USA TODAY Sports
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been hungry for a victory. A game against the Charlotte Bobcats presented an opportunity to get one. While it first appeared like this would be an easy blowout win, it took some Kyrie magic for the Cavs to seal the win.
I would argue that Kyrie Irving is a good basketball player. I don't think many members of the Charlotte Bobcats would disagree. He put together an enormous stat line and finished it all off with the game-winner with one second on the clock. He finished with 33 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks. And a friendly reminder that he's still just 20 years old.
Cavs' leaders: Points: Irving, 33; Rebounds: Thompson, 13; Assists: Irving, 6
I wrote in the preview that we can't truly expect a win against any team. Through the first three quarters, it seemed as though I would be wrong about that. The Cavaliers were doing whatever they wanted to the Bobcats and led by as much as 18 points. However, nothing is easy with this Cavs team. Byron Scott has talked about how Cleveland simply cannot afford to let up for even a single play. They aren't talented or consistent enough to take plays off and then turn it back on to still win games. We saw some of that youth and inconsistency when the 18-point lead shrunk to zero. The defense struggled mightily in the fourth quarter and nobody other than Kyrie could do anything offensively in the final period. Kyrie had to score 16 of the Cavs' 20 fourth quarter points and hit the isolation jumper to get a win against the Bobcats. So...yeah.
In a way, this type of win is better than an 18-point blowout win. Learning to win close games is part of the process, so it was nice to see them execute just enough down the stretch to win. It just would have been nice if guys other than Kyrie were able to do something down the stretch. But I can't get too greedy, right?
One of the main reasons that the Cavs were able to open up such a huge lead was the dominating play of Tristan Thompson. TT hit his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10 from the field. He displayed impressive touch and strength as he manhandled the Bobcats' bigs. The end result was another double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds. When Thompson came out of the game, it was obvious how much the Cavs miss his defense and rebounding. It's also worth noting that Tristan's points didn't come from the usual "garbage" putbacks and dunks. He was backing defenders down and hitting smooth hook shots. He even drained two clutch free throws down the stretch. Slowly but surely, Tigger is silencing many of his critics.
For the Bobcats, Ramon Sessions had a bit of a revenge game. He played 35 minutes off the bench (getting the nod over Kemba Walker down the stretch) and scored 20 points with 6 assists and 5 rebounds. He shot just 4 of 11 from the field, but was a perfect 12 for 12 from the charity stripe. Ben Gordon contributed another 27 points off the bench. On the evening, the Bobcats' bench outscored the Cavaliers' bench 59 to 19. A lot of that had to do with the minutes played. Shaun Livingston and Dion Waiters both put in some solid minutes off the bench, but only played 26 and 18 minutes, respectively.
I got some questions on Twitter about Dion Waiters' limited minutes. I listened to Byron Scott's postgame presser and he didn't really comment on it. The easy explanation is that C.J. Miles was playing so well that it was worth keeping him in the game (more on CJ's offensive contributions in a separate post this week, hopefully). Livingston's size and experience makes him a better defensive option at this point. I don't think Waiters got benched because of anything he did wrong. His 18 minutes were actually quite effective -- Waiters was aggressive on both ends. Here's a monster dunk from DW.
The Cavaliers obviously still have a lot of things to work on and the fourth quarter wasn't pretty, but there were some good things in the first three quarters. I saw a lot more movement on offense and the defense seemed better. Tyler Zeller still struggled defensively, but his three blocks at the rim were encouraging. Overall, it was a solid night of basketball.
Be sure to read Rufus on Fire for the Charlotte perspective.
The Cavs turnaround and play the Houston Rockets tonight at home. That game tips off at 7:30 Eastern at Quicken Loans Arena. Go to The Dream Shake for some Houston bloggitude. We'll have a preview up here at FTS a bit later.