They say box scores don’t tell the whole story. Behind The Box Score is a new series where from time to time we will attempt to look behind the box score and tell more of the complete story of what happened in the game.Opening nights are generally fun regardless, but there’s simply nothing better than getting that first win under your belt in game one.
The Cavaliers got off to a slow start, but after a Mike Brown timeout with the Cavs trailing 10-2, both teams settled into a nice groove and for 3 quarters this a pretty solid, well played basketball game. Then the 4th quarter happened.
In the 4th, things devolved into an ugly defensive grind-fest which carried with it an almost playoff like atmosphere. The crowd was into and the game felt like it hinged on every single possession for the last 4 minutes. In the end, though, the Cavaliers were able to make plays to get the needed baskets and they were able to get defensive stops when they needed them.
And defense was the story of this game for the Cavaliers. Lets get into the numbers.
– 40.2% – While it doesn’t tell the whole story, when you want to measure defense, a great place to start is often with opponent’s shooting percentage. The Cavaliers held the Nets to 40.2% shooting from the field. Last year teams shot over 47.6% on the Cavaliers, which was dead last. The league average was 45.3%. In fact, the Cavaliers let teams shoot over 50% against them 33 times (2 of those 33 were the Nets). To hold the Nets to just 40% shooting is a remarkable accomplishment. Some of it was just opening night rust for sure, but the difference in defensive effort and intensity was tangible.
– 8 minutes – Andrew Bynum surprised everyone when it was announced before the game that he was cleared to play and would be active for the game. Bynum gave the Cavaliers 8 minutes in the first half, and what an 8 minutes they were. He didn’t light up the box score (3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks) necessarily, but for his first game in over 500 days, his impact on the court was very real. Brook Lopez was immediately uncomfortable trying to operate in the post with Bynum there and Bynum was making it difficult for the Nets to get any good shots inside the paint. The Cavaliers were +8 with Bynum on the floor. It was an incredibly inspiring sight to see him out there and how well he was able to move, all things considered.
– 9 assists – Kyrie Irving didn’t have his best game. He played just four and a half minutes in the first quarter going 0-2 with 0 points, 0 rebounds, and 0 assists when he picked up his 2nd foul and went to the bench. Kyrie would never really seem to get into much of an offensive groove in this game. But that doesn’t mean his influence on the game wasn’t felt. Kyrie would finish with 15 points on 4-16 shooting, but he would add 7 rebounds and 9 assists. Last season Kyrie averaged 5.9 assists, which is fairly pedestrian for a starting PG. His 9 assists were enormous. Last year in games like this, Kyrie would sometimes try to force things and fight his way through the funk. In this game, he never pressed the issue, he simply trusted his teammates and found ways to get them the ball in prime scoring position. In every way Kyrie seems to have bought into Mike Brown 100%. His defense was so much better than what we’ve seen his first 2 years, he was active in going after rebounds, and he found ways to set up his teammates. This was one of the best “bad games: of Kyrie’s career.
– 8 rebounds (3 offensive) – Earl Clark was one of the bigger unknowns coming into this game. Would he start? What would his role be? Earl Clark will never be an offensive threat, but in this game he came up with so many important rebounds down the stretch, including 2 offensive boards in the 4th quarter to help the Cavaliers maintain possession. The Cavaliers will need to work on not letting the ball fall into Clark’s hands with the shot clock expiring as it did about 3 times in this game, but it was encouraging to see the intangibles he brought to help the Cavaliers come up with the win.
– 67.6% – One of the few dark clouds hanging over this game was the Cavaliers’ awful free throw shooting. Had they made their free throws, this one might not have even been a close game down the stretch. But the Cavaliers kept missing free throws to allow the Nets to hang in the game. At one point the Cavaliers missed three consecutive huge FTs in the 4th quarter. They were lucky to not have this come back and bite them. Most nights they won’t be so fortunate.
– 10 first quarter points – With Irving going to the bench with those 2 fouls in the first quarter, and with the team somewhat struggling as whole, Jarrett Jack came into the game and provided a much needed spark. In the 1st quarter Jack was 2-3 from the field (1-1 from three) and 5-6 from the free throw line for 10 points. He also provided a pair of assists and two rebounds. The team seemed to respond to Jack’s energy and what looked like a game the Nets might be able to control ended with a 27-26 edge for the Cavaliers, thanks largely to Jack’s performance.
– 18 points – Tristan Thompson, folks. So much has been said and written about the shooting hand switch, but watching the game, Tristan simply looked more smooth and better than ever. He ended with a team-high 18 points on 8-13 shooting from the floor. He fell just a rebound shy of his first double-double of the season. He was as engaged in the offensive flow as I can ever recall seeing and he showed great confidence in his new right-handed shot. He even drilled a few nice looking 18 foot jumpers. He also chipped in 4 baskets in the paint, showing a more complete offensive game. If Tristan can continue to knock down those shots, it’s only going to stretch the defense more and open up inside scoring opportunities even more for Tristan. On a night when so many things seemed to work exactly as planned for the Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson’s offensive output was perhaps the most refreshing of them all.