The Cavaliers have played more games on the road so far this season than any other NBA team. Their record in those road games heading into last night’s game in Portland was 5-19. They had also lost the first three games of the current road trip, and had given up 237 points in those contests.
In other words, things weren’t looking very bright.
The Cavaliers came out hot however, and hung on to preserve a win against a playoff contending Portland team.
There was something in particular that gave me hope for things to come.
Kyrie Irving scored 31 points on 13 of 24 shooting. He added 5 assists and 4 steals to go with just 2 turnovers. It was a big rebound game for him having shot just 31.6% against the Kings on Sunday with 6 turnovers, 2 of them in crucial moments late in the fourth quarter.
Three of those assists were to Tristan Thompson. In two of those, Irving created an opening for Thompson with his dribble penetration and then dished off to Thompson for dunks. This combination, or chemistry, or whatever you want to call it is what Cleveland fans have been waiting to see.
Thompson has been playing at a higher level since the injury to Anderson Varejao. The numbers bear that out, and whether it is confidence or opportunity or a combination of the two, it is a positive sign for the future. In Portland, against former Cavalier J.J. Hickson (who is also having a much better statistical season) Tristan scored 19 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, 7 of which were offensive boards.
The best two players on the court for the Cavaliers on Tuesday night were clearly Irving and Thompson. They outperformed their counterparts from Portland, and were the difference late in the game to preserve the win.
Why is that a big deal?
It’s a big deal because Irving was selected first overall in the ’11 draft, and Thompson fourth.
This isn’t news, but if the Cavaliers are going to contend in the future, these two picks have to be at the nucleus of what the Cavs become. Against the Blazers, it looked like things are on schedule. Thompson is 21 years old. Irving will turn 21 at the end of March. Irving played his 81st NBA game last night. Thompson his 101st. A normal NBA season is 82 games in case you forgot. These guys are young.