Though a three-game window can only shed so much light, Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving are showing quite a pattern when it comes to passing the baton heading into the fourth quarter.
Once again, albeit in a loss to the Boston Celtics, the Brazilian big man put together an amazing effort — this time resulting in his first-career 20-point, 20-rebound line — which kept the young and surprising Cleveland Cavaliers in the mix where Irving would take over. Over the last three games which include two contests against the Celtics and a loss to the New Jersey Nets, the Cavaliers are leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring, tallying 31 per evening. For the season, the team is third in the league over the same metric, trailing only Portland and Memphis with only 1.1 point separating the top from the Wine and Gold.
Leading the pack when it comes to fourth-quarter output is the rookie point guard Irving who has combined for 42 fourth-quarter points, a 14 point-per-quarter average, doing so with the utmost efficiency, shooting 76.2 percent from the floor*. Irving was admittedly patient through the first half, taking only four shots. Prior to the contest, the first-overall selection stated that he needs to be aggressive for the ful 48 minutes, but executing on these desires could be limited by playing time (Tuesday was the first time wherein Irving played the entire 12-minutes of a fourth quarter in the NBA) as well as inexperience.
For those that feel Irving is being too conservative in the first three quarters, he may be doing so under direction as much as desire to get his teammates involved. This was outwardly evident in the attempted comeback against New Jersey where the rookie merely put blinders on and took the ball to the rack at every given opportunity.
Thankfully for Irving and his teammates, he has a teammate in Varejao who exudes aggressiveness. Of his 20 rebounds on Tuesday evening, 10 were of the offensive variety, providing the Cavaliers with additional opportunities — the team was 5-of-13 for 10 second-chance points. Varejao’s hustle and tenacity is becoming such commonplace that it is leaving his head coach speechless.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Byron Scott following the loss. “I already said it last week: he’s playing like an All-Star. I don’t know what else to say.”
And if you want to know how the opposition feels…
“Varejao is just a pain in the butt with his offensive rebounding, the way he knocks down shots and keeps [loose] balls alive,” said Boston’s Paul Pierce. “He’s probably one of the more underrated players in the NBA with how much energy he gives this ball club. He has a knack of somehow coming up with the ball all the time. He’s a major factor out there.”
Doc Rivers went on to co-sign on Scott’s All-Star proclamation. The floppy-haired Varejao may only average 10 and 10 per game in a league where highlights and ratings reign supreme, but that pain-in-the-butt factor is what helps teams win. I’m just glad he’s on mine.