The mistakes made in Wednesday night’s Cavaliers game are often the kind that force head coach Byron Scott to take to the podium with a heavy sigh and a similar message as the game before. Missed free throws, silly fouls and lackadaisical defense were only the beginning. But it would be this Cavaliers team, typically left holding the bag when the final buzzer blows, who would have a bit of luck (finally) thrown their way.
Not having Anderson Varejao in tow, the Wine and Gold had to count on Kyrie Irving coupled with the good fortune of playing against the hapless Washington Wizards. Even Tristan Thompson, the power forward who has recorded his fourth-straight double double, had a bit of luck when he converted a three-point play in the games final seconds — Thompson was out of position, receiving the ball very deep under the basket, but managed to use his athleticism to correct himself mid-air where he would be fouled before the ball fell through the net. The result was a win, the Cavaliers’ second straight which marks the first time they’ve accomplished such since March of last season.
As opposed to losing a game they should have won — we could lob a dart at the archives and find a game that fits this classification — the Cavaliers won a game they should have lost. They were out-rebounded substantially to the tune of 51-38. They allowed the Wizards to shoot 46 percent from the floor while amassing a mere 37 percent conversion rate. Reserve guard Jordan Crawford provided 17 points off of the bench while the entire Cavalier bench unit amassed 21.
But the Cavaliers controlled what they could — they limited their turnovers (only 10 on the night), moved the ball well and managed to get to the free throw line nine more times than their opposition. Dion Waiters was not playing at an All-Star level (nine points, zero rebounds, one assist), but Draft Day rival Bradley Beal missed all five of his field goal attempts. Thompson and frontcourt mate Tyler Zeller played a full 48 minutes of high-energy, heady basketball. Kyrie Irving sealed the deal with a free throw — despite missing four of them late in the game — that put the Cavs up by three, forcing an errant three-point attempt at the buzzer.
Byron Scott did have his post-game sigh, but it was more out of relief than frustration.
“We got the win tonight so I guess I should be a lot happier than I am. Some of the mistakes we made tonight are just unnecessary,” said Scott of his young squad which started four players in their first or second seasons. “Coming down the stretch some of the missed free throws could have been crucial if this game had not gone in our favor. We have to be smarter when the game is on the line like it was tonight.”
Scott dubbed this game a lesson, one that his young team can use to their advantage going forward. They have seemingly lost games every which way — full-game blowouts, late-game collapse — so to hang on and win a game that otherwise would have gone the other way is a learning tool. Wednesday night’s class taught the Cavaliers that it takes solid late-game defense. It takes consistent movement with or without the ball. It takes forced turnovers in the waning minutes. It takes an otherwise dreadful free throw shooter in Thompson draining all five of his attempts. It takes a buzzer-beating attempt, one that has gone against this team so many times before, to clang off of the back of the rim. And it even takes a huge three-point field goal from a rookie shooting guard who had an otherwise sub-par evening.
“Hopefully we can keep up the success,” said Irving, whose uncharacteristic missed free throws could have cost his team the victory. “I have confidence in my teammates, I’m ready to win a third one. The effort that we gave tonight is good, but we have to take it up a notch as we know the road only gets tougher.”
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