Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cleveland 99, Houston 90

Fun, fun game (despite the lack of free chalupas). Sometimes I'm just struck by how much I'm enjoying this team; these guys are extremely easy to like. They have an unselfish superstar, a solid No. 2 in Mo Williams, they have shooters, defenders, hustle guys, some talented rookies and a coach who has the complete backing of management. They're athletic, fundamentally sound and mentally tough. They don't bitch at the refs, they haven't just been slapped together and they do all the little things (bounce passes! post passes! passing the ball up court on breaks! bank shots! layups!) that make good teams great.

Close game throughout. The Rockets were playing their fourth game in five nights but they gave the Cavs a strong game. The teams were tied at halftime and though the Cavs built a double-digit lead in the second half (82-68), the Rockets fought back and the Cavs led 86-85 with a little over five minutes left in the game. However, like always, the Cavs executed down the stretch, buckled down on D and methodically put the Rockets away. Mo Williams scored 10 points in the final period and Boobie hit a couple of big 3s and the Cavs won without LeBron "taking over".

But it's not like James wasn't a factor or anything. LeBron had yet another MVP night, scoring 27 points to go along with 9 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals and a block (also 7 TOs). He scored 18 of his points in the second half (14 in the third) and he had a HUGE block on Yao Ming late to squash any hopes of Houston's comeback. James was 11-23 from the field and finished 5-7 from the line (making his last 5), where he was greeted with chants of M-V-P (which, if we fans do our jobs right, should accompany his freebies for the next 6 months). Oh, and the Cavs were able to beat the Rockets with James playing under 40 minutes (38). Awesome.

Tracy McGrady- wha' happened? Don't get me wrong, James did a good job on defense, but McGrady made it kinda easy, playing passively at the offensive end and settling for a lot of jumpers. Maybe it the fact that's it's the last game of a 4-in-5, maybe he's afraid of contact or maybe he just didn't want to get hurt- I dunno. But T-Mac finished with 4 points (2-7 FG, 0 pts in the second half), 6 assists and 1 board. He was not a factor for much of the game and especially absent down the stretch, you know, winning time [insert first round playoff joke here].

Mo Williams is awesome. Here's how the Cavs started the final period: Varejao lay (Mo assist), Z jumper (Mo assist), Mo jumper, Mo 3pt, Mo layup. Williams was responsible for the Cavs first 11 points of the fourth quarter, pushing a 9 point lead to 14. He had a couple of nice drives and he set up LeBron with a tight baseline alley-oop. I think I have a fun drinking game: everytime Williams or West makes a play that Hughes wouldn't make in a million years, take a drink (note: I'm including backdoor passes, not forcing a shot, post entry passes and finishing inside). Williams finished with 23 points (8-13 FG, 2-5 3pt), 4 boards and 4 assists.

West got hurt. West left the game with back spasms and when he returned, he didn't look remotely comfortable. I'm both a little concerned and relatively at ease. The fact that West came back at all gives me some comfort, even if he didn't look great. West had 10 points (3-8 FG), 4 assists and 2 boards and was matched up with McGrady for the bulk of his minutes. I guess you could say that West passed the test (T-Mac did finish with just 4 points), but I would've liked to see how he held up against an aggressive big 2 guard.

But Boobie stepped up. Gibson played some big minutes (28, more than both Z and West and one less than Wallace) and he nailed some huge treys late in the game. Gibson also grabbed 6 boards and dished out an assist. If West is out for any extended period of time (I'd consider resting him for the Wizards game), the Cavs will need Gibson step it up.

The big men played well. Z had 11 points (5-9 FG) and 3 boards in 27 minutes, Big Ben had 6 and 6 (3-5 FG), Varejao had 6 and 7 and for some reason Lorenzen Wright played 4 minutes (almost netting a 4 trillion, but he missed a layup). They all battled Yao fairly well, limiting the big man to 3-10 shooting, but he drew a lot of fouls (Z fouled out) and made all 13 of his free throws. I liked what I saw from Wallace; he was more aggressive at the offensive end and he made the Rockets pay for ignoring him. I'm not saying the Cavs should feature the guy or anything, but Wallace can't be passing up layups, he's got to attack when he's open.

It's not a huge thing... but... The only Rockets players that had good days offensively were the point guards Rafer Alston and Aaron Brooks. Alston shot 8-11 from the floor, scoring 20 points to go along with 4 assists, 2 boards and 2 steals. Meanwhile, Brooks had 10 points off the bench pitched in 4 boards and 3 assists.

The little things amaze me. I know it's cliche, but Ben Wallace does a lot of stuff that doesn't make it into the box score. Because he's so active in chasing down loose balls, he forces players out of their comfort zone and they'll make some mistakes/fouls that lead to extra Cavs possessions. These aren't quite steals or rebounds, but they give the Cavs some extra breathing room. And that backdoor alley-oop Williams tossed to LBJ? Sasha Pavlovic had grabbed not one, but two offensive boards during that same possession. As I said before, it's those kind of plays that makes this team really easy to like.

and finally...

Happy Christmas! The Cavs face their perennial first round foes in the Washington Wizards on Christmas night. I can't imagine that this would be a tough game. I'll definitely have some kind of recap, as I'll be attending my first game of the year, nose-bleed style. After the X-mas game, they have a home-and-home (with a day off between) with the Heat starting Sunday and then they face the Bulls for their first game in 2009. But the game I'm most looking forward to comes on January 9th. I need to get tickets ASAP.