What kind of a world are we living in? The Timberwolves have faced seven teams this season -- the Thunder, the Bucks, the Heat, the Mavs, the Spurs, the Grizz, and (now) our very own Cavs. Entering tonight, they'd yet to lose a game by 5 or more points. They'd played every one of those teams tight, despite 3 of them being division leaders and the others being teams that entered their games with playoff aspirations. A stunning 2-4 record to hide their pure and positive point differential of +2.3, the exact same as that of the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies. Despite facing a murderer's row of great, great teams. Two quality wins. A top 10 SRS. And a game at home against a Cavs team reeling from an embarrassing loss in Toronto. Clear equation for a blowout, right? Right. A Cavs blowout, that is. TOTALLY WHAT EVERYONE EXPECTED.
Points: Jamison, 22.
Rebounds: Varejao, 12.
Assists: Sessions, 6.
QUICK THOUGHTS: The margin rather understates how thoroughly the Cavs beasted this game. It was close throughout the first half, but the Cavs really pulled away in the second and actually managed to lead by 18 with 7 minutes to go. The Wolves barely challenged after that. The strangest thing? We still had a few players play poorly, and with the exception of one player (who has been blowing the universe off its axis all season) it's hard to even say we had anyone play great basketball. But we still managed to completely blow out and outclass the Timberwolves. Which makes this the 4th blowout double digit win for the Cavaliers this season. My favorite stat? It took the Cavs 73 games to win a blowout in the 2011 season, and that win (that lovely 12 point scuffle with the Heat late last season) is a smaller win than all but one Cavalier victory we've seen yet this season. This one, obviously.
But my lord. These aren't fantastic teams we're facing, don't get me wrong, but the Cavs are a missed layup away from being 5-2 right now. They've got a +4 point differential (sixth with a bullet in the east) and they're winning these games without virtuoso or unrepeatable performances from their moving parts. The rookies look good, but we're getting these wins despite crap performances from half our players -- tonight, for instance, Hollins was about as bad as a player can be in his 6 minutes, Thompson had issues, and none of Casspi-Parker-Samardo could buy a shot (they went a combined 4-15). And we still led by 18 with 7 minutes to go. We still thoroughly outclassed a team that has been really quite decent this season.
I'm starting to wonder -- and I don't know whether it's a good thing or not -- whether the Cavs may have stumbled back into the early LeBron era. Where we don't really have the pieces to win a championship, yet, but we're too good to get another high lottery pick. Have we beaten up nothing but creampuffs yet? Yep. I'm with you on that. Because we have. We've accomplished nothing but beating the teams that a middle-tier team SHOULD beat, and we've coupled two inexplicable losses to the Raptors besides. But the way we're winning, the way we're dominating, the way we're showing more in these wins than we showed in all of 2011 combined? I'm scared we've taken a jump. A jump that we thought we were going to take next year, with our one last high lottery pick and our Thunder-tier core set in stone. A strange world, we're living in. Where a win makes me worry. But that's this, for me. A worrisome, wonderful win. Now, let's stop dithering about the future and talk about how awesome the Cavs were, shall we?
- Our bench players (and bit players) deserve a bit of recognition, as they played well this game. Alonzo Gee deserves a lot of dap, here. He had a great game. Honest. He was active on offense and within-the-system on defense, and he looked like a legitimate rotation player. Tristan had a bit of a letdown game in most ways, but he was active on defense and certainly didn't kill us. Boobie Gibson shot the ball extremely well (even if he got torched to high heaven on defense). Ramon Sessions was his usual "solid-but-uninspiring" self, and remains one of the best backup points in the entire league. He was our MVP last year, and he's coming off the bench for 25 a game. Which reminds me, interesting factoid -- the Cavs are one of the five best three point shooting teams in the league this season, thus far. Despite having very few lockdown three point gunners. My explanation, if I had to garner one? The Cavs have -- in Kyrie and Sessions -- a starting-level point guard on the floor for every minute of the game. There's no "oh, it's Chris Quinn time" moment like last year's Spurs, or "oh, it's anyone-but-Rondo time" moment like every year's Celts. All game, you're essentially guaranteed to have a solid work-a-day guard on the floor, at the very least. That leads to better shots, especially from three, and the Cavs are happening to make them this year. A strange thing, to have the Cavs in the top 5 a year after making a nest in the bottom 7. But I suppose that's what happens when you replace 15 minutes of "Boobie Gibson as your best point guard" with 30 minutes of Kyrie as your best.
