When this game ended, I just sat in my seat for a minute as confetti rained down from the rafters in the Q. I had to give myself a minute to digest what had just happened. I tweeted this merely minutes earlier and was thoroughly convinced that the Cavaliers were going to lose the game.
Just doesn't look like it's gonna happen for the Cavs tonight. They can't get a stop when they need it.— Conrad Kaczmarek (@conradkaczmarek) March 7, 2013
It didn't seem like the Cavs could stop the bleeding enough to pull out a victory, but they did. Kyrie Irving led an 8-0 run, put on a ski mask, and stole the game before the Utah Jazz could do anything about it.
In the post-game press conference, Byron Scott started off by saying: "Merry Christmas to us."
I tweeted about it earlier in the game and Coach Scott must have seen the same thing. We both described the Cavs' effort as "going through the motions." There was no sense of urgency and nobody looked all that concerned about pulling off a win at home until the final 10 minutes or so. Coach Scott said that he gave the team a speech late in the 3rd quarter and was just hoping that they had enough time to come back and win the game. "We got lucky and that was a gift, basically."
My guess is that Byron said something to the effect of you can either play with energy and run now or you can run tomorrow in practice. That would probably get the point across.
Cleveland's defense down the stretch was a big reason for their win. It started on the perimeter and Coach Scott gave props to Alonzo Gee and, yes, even Kyrie Irving:
"We've been saying all along that (Kyrie) is going to continue to grow on that end. I thought tonight was a big step. I thought last game he played good defense. I thought tonight he picked and chose at the beginning of the game in the first three quarters, but the last quarter he was up, he was pressuring people and he was getting his hands on the ball. He never stopped pursuing the ball."
And once one guy starts really busting his ass on defense, it seems to spread to everybody else. Alonzo Gee set the tone in the fourth quarter.
"I thought it started with Zo (Alonzo) when we took that time out and I said my little speech. They came back out and Zo was the one that started picking it up full-court. He started doing all of the pressuring and everybody else started to follow right in."
The Cavaliers were able to turn it on late in the game and had just enough to eke out the win. But that's not something they can make a habit of doing. Although this team has been playing better lately and has been able to hang with virtually every team in the NBA, they just aren't talented enough to decide when they want to play and when they want to chill. You could see that something clicked during the fourth quarter, particularly when C.J. Miles entered the game. CJ came in and drilled some shots and injected some life into the offense. That seemed to get guys going as he cut the lead to four points. From that point on, everybody was playing with energy. They scrambled for loose balls, Kyrie dove on the ground to save a possession, and the Cavs smoked Utah in transition.
Here's what CJ said after the game:
"It's my job coming off the bench to bring the spark and bring the energy and knock down shots. Guys look for me a little bit now to get rolling."
And while you can't expect the Cavaliers to be able to win games after sleepwalking through the first 40 minutes very often, that's one of the luxuries of having a superstar player. Kyrie played terribly for much of the game, but then after his run in the 4th, I looked at the box score and saw that he had 20 points, 10 assists, and 7 rebounds. And like I said, he was playing so poorly for almost the entire night. This is obviously just another example of how special this kid is. Guys like Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights picked up the slack while Kyrie was in a funk, and then the all star took them home.
After the game, Kyrie gave credit to his teammates and acknowledged the fact that he was struggling:
"I shot like crap tonight, but my teammates held it down on the offensive end. I was just trying to stay locked in defensively; be on my man and get the stops that we needed."
The Cavs certainly got lucky when Mo Williams' shot rolled in and out with about 5 seconds left. It was a clean look and looked like it was about halfway down before it popped back out.
Kyrie echoed Byron in saying that the Cavs got lucky, but recognized that they never gave up and kept fighting til the end:
"We were fortunate that Mo Williams missed that layup. One thing that I can say is that we fought to the end and got stops when we needed them."
In his return to the Q, Mo Williams had a pretty rough night but will definitely be an upgrade for the Jazz down the stretch as they try to make the playoffs. He shot just 3 of 12 from the floor and had 6 assists and 4 turnovers in 27 minutes. It's obviously going to take some time for him to get back into the swing of things. Naturally, Mo had some nice things to say about the guy that he was ultimately traded for, Kyrie Irving:
"Kyrie is Kyrie. He's a hell of a basketball player. He's one the better point guards in the league. He's up there with the elite. I'm a fan of Kyrie. It's fun to see his growth in this league. He is going to be special...His potential is astronomical."
Tyler Zeller had a rough night in his first game back from being sick and was limited to just 24 minutes. He did, however, have 3 blocks. Which is nice. As a team, the Cavaliers had a season-high 12 blocks. Tristan Thompson had three of those to go along with his double-double (16 points and 12 rebounds). Despite Enes Kanter's big night (17 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes), the Cavaliers held their own in the paint. They out-rebounded the Jazz 49-38 and had 6 more points in the paint.
Gordon Hayward gave the Cavs trouble, but Byron Scott said it wasn't anything in particular that he did. Hayward's just a good player. His combination of size, skill, and shooting makes him tough for the Cavs to matchup with. His 25 points were a game-high.
The Road Ahead
The Cavaliers will finish up this mini homestand tomorrow night when they host the Memphis Grizzlies at 7:30 PM. JON LEUER REVENGE GAME.