On a back-to-back, against the class of the NBA, without their star point guard, I wasn’t expecting much out of the Cavaliers last night in Miami. But, the Cavaliers gave viewers one of the most entertaining games of the season as they caught fire from behind the arc in the first half and had their most balanced scoring of the season with seven players reaching double figures. However, the Heat leveled up their defensive pressure in the second half, and Ray Allen’s 15-point fourth quarter was too much for the Cavs to survive as they fell 110-108 in South Beach.
I made the comment during the game that sometimes things don’t have to make sense to be fun. I think that sums up Jeremy Pargo and Omri Casspi leading the charge for the Cavaliers in a game against a team with four perennial All-Stars. Initially, the Cavs seemed to be winning each 50-50 ball and sinking every three point shot they took. Casspi had three of those alone in the first half, and the team had ten. More than the three point shots falling, which proved to be unsustainable, it was the ball movement that carried the wine and gold through this one, and Pargo was a large part of that. They piled up 16 first-half assists and turned the ball over just four times.
As for the Cavalier bench, the same bench minus Pargo that had risen to new levels of futility in the first 12 games of the season, they threw in 41 points collectively between Casspi, Miles, Gibson, and Zeller. Adding Tyler back into the mix as the only reserve big getting any playing time has definitely helped. Still, it’s suddenly Casspi and Miles who are easing Gibson’s scoring burden a bit and making life a little easier in the early second and fourth quarters. Casspi finished with 15 points in 15 minutes on 4-of-6 shooting (all four makes were three pointers), and Miles chipped in 10 of his own in 18 minutes on 4-of-7 shooting. In his last five, Omri has played 12+ minutes in each game and is averaging 8.2 points per game while shooting 57 percent. Clearly, this is what the Cavaliers had in mind when they a) traded for Casspi and b) constructed this bench to help them win some games.
Just as newsworthy as the bench’s starring role was the Cavaliers defense holding Miami to just 41% shooting in the first half to grab an 11-point lead at the break. The Heat wore out a path to the free throw line to stay in the game, shooting an exorbitant 22 attempts at the charity stripe. Chris Bosh kept up with his role as the most consistently difficult member of the Heat trio for the Cavaliers to defend as he got to the line 11 of those 22 trips. But, other than LeBron James’s 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting to go with 4 turnovers, Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen had just seven points between the two of them. The Heat in their “white hot” uniforms, to be worn for Saturday night home games, seemed to have other thoughts on their minds, such as the final club destination for the evening or dinner plans, rather than how to take care of the Cavaliers.
Then, the second half happened. The Heat cranked up the defensive intensity, forcing the Cavaliers higher and higher out beyond the three-point arc. The Cavaliers failed to move the ball quick enough, and they stopped getting those open three-point shots. And the last and most telling account of their demise, two All-Star players had All-Star quarters. In the third, it was LeBron, who piled up 14 points on a series of backdoor cuts, long two-pointers, and putbacks as Alonzo Gee got into foul trouble and the Cavaliers struggled to find anyone to hang with #6, as so many teams do. In the fourth, it was Ray Allen coming alive, making 5-of-6 shots, including three triples on his way to 15 in the final quarter. The Heat shot 63% in the second half to climb over the Cavaliers’ defensive barometer of 50% shooting for the entire game. Meanwhile, Cleveland made just 38% of their shots in the final 24 minutes.
With the Cavaliers up seven with 1:58 remaining after a huge Daniel Gibson three pointer, the Cavaliers would not score again. It was a failure on a major scale from Coach Byron Scott, in my opinion. Let’s look at what happened. LeBron quickly went backdoor on the Cavaliers defense to score a layup, after which Jeremy Pargo burned little clock before driving and getting his shot blocked by Chris Bosh. Ray Allen then raced down the court and laid one in himself with a foul shot to go with it. Daniel Gibson missed a three at the end of the shot clock after little to no meaningful ball movement. The Cavaliers were fortunate to escape a shot clock violation after review showed Gibson’s errant try grazed the rim. Gee secured possession, but a deep Andy jumper was all they could get. After a hard fought and scrambling defensive possession that sent the ball out of bounds, Ray Allen on a quick pass was left wide open for the game-deciding three-pointer. The Cavaliers called timeout to draw up a Jeremy Pargo drive on Dwyane Wade, who made a great play and blocked Pargo’s shot. Allen made the first of two free throws. The second one bounced out, but the rebound wasn’t secured until 0.6 seconds remaining. Inbounding at halfcourt, the Cavaliers barely got the ball in and failed to even get up a shot attempt.
While some may point their finger at inexperience down the stretch (in particular, Pargo’s), I think this was a colossal failure by Byron Scott on several accounts to get his team a much-needed banner victory. His defense lost sight of the white-hot Allen two times in the final minute, Jeremy Pargo was the go-to guy in the final possessions when it was Dion Waiters who had 8 points in the quarter, and as the team was struggling to score, Omri Casspi sat the bench for the final ten minutes. Scott’s rightly received a long leash with the talent level of this team the past two seasons. But, as this team improves on the court, Byron will have to get better himself or that seat may start to get a little warm.
The Cavaliers take on Memphis on Monday night in the last of a brief three game road trip.
(Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP)