon:
Yes, it’s time for the latest report on the Cavs’ free throw shooting.
This just in: they sucked. They shot 50% from the line,
making exactly half of their 26 attempts. Hughes (who struggled
from everywhere else on the floor, as noted earlier) missed all three
of his attempts. Drew Gooden made only four out of his eight tries.
And LeBron made just eight of his 13 attempts.
I’ve noted quite often this season, LeBron has struggled with his
form when shooting free throws. Usually, the problem is that he
shoots his free throws very stiff and straight-legged; when he does
that, then he is getting none of his lower body into the shot.
Last night, he tried a different approach. Before every shot,
he went through his usual routine of exhaling three times and then dribbling
three times … and then he did a very exaggerated knee-bend.
It looked rather awkward, and the results were certainly no more effective.
He is about five percentage points away from having teams go to a “Hack-A-Bron”
strategy in the late minutes of close games.
one wish for LBJ this offseason: find yourself a nice empty gym,
pay some kid ten bucks an hour to retrieve the ball, and shoot hundreds
of free throws every day. His free throw shooting, more than anything,
is the reason why his scoring average is down this year.
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
Cavs get today and tomorrow to catch their breath. They will then
travel to Charlotte to start a stretch of six games in nine days against
the Bobcats. (You’d better believe that there will be a Walter Herrmann update. Walter is fresh off a near-career-best
15 point game against the Clippers the other night, so he’s looking
like he is going to bring his “A” game.)