While the box score may show that the Cavaliers topped the Kings thanks to huge scoring nights from LeBron James and Mo Williams, the real story of the 117-104 overtime win in Sacramento was the crunch time defense coupled with timely execution on the offensive end. The Kings’ Tyreke Evans (more on him later) was abusing the Cavaliers for the majority of the evening until midway through the fourth quarter when LeBron James opted to cover him on the defensive end. It was from this point that Evans would go on to shoot 1-for-8 though the fourth quarter and into overtime, allowing the Cavaliers to pull away and nail the proverbial coffin.
But things did not come easy. Until the overtime period, the Cavaliers biggest lead was eight points; the Kings managed one of six points. There were several lead changes, a slew of clutch shots on both sides, and all around exciting play for 54 minutes.
James would finish the contest with his second triple-double of the season thanks to 34 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists and an amazing +26 through his 43 minutes on the floor. A good chunk of that +26 came in the final 15 minutes of play as James continually forced the rookie Evans into tough shots including one at the end of regulation that missed the entire rim/backboard by about six feet. James did have his slip ups at times, allowing a screen and easy layup at one point and succumbing to a stellar drop step – though Evans had missed the easy bucket. Following Evans’ miss at the buzzer, it was all Cavaliers in the overtime period as Sacramento would not score a single point.
“It was fun; Tyreke is going to be a great player,” James said. “It was just me taking the challenge. He was getting where he wanted to get on the court. I wanted to use my length, use my experience and use my mind-set defensively.”
James’ partner in crime Mo Williams was step for step with No. 23 for most of the evening. Despite missing time with a leg contusion – and grimacing through most of the night – Williams would come back and finish with 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting including three three-point field goals. Many of Williams’ conversions came in situations of need including a huge three-pointer towards the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game in a period where Sacramento appeared to be pulling away.
Along with James and Mo, the Cavaliers had plenty of help from teammates Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Parker. Parker had a clutch make late in the game, Varejao would contribute mostly on the defensive end and Ilgauskas was Mr. Overtime thanks to three consecutive three-balls from the right corner. Varejao would hit a long jumper to end the third quarter from the same spot, but it was Ilgauskas who would receive three straight kick-out passes from teammates (James twice, Parker once) and swish three straight treys. Big Z finished with a season-high 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, eight boards and a blocked shot.
While the Cavaliers came out with the win, it was not without miscues. A team that is supposed to pride itself on defense allowed 32 points in the third quarter. Through most of the game, there was a huge free-throw disparity that kept things close thanks to careless fouls by Shaquille O’Neal (eight points, eight rebounds) and Varejao. Daniel Gibson saw little time after two quick fouls of his own in 12 minutes of play. Of course, there was the token period of play where James opted for dribbling out the clock and heatcheck type jumpers, especially when Mo Williams was seemingly on fire. And finally, we are seeing that the JJ Hickson experiment is growing more and more trying by the day as Mike Brown only played the young power forward for 17 minutes.
At one point in the game, Hickson was burnt on a screen-and-roll and was promptly pulled by Brown who was irate. During the insuing timeout, Brown walked Hickson out to midcourt and physically acted out a defensive stance and (as calmly as possible) explained what Hickson is to do in those moments.
Hickson, however, was done zero favors by the Kings’ Evans who finished with 28 points, three rebounds and five assists. The 6’6″ Evans also blocked three shots on the night and repeatedly used his size and quickness to earn each and every point. Prior to being blanketed by James, Evans was 10-for-17 with two threes and a flawless 4-of-4 from the line. He is an amazing player given any level of experience, and even more so when figuring only 28 games played at the NBA level. Evans looks like a Dwyane Wade in the making if only Wade had the shooting range that Evans has. Fans on the east coast (or midwest) rarely make time to watch western conference teams, but Evans is one of those guys that deserves undivided attention whenever he’s on the television. If only someone like Brandon Jennings was in the west – it would be the new “LeBron/Wade.”
The Cavaliers will get today off – along with the rest of the NBA – as they travel to Los Angeles for tomorrow’s big game against the Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. This one is being billed as the “biggest Christmas Day game ever,” so we should hope that the wine and gold can live up to the hype. For now, we can enjoy last night’s excellent game that resulted in a Cavaliers win. [Puts threes to eyes]
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)