Friday, November 03, 2006

Cleveland 88, San Antonio 81

Some random thoughts from Cleveland's second win of the season.

This team is for real. Sure, that win over the Wizards was nice and all, but this was a big win. As you heard all night long, this was Cleveland's first win in San Antonio since the Reagan administration. Beating the Spurs in San Antonio is huge; last season the Cavs got killed on the road early on (remember those Indiana and San Antonio losses? Calling them ugly is being kind) Coming out with a win like this shows you how much they've grown.

Not only that, it was impressive. The Cavs led for virtually the entire game. They outscored the Spurs in every quarter except the 3rd (where SA had a one point advantage), they out rebounded the Spurs by 9 and they played great defense the entire night.

James may have made the dunk of the season. I know it's only two games old, but we'll be seeing his first quarter dunk over Tim Duncan for the rest of the season. Damn!

That dunk was just the beginning. LeBron got to the rim seemingly at will tonight. He had four or five plays where he made the basket and got fouled. And those weren't easy shots either; switching hands mid-air, spinning the ball off the glass left handed... freaking amazing.

This was an entire team game tonight. James led the Cavs with 35, but Hughes had 18 and Z and Gooden chipped in with 10 and 9, respectively. The bench's numbers don't look that great, but Marshall had a couple big threes, Varejao set some great picks and grabbed some big boards and Wesley got the Cavs a big three point play. It's even more impressive, considering that they got 2 points combined from their point guard position. Well done Snow and Jones.

I thought Z played well. He had some good looking shots and some bad, but overall I thought he had a good game. He seemed to be the only guy who slowed Duncan; if you noticed, every time Z sat, the Spurs immediately went to Duncan. Didn't matter if it was Gooden, Varjao or the 2 minutes of Scot Pollard; the second Z sat, Duncan went to work. Admittedly, this game was more at Z's pace. The Spurs really don't have an active, athletic big man to give him fits. Duncan (while 100 times better), plays more at Zydrunas's (slow) pace.

The Cavs beat the zone. From what I could tell, the Spurs only played zone for two possessions (a defense that has given the Cavs fits in the past). The first time, Hughes fired up a crappy looking three. But the next time down the court, the Cavs recognized it and got Z a 8 foot jumper in the middle of the key. Didn't see any zone after that.

Pavlovic is not long for this team. Sasha wasn't out there long, he took only one shot and had it blocked. Personally, it looked worse than it sounds. He had his shot blocked on a fast break by Ginobli, and not only did he botch a pass from LeBron, that shot shouldn't have been blocked in the first place (instead of taking a left handed layup, he went up with his, putting the ball right into the defender). He got yanked soon thereafter. Now, maybe you think he isn't getting his fair shot. I can see that, but the Cavs aren't exactly in an experimenting mode this season.

Shannon Brown dressed. Of course, he didn't play. But he was in street clothes for the game versus Washington, so it's a step up (he's reached Ira Newble status).

Mother F***ing free throws!!! My sweet lord (krishna krishna), can anyone hit free throws?! LeBron was 6-11, Marshall missed the only two he took (late in the game no less) and even Z missed three. This makes two wins in a row where the Cavs could've waltzed to victory if they took care of business at the line. If the Cavs have one weakness right now, it's at the charity stripe.

The offense stayed intact for the most part. There were sometimes late in the game where the offense broke down (or was non-existent) and the Cavs reverted to LeBron-on-five. He got some buckets out of it. But there was also an Eric Snow-Drew Gooden pick and roll late in the game with the shot clock running down. No one needs this. Ever.

But the offense was much better than Wednesday. The turnovers were way down (especially the first half) and the Cavs, for the most part, took good shots. The longer the season goes on, the better and better this offense is going to get. Tonight, both Z and LeBron got the ball in the post a decent amount of times (Hubie Brown said Z only got 3 post catches the entire Wizards game, say what you will of Z, but he needs more than that if he's going to be effective) and Hughes handled the ball quite a lot.

That defense. Wow. Seriously, I was impressed. If the Cavs can keep this up, they'll win a ton of games this season (55+). They held San Antonio to 36 points for the first half and 42% shooting for the game. You can see their confidence growing as the game goes along. The Spurs made some late surges (Duncan abused the entire squad. It was impressive) but San Antonio never got within 4 points. The Cavs never wavered, they kept challenging shots and, if need be, sending people to the line.

More Duncan. Late in the game Duncan just went to work on Cleveland. He put Z on the bench with foul trouble and then forced Mike Brown to bring Ilgauskas back in by just manhandling Gooden and Varejao. Of course, he promptly fouled out Z. It was a clinic. If you're a basketball dork like me, you enjoyed the back-to-the-basket goodness. But I think Brown will live with it, because he was only double teaming on selective plays. He'd rather let Duncan abuse the front line (and make his free throws) than give their guards open threes. The strategery worked tonight.

and finally,

Impressive. That's the one word that I kept hearing in my head after this game. The Cavs looked impressive. They went into San Antonio and led the game the entire way. They never got rattled and always seemed in control. If they want to be title contenders, they have to win games like this; on the road versus an elite team. And they did. The game never seemed in doubt. Sure, there was rough patches, but you couldn't ask for a more perfectly executed game in all aspects. More games like this, please.

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