Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cleveland 109, Phoenix 91

Of course they won by in a blow out, why not? A day after losing the Dirk-less Mavericks, the Cavs stomped the Suns in Phoenix. The offense was wide open (the Cavs had 17 fast break points to Phoenix's 4!), the Cavs shared the ball (even, no especially, in the fourth quarter) and the defense was more than solid (holding the Suns to just 17 in the final period). The energy level was night and day when compared with the Dallas game.

LeBron looked focused. James came out like man possessed, scoring 12 point the first quarter (with only two points coming outside the key) and setting the tone for the entire evening. It was nice to see him posting up early in the game, though I'll get excited when he does it on a regular basis, not just during the first quarter following a rough stretch. LeBron finished with 29 points, 6 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals. He shot the ball well, going 11-21 from the floor, taking just three treys (making one, a late dagger) and he made all six of his free throws. Also, he absolutely owns Jason Richardson, at this point it's almost mean (he bounced a pass to Varejao between J-Rich's legs for an easy dunk).

There were long stretches of James at the 4. It probably had more to do with the matchup agains the Suns rather than the Cavs own philosphy but regardless, it was nice to see. With 9 minutes to go, LeBron subbed in for Z and the Cavs had a 86-82 lead and a lineup of Mo-Boobie-West-LeBron-Varejao. Six minutes and one substituion later (Anthony Parker for Gibson) the Cavs led 105-86 and the game was over. Sure, the Suns are a small team that runs, so the Cavs were allowed to get away with a three-guard lineup, but Mo-Delonte-Moon-LBJ-Varejao wouldn't work against most teams?

They didn't get a lot from Shaq. 3 points (1-2 FG, 1-2 FT), 5 boards and 3 turnovers. Yikes. To be fair, playing the run-and-gun Suns, on the second night of a back-to-back, isn't exactly playing to his strengths. On the other hand, the Cavs just played two tough Western Conference opponents and Shaq had two field goals total. It's becoming more and more apparent that they're better with Shaq on the bench. I don't disagree that they'll need him for Dwight Howard and the Lakers (should they meet in the playoffs) but against most NBA teams, Shaq is a 'luxury' that the Cavs don't know how to use.

A lot of Cavaliers did a lot of things. Mo Williams played great, scoring 24 points to go with 6 boards, 5 assists, 3 steals and a block (with just one turnover). Mo's passing has been off the charts, he's really throwing the ball well from the top of the key, routinely hitting cutters (Hickson, Varejao and yes, LBJ) on slip screens for easy dunks (something Phoenix had no real answer four. But that's the price you pay for playing Channing Frye at center). Delonte had another stat stuffing night, going for 12 points (5-7 FG), 3 boards, 6 assists, 3 steals, a block and a couple of those "god damn, I love Delonte" plays (he took the ball to the rim strong and abused Nash on the low block). Anthony Parker also played well, giving them 7-5-3 and looking much more comfortable in the offense (he wasn't just spotting up). Hell, even J.J. Hickson gave 'em 10 points and 6 boards (2 offensive).

Anderson Varejao is playing superb basketball at the moment. Varejao's final line of 13-4-1 isn't overly impressive, but the way he and LeBron played together down the stretch was a delight to watch. Varejao made himself available by diving towards the rim and the Cavs rewarded him by setting himup for easy dunks (like the one through Richarson's legs). Andy was his usual annoying self on defense, drawing offensive fouls, pissing off Amare Stoudemire and drawing a tech.

Gotta love the defense. The Cavs forced 18 turnovers, held the Suns to 16 in the final period and outscored the Suns 17-4 on fast break points. The Suns were under 100 points for the first tiem in 36 games and the Suns lost at home for the first time in 19 games (they're now 10-1 on the season). Both Delonte and Mo did a decent job on Nash (18 points, 10 assists 0-3 3pt) and the Cavs stayed home on Phoenix's shooters, not letting them get good looks (the Suns were just 4-19 from behind the arc).

and finally...

I dunno about you, but I feel better. I was not a happy camper after the Dallas loss. That should not have happened. But becomming the first team to beat the Suns at home all season? Me gusta. The key is going to be how much do the Cavs take away from this game. Will they play LeBron more at the 4? Will they continue to run the offense against a team that actually plays defense? Will James go to the post (the actual low block) on a regular basis? We shall see. They haven't played the best ball this year, but they are 21-6 in their last 27. That ain't too bad, no?