I had really low expectations heading into Friday’s game. I couldn’t help it. The Cavs (9-13) entered the evening just 1-10 on the road and man, have they had some stinkers. They haven’t had the greatest track record of getting up for… less than stellar competition. They were blown out by the Hawks, they were never in it against Boston, and hell, even their one road win against the Wizards they needed a 15-point comeback, overtime and 41 points from Kyrie Irving to escape DC with their only road victory.
So when the Cavs were down double digits in the first quarter and my cable went out, I wasn’t really sure how upset I was. Sure, I wanted to watch the game, but the Cavs let Orlando get 17(!!) fastbreak points in the first quarter. This had all the markings of another road stinker and with LeBron and the Heat looming on Saturday, the basketball weekend looked bleak.
But the Cavs persevered. They cut down on their unforced turnovers in the second quarter (which, go figure, helped keep the Magic out of transition) and, despite Mike Brown, turned up their offense. Cleveland shot 63% from the floor the second quarter and they got a 17 point boost from second unit in the period. Oh, and that Kyrie guy added ten points of his own and the Cavs went into halftime trailing by a score of 51-50.
Irving added another 10 of his game-high 31 points in the third, Dion Waiters scored the Cavs’ first 14 points of the fourth and Cleveland’s young guards powered the Cavs’ to a 109-100 victory in Orlando. Rookie-of-the -Year candidate Victor Oladipo stuffed the stat box for Orlando with a 26-5-4-4-3 and Jameer Nelson and Aaron Afflalo each scored 17 for the Magic, who fell to 7-16 on the season.
The Cavs have won five of their last six and look to continue their season long three game win streak tonight when they face the Heat in Miami (gulp).
Random Thoughts from the Game:
I don’t want to talk about Anthony Bennett vs Victor Oladipo. Hard not to feel like the Cavs screwed that one up, eh? Anthony Bennett actually had one of his better games of the year, scoring six points in the second quarter and grabbing two boards. He contributed! WOOT WOOT. Meanwhile, if any non-Irving lotto pick dropped a 26-5-4-4-3line like Oladipo did on Friday, I’m pretty sure Cavs Twitter would collapse upon itself in joy. Look, I don’t wanna talk about. Let’s move on.
Aaron Afflalo… wasn’t impressed. I’ve seen Afflalo’s name thrown about on twitter as a possible Cavalier trade target, so I was interested to see how the 28 year old looked. The Cavs kept him in check for most of the night. Afflalo scored 17 points (four below his 21 ppg average) on 6-15 shooting (a grisly 1-7 from downtown) and pitched in 5 assists and 4 steals. He’s clearly talented, but he’s clearly shooting a ton on a crappy team. So I’m not sure about adding the 6-5 Afflalo. Like most fans, I judge a player solely on how he plays against my team. So, that’s a “no” vote for Afflalo but a resounding “yes” for former Buckeye Evan Turner (he totally torched the Cavs for 31! We need him!). That’s mostly sarcasm. Both Turner and Afflalo would be a pretty large improvement on the wing.
Matthew Dellavedova keeps getting playing time. I really don’t know how to feel about this. Delly’s defense looks like it would be frustrating as all heck to go against and he’s shooting 43% from three from downtown. Going into the season, I was really looking forward to seeing Sergey Karasev get some run, but Delly brings an energy that the Cavs undeniably need from time to time. Plus, I think the rookie guard from Australia is the best back court defender on the roster. Now, I think that says more about the rest of the Cavs guards (Irving, Jack, Waiters and CJ Miles) than it does Delly, but I can see why Coach Mike keeps putting him out there.
The good Dion Waiters showed up. This is the type of player that Chris Grant must’ve been expecting when he made Dion the 4th overall pick in 2012. Dion had a great second half, scoring 20 of his 21 points after halftime and kept the Orlando defense on their heels. Dion scored the Cavs’ first 16 points of the fourth quarter and he did it in a variety of ways. He attacked, he probed, he knocked down catch-and-shoots… what he didn’t do is break off plays and stop the ball. His jumpers were in rhythm and his drives were in control. In a nice change of pace, Waiters also filled up the rest his box score . Dion added five rebounds and four assists, two of which, to Dellavedova and TT, gave the Cavs a nice fourth cushion that they never relinquished.
The good Kyrie Irving also showed up. Rarely do we get Good Kyrie and Good Dion on the same night, so it great to see both play well individually and the Cavs win. In case you forgot, Irving is really good at basketball. While Dion’s fourth quarter outburst saved the Cavalier’s collective bacon, Kyrie’s two big quarters were just as important. Dubbed “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” Irving scored 20 of his game high 31 points in the second and third periods to keep the Cavs afloat. Asides from a play here or there, Kyrie mostly wasn’t forcing the issue. Too often this season Irving over dribbles or gets himself into situations where the rest of the team is watching him. Friday night, Irving was assertive but also took what the defense gave him. He made a killing in the second and third periods on mid-range jumpers.
Wasn’t a pretty night for non-Varejao bigs. Whether it was Orlando’s defense or the Cavs lack of offensive patience, Andrew Bynum never got going on Friday. The big man finished with just 2 points and 2 boards in 18 nondescript minutes. Tristan Thompson fared a little better, going for 6 points and 7 boards in 28 minutes. Earl Clark knocked hit three threes in the first half, but finished the game with nine points. Oh, and Alonzo Gee nearly had an 11 trillion, but he missed a shot and committed a foul.
The Cavs don’t win this game without Anderson Varejao. Yes, Andy has probably lost a step. Yes, he probably would’ve been traded years ago could he remain healthy til the deadline. But man, Andy helps win you basketball games. Varejao finished with 10 points and 14 boards and he frustrated Orlando’s bigs Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson all night. So much so, that Nicholson picked up a flagrant-2 foul with about 10 seconds left in the game when he shoved Varejao after a basket. Andy went down clutching his knee and the Cavs and Magic got into a small scrum (Dion Waiters got the most words in following the shove). It was the second time in the night Andy went down clutching one of his knees (he bumped knees with Oladipo early in the night). I was not pleased with Mr. Nicholson.
Hooray. LeBron. Again. So what do the Cavs do now? They’ve guaranteed themselves a split road trip with their win in Orlando. Tonight they go for a Florida sweep when they face the Heat in Miami. Will they get pleased with themselves and their road victory and come out flat vs the Heat? Or will they be super jazzed up to face the world champions and LeBron James? Hell, will Miami be able to get up to play the lowly Cavaliers? The Heat have had some let downs versus some bad teams this year, so it’s not entirely crazy to think that the Cavs could sneak one by them. But I really don’t know. I’m ready for anything. A Miami blowout, a close Miami win, a close Cavs win and even a Cavs blowo- no. Not that. In no way am I ready for a Cleveland blowout. But a win in South Beach would be pretty awesome and it’d give the Cavs their first four-game win steak in the Post-LeBron era (ht/Jacob). Tonight game starts at 7:30 and will be shown nationally on NBATV.