The NBA season is really long. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a new coach, a lot of new players, and a lot of young players. The pieces are kind of weird. The personalities are myriad. There are weird injury histories, there are weird skill sets, there probably isn't enough shooting.
But these players want to win basketball games. And they just got their second win in a row over a pretty good basketball team. Were they at home? Yes. Were the Denver Nuggets on the second night of a road back-to-back? Yes. Are the Nuggets a perfect team? No. But they were 11-6 heading into tonight, and a team playing with a lot of momentum, who probably thought they had a great shot at a win tonight.
The Cleveland Cavaliers came ready to play. Mike Brown has this team drastically improved defensively. Ty Lawson, who has been playing like an all-star, was held to 1-13 shooting. This wasn't a function of Kyrie Irving, or C.J. Miles, or even Dion Waiters or Jarrett Jack (though, wow, Jack really defended tonight). The whole team defended. Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao were everywhere. Once Lawson, usually a little bit harried, made it past the first line of defense there was someone right there to make sure he remembered just how undersized he was.
This was the most complete game the Cavaliers have played this season. It was a good win. The Nuggets showed up. The Cavaliers were better. Kyrie Irving didn't play like a superstar, but he had 23 points on 20 shots, controlled the game, got teammates involved and had the team running and cashing in on the team's defense. The way Irving has played, and the way Lawson has played, you could be forgiven for wondering which one had been to an all-star game. If you watched tonight, there wouldn't be any doubt.
But the star tonight was Tristan Thompson, and you hope he is figuring out how to play in Mike Brown's system, and next to Andrew Bynum. He was simply everywhere. Was his shooting percentage great? No. But he got to the free throw line, and had 17 points on 13 shots. His points came within the offense. He added possession after possession with his energy and athleticism. He accumulated 21 rebounds, easily besting his career high of 17.
Kenneth Faried's statline, posted without comment: 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist.
Anderson Varejao came off the bench and was everywhere as well. 18 points and 13 rebounds? Monstrous. And he was fantastic defensively as well. Look, I don't know how else to put this: there is a sizeable contingent of Cavaliers fans that wish the Cavaliers hadn't traded J.J. Hickson, and rush to point out Faried when criticizing Tristan Thompson. Thompson and Varejao controlled tonight's game.
Andrew Bynum had a lot of good stuff happen, and was a little frustrating at times. He looks healthy, and continues to assert a greater role with the team. When Varejao plays this well, it reminds you of why he is such a great bench asset. I don't know if Bynum will continue to round into form and get better or if this is what he is. He wasn't particularly efficient tonight, but I liked his defense. He also showed his first glimpse at the temperamental side he notoriously showed in Laker-land, picking up a flagrant foul and taunting the Nuggets bench after a converted field goal. It was fun, but I have no idea where it goes.
This was, though, the most fun I have had watching the Cavaliers this season, and the most encouraged I have been. We will see where it goes moving forward.