- On to Kyrie. His statline isn't fantastic (14-5-5 on 12 shots in 30 minutes... but with 7 turnovers) but he looked better than Rubio. And inspires me to go on a bit of a rant. While Rubio has gotten quite a lot of praise for his defense up to this point of the season -- and deservedly so -- I think Kyrie's defense has been unjustly ignored in the Rubio hype. Kyrie is about as tenacious a perimeter defender as you'll find in the NBA, and easily Rubio's equal. He's had a great effect on the defense so far this year, when he's correctly employed. He gives the Cavs a legitimate perimeter stopper after years of miscasting Anthony Parker in the role. That's invaluable when you're facing a team with no particularly good scoring options on the wing, because a roaming stopper paired with a versatile big (see our player of the game) often can lead to some really decent team defense. As it did tonight. Also, as usual, his teammates missed a lot of gimmes and he got burned for every bad pass or misdribble he threw. The 7 turnovers looks bad on paper, but watching the game, they were in the flow of the offense and they aren't as much of a problem as they look. Kyrie looked one of good, bad, and occasionally transcendent at every moment of the game. And the overall picture was better than Rubio on the game. Not much more to ask of him.
- Antawn Jamison was very good tonight. I may hate Antawn more than anybody else on the face of the earth (nothing personal, Antawn, I love you as a person but my lord do I hate your game) but I can't deny that he was one of our big factors tonight. His overall numbers are a very Antawn sort of night -- he scored 22, but took 22 shots to do it. He snagged 6 caroms, but let Love rack up 14 by being constantly out of position (and that's despite Love getting called phantom fouls on silly Antawn plays). He made his threes (two, to be exact) and helped the team win. Despite his ever-worsening defense -- which, yes, is about as bad as it has ever been despite the Cavs winning. It doesn't look as aesthetically mind-numbing with Andy on the floor because Andy helps him out quite a lot, but my lord, all the factors that made him bad are still there in spades.
Fear the Sword Player of the Game: Anderson Varejao
My lord, Andy beasted it tonight. The Cavs have had a much improved defense this year, and while Kyrie deserves some dap, Andy is reason 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 as to why the Cavs have gone from the 29th best defense in the league to (entering tonight's game) the 12th. Most likely top 10 by tomorrow morning. Andy scored 13 on 8 shots, tore down 12 huge rebounds, had 5 assists (and it felt like 10), 4 steals, and two blocks. And those numbers dramatically underrate his performance -- virtually every possession he played on Love, he forced a bad shot (which Love often would make) or a junk foul (which he rarely deserved). Love is a star, and Andy did what great defenders do to stars. He made him mortal. (Antawn and Hollins then proceeded to both make him completely immortal again, but WHATEVER, IGNORE THAT.) He had some trouble early on with a suddenly-resurgent Darko Milicic, but he spent this entire game wrecking the Adelman offense and it was something amazing to watch. The Cavs look like a possible playoff team, whether we like it or not, and Andy is our team MVP and (if All-Stars were really chosen based on performance) an easy eastern all-star. Second best center in the East right now, and arguably, the third best in the entire league behind Bynum and Howard. Words can't describe how much he's killing it right now. It's absolutely bolkers. Just like these Cavs. 4 wins in the first 7 games? Seventh best record in the east? What the hell is going on here? Really?
Another day, another win. Goodnight, Cavs fans.
For more of Aaron's writing, check out his work at The Gothic Ginobili.