It was another three-quarter game for Kyrie Irving and our young Cavaliers. Leading 76-72 after three periods, the Cavs were twelve minutes of solid basketball away from starting off their five-game West Coast swing with a W. If Byron Scott’s Cavs could close out the Nuggets, they’d have their second (two-game!) win streak of the season.
Cleveland scored just 15 points in the final period.
Was it inevitable? Was it simply the result of a veteran Denver team methodically chipping away at Cleveland’s eleven point halftime lead? Do you just chalk it up to growing pains, as this young Cavs team isn’t exactly used to playing with a lead? Did Cleveland simply run out of gas (they scored 30 in the first quarter)? Were they affected by the mile high air (the offense stagnated in the fourth quarter)? Was it coaching (the offense really stagnated in the fourth quarter)? Did the young Cavaliers let the officials get to them (Denver shot 31 free throws to Cleveland’s 16)?
Or simply ‘all of the above’?
The Cavs let former Buckeye Kosta Koufos run amok for 21 points (nine in the fourth) and Danilo Gallinari’s late three proved to be the back breaker, putting Denver up 94-89 with just 34 seconds to play. Kyrie Irving, playing under the weather, led all scorers with 28 points and Dion Waiters scored 18 off the bench, but Denver’s balanced attack (all five starters scored in double figures) and relentless energy proved to be too much for Byron Scott’s bunch.
Yes, the fourth quarter stunk.
But the first half… the first half was awesome. Not that there’s a lot of contenders, but Cleveland’s first half in Denver was possibly their best half of the season.
The Cavs started off strong, scoring 30 in the first quarter. They were active on the defensive end and it lead to some easy baskets in transition. Tristan had a quick eight points, Waiters came off the bench for an additional eight (Dion attacked the rim and didn’t settle) and after twelve minutes, the Cavs led by seven, 30-23.
I expected that lead to shrink heading into halftime. I assumed Denver (22-16) overlooked the Cavs (9-29) and would right the ship. But the young Cavs kept forcing turnovers (13 for Denver in the first, which resulted in 16 Cavalier points) and after getting 23 points from the bench (14 from Dion, who led all scorers after 24 minutes) and a couple of *wow* plays from Kyrie Irving, Cleveland actually increased their lead heading into halftime, 56-45.
It was nice to see. It doesn’t make up for the horrendous finish. But it was nice to see them take a lead on the road and then build on that lead.
I’m all for more minutes for Kyrie, but was this the time? I’m sure I’m not being fair to Byron here, as I always call for Kyrie to play more, especially in the fourth. But given that it’s the first game of a five-game trip (in Denver, no less) and that Irving missed the morning shoot-around because he felt sick, I was kinda shocked to see that Irving logged a team-high 39 minutes. Of course, Kyrie dropped a cool 28 point, seven assist, three rebound and five steal line on Andre Miller and Ty Lawson so the minutes probably justified. Just if he’s sick, why the major mile high minutes? Seems counter intuitive.
The defensive rotations are a mess and the Cavs have little resistance inside. Most of Koufos’s came off of guard penetration, which forced Zeller to help, leaving Koufos with easy shots at the rim. It wasn’t all bad, as Cleveland held Denver to 44% shooting and had some decent stands late, but too often the Cavs let simple give-and-go’s lead to shots inside the key. I loved the effort (hey, 14 steals!) but the Cavs are going to have to play smarter on the defensive end.
Not the best night for Alonzo Gee. Gee finished 1-7 from the floor and missed two critical free throws with about three minutes to play that would given the Cavs a lead (or rather, kept Denver playing catch-up, as they hadn’t surpassed the Cavs at that point, only tied).
Solid night from Tristan. Thompson finished with 16 points and seven boards and had a couple of nice looking drives to the hoop. He also had a couple of ugly drives too, one of which was late in the fourth but actually went in. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. I also enjoyed seeing him jaw with sophomore energy big, Kenneth Faried.
It’s kind of nice to have vets Luke Walton and Shaun Livingston who actually pass. Omri Casspi, he of the requested trade, is probably incensed that they’re taking his minutes but I can see why. Both Walton and Livingston play under control and are willing passers, which is not something you can say about really anyone else on this god forsaken roster. The offense just looks a little crisper when they’re out there.
The refs were not good. Denver shot 31 free throws, Cleveland shot 16. Denver was whistled for 21 fouls, Cleveland for 30. Javale McGee is apparently allowed to goaltend. Over the course of the night, both Kyrie and Shaun Livingston had to pulled away from refs and, of course, Dion wasn’t thrilled with his measly three free throw attempts. It is frustrating to watch, but the Cavs are 9-29 and won’t be getting the benefit of the doubt from anyone.
The good news is, this next game looks pretty winnable. The Cavs face off against the reeling Lakers this Sunday night at 9:30pm.