Whenever the Cavs come anywhere near the New York City metropolitan area, the New York media, already convinced that LeBron James will be playing in the area after he becomes a free agent in 2010, gets whipped into a frenzy. (Yesterday was no exception: both the Times and the Post had articles about James's "imminent" departure from Cleveland.)
Well, if James becomes a Net, he'll be back on a lottery team.
The Cavs rode a 57-30 second half advantage to a 106-82 win over the Nets last night at the Izod Center. (The "Izod Center"? Really? Can we please bring back "The Meadowlands", or even "Continental Airlines Arena"?) The Cavs played uninspired ball in the first half, and were lucky to be trailing by only three points (52-49) at the intermission. Thanks to a much more intense defense in the second half, they turned a close game into a full rout.
The win was the Cavs' eighth in a row and improved their Central Division-leading record to 9-2. New Jersey fell to 4-6, which puts them LAST (that's LAST, LeBron) in the Atlantic Division. Speaking of LeBron, he paced the Cavs with 31 points. The starting backcourt of Mo Williams and Delonte West each notched 16 points, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 13 points and nine boards. The Nets were led by Devin Harris's 23 points, and rookie center Brook Lopez posted 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
It's the NBA. Where paying a guy $22 million to sit happens.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
Yes, You Are Reading This Correctly: The Cavs came out of the locker room at halftime and dominated the game in the third quarter.
I repeat: The Cavs came out of the locker room at halftime and dominated the game in the third quarter.
Didn't expect that, did you? One of the consistent Achilles Heels of the teams of Coach Mike Brown has been sleepwalking in the second half. In this Thanksgiving season, it's easy to surmise that the locker room featured a spread of turkey, stuffing, and all the fixings. The players would stumble out of the locker room in a tryptophan haze, ready for the recliner and snoozing through the Lions losing to whomever.
Guess what? Those were your father's Cavaliers. (Or at least your two-weeks-ago Cavaliers.) In the Denver game last week, the Cavs trailed 61-58 at the half, then outscored the Nuggets 52-38 in the second half. On Saturday, the Cavs trailed by seven against Utah at the break, but crushed the Jazz 59-40 the rest of the way to earn the win.
Changing Of The Guard: Without a doubt, the 2008-09 Cavs are better than any other Cavs team in the LeBron James era, and perhaps better than any other team in Cavs history. One of the major reasons for that is the much improved cast of guards patrolling the backcourt. Williams and West are the best tandem the Cavs have had since Price and Harper. (Apologies to those who were holding out for Darius Miles and Ricky Davis.)
The beginning of the third quarter showed exactly why that statement is true. Williams hit a three-pointer to tie the game. Then West made a three-pointer of his own, giving the Cavs a lead they would not relinquish. Then it was Williams's turn to make another three-pointer. Then it was West's turn. Three minutes into the second half, the Nets were down by nine and looking for the number of the truck that just ran them over.
Last year, at least before the trading deadline, the Cavs' backcourt consisted of Larry Hughes, Sasha Pavlovic, Damon Jones, Eric Snow, and Devin Brown. I would like you to close your eyes and try to imagine any combination of those gentlemen doing what Williams and West did last night. Can't be done.
Fear the Fro ... Or At Least The Cornrows: Although his efforts won't appear in the statistics, Ben Wallace was a huge key to the turnaround in the third quarter. Freed of the mantle of being Da Man in Chicago, he can be what he truly is: a solid defensive player, maybe not as active as he was during his Detroit years, but certainly a force that can change the course of a game. He had two huge blocked shots and one floor burn (from diving for a loose ball) during the third-quarter surge, and would later have another memorable block on a Carter shot.
Perhaps most notably, he foiled the "hack-a-Ben" plan of Nets coach Lawrence Frank. In the final minute of the third quarter, the Nets intentionally fouled Wallace, sending him to the free throw line. Admittedly, that strategy makes sense: Ben is a career 42% free throw shooter, after all. But not last night. He stepped to the line, and - swish! swish! - made both free throws without even touching the rim.
Play Of The Night: Cavs in control, 97-80. Ilgauskas has the ball on the left baseline. He spots James cutting to the hoop, throws an alley-oop pass that is high enough to smack into the space station ... and LeBron somehow got to the ball and laid it in the hoop (while being fouled; we wouldn't want it to be easy). The layup itself wasn't the story; it was how high LeBron went into the air to get the ball. I imagine he will be probable for tonight's game with the Pistons, seeing as though he must have scraped his knuckles pretty badly on the ceiling of the arena.
Not Just A Towel Waver Anymore: Thanks to virtually every other guard on the roster getting into early foul trouble, Coach Mike Brown had no choice but to call Tarence Kinsey's number in the first quarter. Kinsey, as you know, is the leader of The Tarence Kinsey Brigade, which shows up only when the difference is at least 20 points. But last night, he had to play when the outcome of the game was still in doubt, and he responded.
The boxscore doesn't really tell the story - zero points and three rebounds in four and a half minutes of play - but Kinsey has the potential to be very disruptive on defense. He is 6'6", has the wingspan of a 747, and is willing to get right in an opponent's face. (He also weighs 83 pounds, it should be noted.) The one weak spot in the Cavs' guard rotation is the lack of a taller guard who can defend the perimeter. Kinsey could be that player, and hopefully we will see more of him in important game situations.
Time For A New Feature!: This season, we have already introduced several recurring features for the GBS. We have Uncle Austin, the catalog of Cavs announcer Austin Carr's daily tussle with the English language. We have Unfrozen Caveman Shooting Guard, for chronicling the basketball adventures of Sasha Pavlovic. We're extending the "The NBA: Where _____ Happens" series of advertisements that have saturated the airwaves this season and last. But we need more.
