They would've lost this game last year. Poor shooting (38%)? Check. On the road? Check. Against a less talented team? Check. Good excuses (injuries, West coast trip)? Check. This game had all the trappings of those frustrating losses that plagued the team all last season (against the Hawks, Knicks, Celtics, etc). The Cavs were flat, the offense sputtered and key players struggled (Sasha Pavlovic was 1-10 and both Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas were in foul trouble). But somehow they prevailed.
That 'somehow' was LeBron James. James didn't have a particularly strong evening (he didn't grab his first rebound until the fourth quarter) but he scored 8 points over the game's last three minutes to put the Kings away (which is great, because he only scored 7 points in the first 24 minutes). The stat sheet wasn't as stuffed as much as it's been recently (only 4 boards and 4 assists- he's averaging 8 and 7.5 for the season, respectively) but James played great down the stretch on both ends of the court. LeBron had yet another block (he's averaging 2 per game- and I thought he had an additional one) and he was in Kevin Martin's face for the Kings' last possession.
Devin Brown played great. Brown gave the Cavs 20 points, 11 boards and 3 assists in 36 minutes (by far his most court time this season). The Cavs needed Brown to play well since Daniel Gibson was in foul trouble all night and Sasha Pavlovic shot a Larry Hughes-esque 1-10 from the floor. Brown also helped the Cavs spread the floor as he hit two out of his six 3s (plus, when he goes inside, he has the strength to finish).
The Kings' zone defense gave the Cavs fits. So far this season, the Cavs have done a pretty good job of sticking with their offense and getting the ball inside. That didn't happen in Sacramento. Thanks to the Kings' defense, the Cavs shot 25 3s (making 7) and just 22 free throws (making 16). The Cavs shot just 38% from the floor, 28% from beyond the arc and just 72% from the line (though that 72% marks the high point over the last three games). The Cavs didn't go inside, LeBron was getting the ball 25 feet from the hoop (rather than 15 like he's done all year) and for some reason, both Gooden and Z were receiving and passing the ball from beyond the 3 point arc during the last 2 minutes.
Dear ESPN, yes the Cavs have a lot of injuries, but nobody cares (well, Cavalier fans certainly don't care). Seriously, the injured Cavaliers are Eric Snow, Larry Hughes and Donyell Marshall- all the older, unproductive players (that absolutely kill the offense). The only player out that the Cavs actually miss is Anderson Varejao. I, for one, am more than willing to have Coach Mike teach the young, offensive minded players how to play defense rather than having to watch decent defensive players run the 'offense'. I can't even imagine how bad the Cavs' offense would've looked if Snow and Hughes were out there against that zone.
Kevin Martin is pretty good... He scored 32 points on just 17 shots and he made 17 out of 18 free throws. That's efficient. The Kings used him similarly to Reggie Miller; Martin was running Cavs players through picks all night long in order to get open jumpers. I actually thought that the Cavs did a pretty decent job on him (only 7-17 shooting), but the points sure do rack up when you make over 90% of your free throws (hint hint LeBron).
Drew Gooden bounced back. After shooting just 2-11 and going for just 8 points (to go with 9 boards) against Utah, Gooden shot 6-13 and had 14 points (with again, 9 boards) in Sacramento. With Varejao out, Gooden, if he can stay focus, has a chance to establish himself as the Cavs mainstay at the power forward position.
Ilgauskas probably had his worst game of the year. And he still finished with 11 points and 15 boards in 34 minutes. The big fella was frustrated most of the evening with his lack of touches (he was just 3-11), the bulk of which came off his 8 offensive rebounds. Z's averaging 16 points and 14 boards for the season in about 34 minutes a game (which is right around where I'd like to see him. He doesn't need to be in the upper 30s in terms of minutes, but 32-35 should work).
However, with Z in foul trouble and Varejao sitting on his ass in Brazil, we got our first look at Cedric Simmons. Simmons intrigues me, simply because of his athleticism (seriously, I want LeBron paired with a big man who can leap) but he really didn't do a whole lot in his first 9 minutes of the season (1 rebound, 1 block, 0-2 FT, 0-1 FG). With Varejao's contract situation still up in the air (and it could be that way for awhile) and Donyell Marshall out, Simmons is battling Dwayne Jones for the back up big man minutes. So far, neither has done much to distinguish himself.
Did everyone see Mike Bibby in street clothes? This is one of the many reasons why I'm glad the Cavs didn't trade for him (along with his contract, his 3 point shooting and the leverage they'd lose with Varejao). Sure, I'm not thrilled with all of Danny Ferry's moves (and let's not forget that he was on the job for about a week for the Hughes, Marshall and Jones signings), but I'm impressed with the moves he hasn't done, to keep the Cavs out of even worse cap trouble (both the Gooden and Pavlovic deals, Varejao slowly screwing himself over and, lord, right now we could be watching both Hughes and Bibby wear suits every night).
Like I said, not all the moves... Shannon Browns got another DNP-CD against the Kings. It's really not a good sign when last season's first round pick can't get minutes with two veteran guards out (Snow and Hughes) while the other guard (Pavlovic) plays himself into shape and shoots 25% (10-40 FG, 1-13 3pt).
Finish the trip strong. So far, the Cavs are 2-2 on their West coast trip. With the remaining games against the Clippers (4-1) and the Nuggets (3-3), you hope they can at least grab a split and finish the six game swing goes 3-3. It'd be a great start to the season if the Cavs can return to Cleveland with .500 or winning record. Neither game is particularly easy, but the way the Cavs have played on this trip, it wouldn't be a stretch for them to finish it out with a three game win streak.