Perhaps the biggest reason the Cleveland Cavaliers have been feared less than other title contenders over the years, besides Mike Brown, is that a typical Cavs game will play out like this: A terrific 1st or 2nd quarter, or a terrific first half, with excellent shooting, ball movement, passing, teamwork, and defense. Then the Cavs come out of halftime helpless to stop an offensive onslaught as their opponent comes back from a deficit or takes a lead. The slump continues several minutes into the fourth quarter until the Cavs finally snap out of it and pull off some nerve-jangling plays to prevail down the stretch, culminating in LeBron hitting clutch free throws to seal the win.
Tonight was the quintessential example of such a game. In a see-saw first half, the Cavs built a 13 point lead at half time, only to fall behind by 3 in the 3rd quarter and then 6 in the 4th quarter. With the Cavs trailing by 1 in the closing minute, Daniel Gibson hit a heroic 3 pointer with 8 seconds left, LeBron and AP made a stop, and LeBron hit free throws with 2 seconds left to put the game away, finishing 1 rebound shy of another triple double.
We should be used to it by now, but the thing I don't understand is how Mike Brown cannot control the flow of the game. I sometimes wonder if he is doing this on purpose. He called only one timeout all 3rd quarter, and made almost no substitutions. Shouldn't he have tried to mix up the rotation in order to find someone who could make defensive plays? We were depleted, sure, but we had bench players who saw almost no playing time. Cedric Jackson made a good defensive play at the end of the half and Danny Green hit a 3 pointer during 11 minutes of playing time; were we going to be that much worse off experimenting with them in the 3rd?
Anthony Parker: 1-7, 2 points, 1 steal, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls, 33 minutes. The Associated Parker played way more minutes than he deserved tonight. When I say bench players were passed up, they were in favor of him. He finished a perfect 0-4 from 3 point range, including a desperate missed 3 with 1:14 left, which could have cost us the game.
Zyndrunas Ilgauskas: 0-2, 0 points, 5 rebounds, 11 minutes. My only questions is: Is Z playing hurt? Is that why he saw so little playing time?
Anderson Varejao: 1-2, 2 points, 2 assists, 19 minutes, -16 in the +/- column. Horrible game. Other than the final minute, I don't remember a single stretch where Andy even touched the ball. And don't get me started on the only free throws he took all night, both missed, that could have cost us the game down by 1 with 38 seconds left.
Jawad Williams: 5-7, 2-3 from 3 point range, 12 rebounds, 23 minutes. Another mistake by the Cavs was not getting the ball to Jawad enough. He finished with 12 points, all of them in the first half. Of course, he also finished with 5 fouls, so maybe he was supposed to hold back. But how afraid of foul trouble can you be in a 1 point game?
Daniel Gibson: 5-13, 3-8 from 3 point range, 4 rebounds, 13 points, 34 minutes. Boobie had big shoes to fill tonight, and he wasn't adapting well at first, starting off 1-6 shooting. But he came through in the 4th quarter with 8 points, including the game winner. His outlook appears less bleak than the Associated Parker.
JJ Hickson: 4-6, 9 points, 9 rebounds, +11 in the +/- column. I really think the simple matter is that JJ Hickson plays much better at home.
And last but not least,
Shaquille O'Neal: 8-10, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, +13 in the +/- column. Yes, Shaq was just 6-15 from the free throw line. But I still think tonight was his best game ever as a Cavalier. The Big Fella finished with 22 points, including 3 shots in the 3rd quarter. He carried us early in the second half so that LeBron didn't have to play the usual role of the apparent only go-to guy.
It's not going to get any easier, Cavs fans. Up next is a trip to Florida to battle Dwayne Wade's Heat.