The first quarter featured a young Cavalier team trading largely in slop, ultimately resulting in double-digit turnovers and a few head-scratching moments vis a vis extra, perhaps unnecessary pass attempts. But once this ten-man rotation had even more time to gel, perhaps aided by a post-first quarter pep talk from Scott, fans were graced with flashes of what the Wine and Gold can become on the offensive end. With roughly seven minutes to go in the third frame, the team’s first unit – on a night that was largely dominated by the “reserves” – flawlessly executed back-to-back plays that included nary a dribble.
Rooted in transition due to a tag-team defense of a high pick-and-roll by Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers point guard was merely the first domino to fall in a set of passes and screens. A look to the wing resulted in Antwan Jamison faking a ball screen before rotating to the corner. Anderon Varejao would follow suit, streaming to the top of the key where he would pull his defender, allowing Jamison to cut, undefended, to the rim for a bounce pass and easy conversion. It was Princeton offense in it’s finest moment, drawing a “text book!” scream of joy from the uber-unfiltered Austin Carr who was able to witness the beauty from his courtside perch.
Following yet another stop on the defensive end, the Cavaliers would hold their opponent to 44 percent shooting while amassing nine steals, Irving led a fast-break attempt, driving to the key before kicking the ball out to the wing where Anthony Parker was ready and waiting. Irving would roll to the far side of the floor as key-based defenders would flash toward Parker in attempt to nullify any three-point attempt. Again, a streaming Jamison would catch a pass, resulting in a successful lay-up attempt and a foul.
Successive plays laced entirely in ball movement and player location. The Cavaliers would be up five only five points prior to the first Jamison score; four quick points would extend their lead to nine before a three-pointer (again by the veteran power forward) would take the lead to double figures, all in the course of 50 game seconds.
Though only having two preseason games and a condensed slate of preseason practices, it appears that Byron Scott’s ever-so-slight implementation of his preferred style of offense is working in small doses. The players are communicating better two games into this season than they appeared to at all during the course of the 2010-11 slate; feel free to use correlation to the addition of Irving, but Ramon Sessions and his unit – comprised largely of players who called Cleveland home last season – appear to be doing just fine. One could see the elation in the second-year Cavs coach’s face as his players seemed to “get it,” even if each instance were by happenstance of an opponent turnover.
Once again, this time in a winning outcome, the upstart Cavaliers have been able to get to the rim via ball movement rather than isolation drives; 15 of the team’s 21 field goals at the rim were assisted with Irving, Parker and Daniel Gibson all chipping in at least three and all four of Jamison’s lay-ins being a product of his teammates’ passing. Where the said fluidity didn’t result in a lay-in, the Wine and Gold were able to make the opponent pay as assists also led to five of the team’s seven converted three-point field goals. Unselfish ball and nonstop movement leading to largely unabated success, quality of opponent notwithstanding.
This young team needed nothing more than to get a win on the road, seeing what it takes to come out the victors given their essential lack of a safety net. With a 10-man rotation with every single one of the players contributing, earning at least 20 minutes across the board, there is a complete focus on accountability and execution. This team will learn from its mistakes, knowing when not to make that additional pass, and realize exactly what they have to do to bridge the current gap between them and their future opponents, be it rooted in athleticism, conditioning or experience.
And in the oft occasion that gap can include a fluid, made-for-video type of play that makes you rise up from what would otherwise be a moment of intense comfort, it is that much better. Especially when it leads to something that we didn’t get to see all that much of one season ago: a happy and proud head coach.
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)