First quarter... thought it could get ugly. The Spurs had leads of 8-2, 18-10 and 21-12. The Cavs kept making mini runs to make things close and eventually finished the quarter down 26-19, but things didn't look especially promising.
The second quarter didn't start out any better... With LeBron out the Cavs started out the second period by quickly getting themselves down 10, at 29-19. At this point, things looked grim. But then something weird happened...
They made a run. A big one. 20-4. At the 11:00 minute mark, the Cavs trailed 29-19. With 3:30 to go in the half, they led 45-35. What'd they do? Well, they shared the ball (7 assists on 9 baskets), fed Z (9 points) and played scrappy defense (2 steals, 2 blocks and a few forced turnovers). LeBron was on the court for only the last minute or so of the run (if that) and the Cavs kept him on the bench for almost 8 minutes of game time. The lineup that did the bulk of the damage was pretty solid: Damon Jones, Daniel Gibson, Devin Brown, Anderson Varejao and Z. That's a nice group of guys; Z can score (he's your main scorer in the group), both Gibson and Jones can knock down open jumpers and Brown and Varejao are your scrappers. I hope to see more of this group in the future.
But let's not minimize LeBron's night. James ended up with 27 points, 9 boards, 7 assists and 2 blocks. Vowing to work on his midrange game after the Finals, James came out and hit 5 jumpers between 10 and 20 feet. Sure, he wasn't exactly lighting it up (9-24 from the field), but scoring 10 points midrange made them respect the shot and he also got to the line 12 times (making 8). It wasn't the prettiest shooting display, though he could've gotten a few more calls, but he played smart (which is all you can ask for). Also, he could've very easily had 18-20 free throws if a few calls had went his way (especially in the second half).
The rebounding was huge. The Cavs won the rebounding battle 45-40 and they grabbed 15 offensive boards. Varejao was really big, grabbing 14 boards to go along with his 12 points. Varejao was the only Cavalier player in double digits, but everyone who played got a 'bound and every starter had at least 3.
Cavs win or Spurs loss? Don't get me wrong, the Cavs deserved to win this game, but something just didn't feel exactly right. Maybe it the 20 point swing with James on the bench, maybe it was the missed free throws (the Spurs were just 16-23), maybe it was the face that the Cavs finished the Spurs off by shooting a blistering 5-14 during the final 9 minutes... I dunno. Last year I enjoyed the win in San Antonio much more (the fact that the Cavs swept the season series last year and then got stomped in the Final could have something to do with it).
Larry Hughes played crunch time... and didn't piss me off. I was kinda surprised that Hughes replaced Damon Jones for the final part of the fourth quarter (especially after Damon hit a jumper to give the Cavs a lead with just over 6 minutes to go) but he did pretty well. He didn't take any bad shots (or any shots at all), he played relatively solid defense, deferred to James and Z and even made the extra pass to Gibson for a key 3. Sure, he finished the game shooting 2-7 but he also had 3 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block. Look people, I'm not looking for gold, at this point I'll take salvageable aluminum.
Weird subbing in the fourth. Not only did Hughes play crunch time, but Mike Brown took out LeBron with 8:45 to go in the game, which kinda surprised me. I'm all for LeBron getting more rest, but mid-fourth quarter (in San Antonio) isn't exactly the time I'd be prefer. Hell, I'm worried when he sits to start the fourth, let alone 3 minutes into it. He ended up missing one a minute and a half and they did win the game... but I felt Brown was playing with fire.
TNT made it sound like the Spurs were getting screwed by the refs, the crappiness went both ways my friends. Yes, Larry Hughes whacked Tony Parker in the head on a fast break. But the Cavs possession that led to that break? James was decked on a drive to the hoop with no call. That could've been brought up at some point (it was one of multiple times James took some hits without a whistle being blown). As for the no call on the Cavs go ahead basket (where LeBron ran into Fabrico Oberto)... Here's the thing, Oberto and James collided on the left side of the key, while James went forward towards the rim, Oberto landed to the right of the key near the 3 point line. If James ran him over, they'd have ended up going the same direction, no? That was a flop, plain and simple.
The Cavs have won four straight against the Spurs! Not counting playoffs.... I know this year has been deemed a disappointment so far but the Cavaliers do have wins San Antonio, Dallas, Golden State, Utah, Boston and the Lakers (of course, they also have losses against the Sixers, Knicks and Hawks in there as well). Plus, I thought they started the year really well, considering the hold outs and schedule (tough road trip right off the bat). Ya, they struggled for a bit (with James missing time) but they're 9-2 since Christmas and they seem to have found a nice groove. They have a rough stretch coming up (after they face the Heat on Monday) with the Wizards and Suns at home and a three game West Coast swing to face the Lakers, Blazers and Sonics. But you gotta admit, things seem to be looking up.