Um, what? So the Cavs played a so-so first half (trailed 53-49 at half) and then got themselves down 12 halfway through the third (69-57) and yet they won going away. How? Well, it was a combination of good Cavalier defense, poor New Jersey shooting, and a little bit of help from the refs (not a lot, but there were a couple iffy calls). The Cavs' staunch defense led to better offense and they outscored New Jersey 28-9 in the final period.
Wash that taste out. After the way they came out of halftime, I was about ready to turn the TV off. I was sick of them losing to mediocre teams... especially this close to the postseason. To their credit, the Cavs buckled down on defense (which led to run outs on offense) an the Cavs slowly climbed their way back into the game.
LeBron looked good, but in pain. James 'returned' to score 33 points, dish out 8 assists and grab 7 boards. When he was out of the game, to keep his back loose, James laid down on the baseline. And good thing too, because he does not look comfortable out there (and it didn't help that he took a lot of hits). James only had 35 minutes of game time, which is probably the result of both his back issues and the solid bench play.
And the Cavs got great bench production. Daniel Gibson had his best game since returning from injury (bay far); Gibson put up 12-5-5, he pushed the ball whenever he could (more of this please!) and he was scrappy on defense. Wally Szczerbiak also played really well, scoring 14 points (5-9 shooting, 2-3 from 3) in 24 minutes. The Cavs started the fourth up 76-74 and with a lineup of Gibson, Pavlovic, Szczerbiak, Smith, and Varejao. The lead was pushed to 8 by the time James and Z came back with 6:24 to go. I have to say, I really like that second unit and it's really one the benefits of the trade (before, when the bench was in, you just hoped that they'd keep the status quo. But now there's a halfway decent chance that someone could get hot and the bench bunch could actually push the lead).
The refs weren't terrible, but if I had to pick which team got most of the calls, the Cavs win handily. To their credit, when the shots weren't falling, the Nets took the ball to the rim. Unfortunately, those closer shots didn't fall and the refs weren't bailing them out. Richard Jefferson definitely has a gripe (Jefferson drove on Pavlovic and Varejao and chucked up a prayer that hit off the shot clock. Now, I thought this should've been a no-call, but somehow the Jefferson got called for an offensive foul. I have no clue how this happened). Varejao got a couple of calls his way, including one flop versus Diop which was just terrible.
The defense really picked up, but the Nets went cold. Don't get me wrong, the Cavs hustled, covered ground, rebounded well and kept putting pressure on New Jersey shooters.... but you don't hold a team to just one field goal over 12 minutes without some help from the offense. New Jersey's starters were just 15-51 from the floor (and their bench was a blistering 10-24) and Jefferson was a Hughes-esque 4-17. The fourth quarter really wasn't pretty (for them at least).
The Cavs' bigs were solid. Z was 5-11 for 13 points and 5 boards. Varejao finished with just 2 points, but also had 9 boards. Ben Wallace only played 17 minutes, but he looked pretty good early on (though he missed another dunk) while finishing with 4 rebounds. Finally, Joe Smith contributed a nice 7 points on 2-6 shooting (though a few good shots rimmed out) and grabbed 3 boards as well. Now, I know that New Jersey doesn't have big worth a damn, but still, it was nice to see the big guys all contribute.
Every Cavaliers who played, scored. Damon Jones however, didn't play... I really hope Brown knows what he's doing here; Jones has played extremely well all season and he definitely doesn't 'deserve' to have his PT cut. I'm assuming Brown is forcing Gibson out there to get his confidence and shooting back where they should be. Gibson looked really good tonight, but its just one game. I really hope that if Gibson (or Wallace or whoever) doesn't come around that Mike Brown won't hesitate to put in Damon.
It was not Stromile Swift's day. He got a layup stuffed by Varejao, he got fouled on a dunk (but no call), he missed two dunks, he got a cheapo offensive foul away from the ball. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrated Swift was; late in the game he attempted a strong, power dunk... that bounced off the back rim.
More rest please. Both LeBron and Ben Wallace could use a little R&R and they don't play again until Friday when they face the Bulls in Chicago. If the team had been at least a little bit healthy after the trade, I'd have liked to see them sit James, just to get ready for the playoffs... but the team hasn't been healthy. What they need the most now is consistency and cohesiveness. I'm not overly concerned with them losing the 4-seed (I'd be shocked if they did) and I don't think the outcome of these games are of great concern.