I have always been amused by the nickname of Cavs guard Daniel Gibson. I'm not sure why he needs a nickname; "Daniel" is a perfectly good name. But for whatever reason, he carries the moniker of "Boobie". It's really rather ridiculous for a grown man to use a nickname that references the female anatomy - it seems very junior-high-school-ish. But if there is one thing I have learned in life (aside from "don't bet money with men named ‘Snake'"), it is to go with the flow. If the rest of the world insists on calling him "Boobie", I will not only go along with it; I will celebrate it.
In that spirit, the GBS is proud to announce The Boobie Meter, We're going to evaluate Gibson's play, and then assign it a grade on a scale of famous racks. The better the game, the larger the cup size. I will warn you in advance: this feature carries the very real risk of displaying pictures of the women involved. (Much to the delight of the approximately 99% of the audience that is either male or alternatively-lifestyled female.) Don't worry; I won't include cheesecake or NSFW pictures right in the columns; I'll merely link to them. (Much to the delight of the approximately 100% of the audience that is reading this column at work.)
Okay, time for last night's game. Boobie had a very challenging first half - he missed the one shot he took, and picked up three fouls at lightspeed. He was in danger of getting a rating of Man-Boobs (relax, no picture for the one). But he redeemed himself somewhat in the second half, hitting a pair of three-pointers (including one of his patented "extend the leg into the defender and fall to the ground" jobs that results in an And-One). One rebound, one assist, one steal, seven points ... solid effort overall. We'll rate it a Katie Holmes.
(One last note: the GBS is not impressed by overly-siliconed racks. Pamela Anderson does not have breasts; she has a flotation device stuffed inside her chest. If a tsunami ever hit the U.S., she would be the only survivor.)
Speaking Of Uncle Austin: As we have noted before, our beloved AC likes to pick an arbitrary threshold that one of the teams (usually the Cavs) must meet in order to win. For example, if the Cavs are losing by ten points in the fourth quarter, AC will blurt, "if they can cut it to five points with three minutes to go, they have a chance to win this game". Never mind where the "five points" and "three minutes" come from; in AC's mind, it all makes sense.
Now that the Cavs are leading in most every fourth quarter, we are seeing a new trend from AC: he will report how many more minutes the Cavs need to play well in order to seal the victory. Last night, with 6:25 to go, AC decreed that "two or three more minutes of this stifling defense, and this game is over". Uh, Austin, the Cavs were leading by 17 at the time. I'm not sure how many times in NBA history a team has overcome a 17-point deficit in half of a quarter (would that be an eighth?), but the list ain't long. The Cavs could have played no defense and still won the game.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT THE GAME:
You Probably Figured This Out By Now: If the Cavs outscored the Nets by 27 in the second half, and won by 24, then they must have been losing at halftime. (Amazing powers of deduction there. Just amazing.) It wasn't so much that they were losing at halftime that is bothersome; it was the way in which they were losing. I will cite two statistics from the first half:
The first statistic means that the offense often regressed to LeBron And Four Guys Waiting For A Bus - too much standing around, little player or ball movement. The second statistic means that when they were passing the ball, it was right to a New Jersey player or to a guy on his cell phone in the third row.
A Short Essay On Vinsanity: As all Cavs fans know, Expiring Contract Wally Szczerbiak (his full and official name, at least this season) is making $13 million in the last year of his deal, and that fact could make him attractive to another team looking to move a longer-term contract. One of those contracts, which has been linked to the Cavs before, is the four-year deal of the Nets' Carter.
In the past, I have suggested that such a trade could be good for the Cavs - Carter is a longtime 23-25 PPG scorer and would give the Cavs a real threat behind LeBron. The guy is talented, without a doubt.
However, last night convinced me: I do not want Vince Carter on the Cleveland Cavaliers. I had forgotten just how Not Fun it is to watch the guy in action. When he does have the ball, he jacks up shot after shot. When he does not have the ball, he sulks, practically wearing a sign of DON' WANNA on his chest. There is no need to disrupt the Cavs' chemistry (to say nothing of the development of Brother Red himself, Delonte West) to bring Carter into the fold.
(Disclaimer: I will completely forget what I just wrote, and will officially be on board, should the Cavs deal for Carter at some point. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.)
NOT THAT YOU ASKED, BUT...:
It Has To Be Said: One of the frequent advertisers during Cavs games is a local personal injury law firm. That's bad enough - you would hear fewer ambulance sirens if you stood outside the Cleveland Clinic emergency room for two hours - but making it worse is that one of the attorneys prominently featured in the ads features the worst comb-over in the History of Bad Hair. It's not even truly a comb-over; it's more like he started the comb-over, then said "screw it" about halfway through, and just let the hair drift down toward his eyes.
So as a public service, I am asking my readers (hi Tom!): please get into an accident. And then sue the pants off everybody involved - the other guy, the other guy's employer, and folks at Philip Morris/Altria, who technically would have had nothing to do with the accident, but are handing out billions anyway, and they may throw some your way without even thinking. We need to get this guy an appointment with a hair stylist, or at least a good rug.
WHAT LIES AHEAD:
Now for the fun part. After being on the road in New Jersey last night, the Cavs will find themselves in Detroit tonight to take on the Pistons. That's right - it's the dreaded back-to-back, and the Especially Dreaded Back-to-Back Away From Home. So please, if the Cavs happen to lose tonight, don't go all postal. No need to look up "Kevorkian" in the phone book. Teams win only 6.2% of the time in these situations (note: I just made up that number; however, the truth is probably pretty close), so should the Cavs lose tonight, just take it in stride and wait for the next game (which will be Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks).