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.
Basketball is a game of runs. That was certainly the case in this game. The Cavaliers jumped out to an early 18-point lead, but in the 2nd quarter the Knicks came all the way back. In previous seasons the Cavaliers might have folded up, but in this game the team dug in and pushed the lead back to 18 in the second half. The Knicks would close to within 13 again in the fourth quarter, but Kyrie Irving went back to work and the Cavaliers put the Knicks away for good.
For Kyrie, this game was hopefully a breakout game for him. After struggling for most of this season, Kyrie found himself facing one of his favorite teams to play, and he took advantage. He looked aggressive early, attacking the rim, pushing the tempo and looking to keep the offense engaged. This was one of his better games on defense as well. Hopefully this isn’t a one night exception, but instead the start of Kyrie’s return to All-Star form.
The Cavs have been an up and down team this year, but they find themselves now winners in four of their last five games and have really played pretty solid basketball in five of the last seven. It’s probably no coincidence that five of the last seven games have been at home, and sure, the Knicks are a struggling basketball team right now. But the Cavs still deserve credit for fighting to turn this season around. If they can ever figure out how to bring the same effort on the road, things will really start to turn around.
Now let’s get into the numbers…
- 25 – The Cavaliers had 25 assists as a team. That’s not an enormous number, and in fact, the Knicks had more with 27. But it’s the first time they’ve had more than 20 assists in a game since they had 28 in their double overtime win against the 76ers on November 9. The ball movement was excellent for most of this game. The only time the ball really stopped moving was in the second quarter with the Jack/Waiters/Bennett/Clark/Varejao lineup on the floor. The Cavaliers were pushing the tempo whenever they could and guys were being active off the ball, moving into scoring position for teammates to set them up with a good look.
- 37-11-1 – Kyrie Irving looked like the Kyrie of old tonight. Actually, he looked like an even improved overall player tonight. He led all scorers with 37 points on 14-23 shooting from the field, had 11 assists to just one turnover. He also had 0 fouls while limiting Raymond Felton to just six points and three assists. A lot has been said and written about Kyrie’s leadership, attitude, etc. Yet really, the key for Kyrie is simply making his shots. Kyrie was 4-4 on layups, which is a huge improvement over his early season struggles. He was also 4-7 from three and 5-6 from the FT line. When Kyrie is able to make his layups and hit mid-range and outside shots like this, it just opens everything up for everyone. But even better was that Kyrie didn’t have to do it by himself. Kyrie’s 11 assists are a testament not only to his own unselfishness in this game, but also to his teammates who were working to get open and find scoring position when Kyrie was double teamed.
- 33 – The Cavaliers had 33 points in the 3rd quarter to really break this game open in the 2nd half. After leading 31-19 in the first quarter, the Cavaliers were outscored by the Knicks 26-17 in the 2nd quarter. The Cavs limped into halftime with just a 3-point edge. In Mike Brown’s previous tenure with the Cavs, it was the 3rd quarter that often proved to be the team’s undoing. But in this game, the team came out in the third quarter determined to reclaim their lead and to take the Knicks out of their momentum. Perhaps wary of seeing his 2nd unit give up the lead again, Mike Brown played his starters the entire quarter with the exception of Anderson Varejao, who played three and a half minutes to relieve Andrew Bynum. In the quarter the Cavs shot 65.2 percent from the field.
- 17 – Jarrett Jack is a perplexing player. He scored 17 points on 6-8 shooting from the field to lead the bench unit, yet he was also minus-13 for the game. He seemed to come with big shots when the team really needed them, yet the second unit that he currently leads just seems completely out of sorts on both ends of the court. Meanwhile, Dion Waiters shot just 2-6 from the field and committed four turnovers but was just minus-2 for the game. I’m not sure if that says more about the difference between Jack and Dion or about the +/- stat.
- 27 – There really aren’t too many negatives to talk about for the Cavaliers in this game, but they did commit 15 team turnovers which led to 27 points for the Knicks. Twenty-two of those points off turnovers came in the first half, with 17 of them coming in that ugly second quarter. When the offense gets stagnant, the team gets predictable and careless with the basketball. If it wasn’t for those turnovers, the Knicks wouldn’t have come back in the first half and this game would have looked a lot worse for them.
- 22 to 5 – The Cavaliers enjoyed a 22-to-5 edge in free throw attempts in this game. Some might say this was the result of friendly home officiating, but those people probably didn’t watch the game. The difference in free throws was the result of the Cavaliers’ aggressiveness on offense in attacking the Knicks’ defense. The Knicks certainly aren’t known as a good defensive team, but the Cavs deserve credit for having a gameplan on how to attack it and executing that gameplan. On the other end of the floor, the Cavaliers did an excellent job stopping the Knicks offense at the point of attack and limiting their ability to get to the rim. The Cavaliers outscored the Knicks 48-36 in the paint and the Cavs allowed the Knicks to be content swinging the ball around the perimeter and settling for outside shots.
Overall, this was one of the most complete games the Cavaliers have played all season. They still weren’t able to put together a full 4 quarter effort, but this is an improving mediocre team right now. It was important that they came out swinging in both the first and third quarters to put the Knicks in position of needing to muster a comeback. The Knicks were able to do it once, but the second time was just too much to overcome.
The Cavaliers have some really tough games on the horizon, but first they must travel to Orlando on Friday to play a struggling Magic team. This will be an important game for Cleveland. They need to figure out their road woes and they need to take advantage of playing against below-average teams when they get a chance. We’ll see which version of the inconsistent Cavs shows up in Orlando.