Not the prettiest game but the Cavs needed this one. The game was much closer than the final score makes it seem (it was a four point game with 2 minutes left). The Cavs had some nice stretches but they had some struggles throughout the game. The Cavs had some issues both offensively (the New Orleans zone seemed to frustrate them) and defensively (they had a real hard time guarding Darren Collison and Marcus Thorton, two small, quick guards). The Cavs pulled away at the end thanks to a few threes and some timely defense. It was a hard fought win and it ensures that the Cavs won't be heading into Thursday's game in Boston on a four game slide.
Things started off fairly well. The Cavs came out focused; the defense was good (they challenged every shot), the offense was crisp and they had a lot of energy. The Cavs led 28-16 after the first, with LeBron scoring only 5 points in the quarter (he didn't score until there were four minutes left). The offensive movement was delightful; everyone touched the ball, they made quick decisions and they got a lot of good shots. There wasn't any standing around and watching LeBron. It was nice to see.
Things didn't go quite as well in the second quarter. Two words: Marcus Thorton. Thorton, a rookie, absolutely torched Cleveland. There was no stopping him; Thorton scored 23 points in the second quarter (he finished with 38) as the Hornets put up 40 to the Cavs' 25. New Orleans had 21 fast break points in the period. The Cavs transition defense was awful and they seemed to have real trouble dealing the Hornets' zone defense.
Cleveland's defense stepped up in the second half. While the Hornets scored 40 points in the second quarter, they only put up 39 in the entire second half. The Cavs pestered the New Orleans shooters and cut back on the easy baskets (they stuck LeBron on Thorton, though he still scored). The Cavs shot only 8-25 from behind the arc (!!) but three of those eight came in the final four minutes (Mo, West and LeBron all hit big shots) and the Cavs pulled away at the end.
LeBron was solid, if unspectacular. James finished with 20 points, 5 boards, 13 assists and 2 steals in, um, 44 minutes (not sure I like Bron-Bron having to play 40+ against a Chris Paul-less Hornets, but they needed this win). LeBron finished 7-16 from the floor (2-6 from three) and made all four of his freebies. There were some offensive, LeIso-ish, issues at times, but late in the game, LeBron set up on the block (finding Jamison for an easy layup) and attacked the rim. The Cavs had six guys in double figures and LeBron's passing is a big reason why (as a team, the Cavs had 29 assists).
Antawn Jamison started, played well. Jamison played pretty well, scoring 18 points (7-14 FG) and notching 8 boards and 2 assists. He spaces the floor really well and whenever he finds some space, LeBron finds him (he got a few layups off of passes from LBJ). James also found him for a nasty 'and one' dunk over David West in transition. Antawn was running on the wing, took a pass from James and skied over West with a one-handed jam. I, for one, did not see that coming. Well done, sir. Jamison could average 20 points in Cleveland without getting a play called for himself.
Coach Mike shortened the rotation, playing only eight players. Boobie, Hickson and Jawad were the odd men out but I can't really disagree with Brown. I like Boobie a lot and he's done well thus far, but he wasn't playing before Mo and Delonte got hurt, so I'm not exactly shocked he's not seeing the court. Mo can give you most of what Boobie does (assuming Mo ever finds his shot) but he passes (8 assists for Mo)( and handles the ball better (same with West. Delonte just gives them more). Jamario Moon received some playing time but only 10 minutes. I like Moon and what he brings too the Cavs; he's athletic (before he got hurt, they were routinely throwing him alley-oops from the weak side) and he's tall (he can defend bigger guys), so he's more versatile than both Gibson and Hickson.
I liked some of the lineups we saw Tuesday night. I really enjoyed the West, Moon, LeBron, Jamison and Varejao lineup. That's a group that should be able to compete both offensively and defensively. I also liked seeing a old school/new school blend of Mo, West, LBJ, Jamison and Shaq. That group could be positively deadly. Brown has his work cut out for him. It's only going to get harder with Leon Powe activated and Z's possible return.
Shaq had a solid game. The Big Fella had 20 points and 7 boards in 31 minutes. You can tell Shaq is getting his touch back as he's making a lot of those layups and bank shots he was missing early in the year. O'Neal finished 9-13 from the floor and the Cavs found him for easy hoops off of pick-and-rolls and dribble penetration (he had two or three alley-oops). He may be old, but he's still a load and he can still put the ball in the hole. I can't believe I'm saying this, but the Cavs need to utilize him more, especially when they get jumpshot happy. Very few guys can guard Shaq one-on-one (even at this age) and playing inside-out isn't a bad way to go when the offense stagnates.
Mo Williams didn't have the best of nights. Mo just doesn't seem right to me. His jumper looks flat and he shot just 2-9 from the field (1-5 3FG) for 6 points. Defensively, he was completely useless against both Collison and Thorton (22 and 37 points, respectively). It was nice to see Williams hit a big shot (a three that gave them a 92-89 lead with just over four minutes to go) but the Cavs are going to need more from him over the long haul.
Special shout out to the Cavs announcers. Wow. I know they're blatant homers and everything but I nearly died when Fred McLeod said that he thought Shaq got all ball on his fifth foul. I mean, this wasn't even close. I don't think Shaq got any ball, let alone all of it. I get the wine and gold colored glasses, I really do, but it's it not the end of the world to admit that a Cavalier committed a foul, especially when it's blatantly obvious. Just call the game and let Austin say crazy crap, that's all we need.
Cavs vs Celtics on Thursday. Finally, the Cavs will be able to test themselves against the Best Team in Basketball (*when healthy). Hopefully, the Cavs can build off this win against the Hornets (it wasn't easy) and go into Boston with some confidence. Obviously, the Cavs are still getting used to the Jamison acquisition but it sure would be nice to win a game in Beantown.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com