The Cleveland Cavaliers have been in a bit of a rut lately. Tonight, they got Kyrie Irving back. Soon, Luol Deng will arrive. The Philadelphia 76ers were playing their 5th game in 7 nights and are dedicated to the 2014 draft and a long term, analytics based rebuild. The Cavaliers took full advantage.
C.J. Miles built on his 8-13 shooting performance from Sunday night against the Pacers and connected on a franchise-record 10 3-pointers. He finished with 34 points and exited to a standing ovation from a grateful Cleveland crowd that braved freezing temperatures to see a Cavs team that needed a win.
Miles shone brightest of the Cavaliers, but the whole team was impressive throughout. The 76ers play the fastest pace in the NBA, but had just 66 points heading into the 4th quarter. The Cavaliers forced turnovers and got out in transition all night. The team out-rebounded the 76ers 58-38, paced by 24 combined from Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson.
Thad Young, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, was held to 0 points on 0-7 shooting, 2 turnovers and 4 rebounds. Evan Turner, who has utterly destroyed the Cavaliers this season, finished with 4 points on 13 shots. It was a really satisfying defensive performance from a team that has strung together several promising efforts together over the last week or so. Hopefully they can build on it.
Miles wasn't the only Cavalier to put together an impressive line. Anderson Varejao looked like a man possessed with the news that Pau Gasol won't be in Cleveland any time soon. He finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 2 assists without seeing the court in the 4th quarter.
Thompson also had more points than shots and added a double-double as well. He picked up three different 3 second violations that were a little frustrating but it isn't something we have seen regularly. With the Cavaliers suddenly making it a point of emphasis to try and establish him offensively, the growing pains are inevitable. I don't know what Thompson's ceiling is on that end of the court, but the Cavs are giving him every opportunity to figure it out.
Irving was back and had a great, if understated game. 16 points on 9 shots, 8 assists, 1 turnover in 30 minutes. He picked his spots and fed his teammates. Waiters also came out looking to distribute and it makes him a much more efficient player when he does. 12 points on 14 shots, but he also had 8 assists, many of them for three point conversions. He was engaged defensively, and his 4 rebounds were a symptom of his high energy level.
Tyler Zeller was solid off the bench, finishing with 9 points and 4 rebounds in just 18 minutes. If he really is a competent backup center that makes him incredibly valuable to the Cavaliers. Matthew Dellavedova also added 6 assists off the bench.
Finally, a note about Anthony Bennett. This was a great win and Bennett is a rookie. You don't want to read into much. But after a few plays in which it appeared he was frustrated and gave less than full effort, the Cavaliers' faithful gave him a few boos. Shortly after, with a full minute remaining in the game, Bennett missed a dunk and the play went on. He didn't. He walked back. For about 10 seconds, while the 76ers pushed it and kept playing on the other end, Bennett walked. It was ugly.
I am not a psychologist. I understand he is young and has pressure. It isn't a good situation right now.
For the Cavaliers overall, though, this was a good win, especially with Luol Deng coming. I'll have more from talking to Mike Brown and players in the next couple days.