Late in the fourth quarter, with just 26 seconds left to play against the New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving went to the free throw line. He missed the first, and in the break, coach David Blatt pulled LeBron James from the game. As James exited the floor, he received a standing ovation from the sold out Quicken Loans Arena Crowd. He would return to close out the game after the Pelicans scored, but this was James' deserved curtain call - one he didn't receive in the home opener.
This was Cleveland's first home win of the season and its first home game since the opening night debacle against the New York Knicks. The win, of course, is also James' first win in Cleveland since returning the Cavs in July. James finished the game with a triple-double, scoring 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds and 10 assists in Cleveland's 118-111 win.
Irving added 32 points and nine assists, while Love added 22 points and five rebounds. After the Cavs found themselves down by five at the half, LeBron, Irving and Love scored 61 of the Cavs' 69 second half points. Anthony Davis had 27 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks for New Orleans, while Ryan Anderson had 32 points off the bench for the Pellies.
It was, of course, Irving and James that kickstarted that Cavs' second half surge. In the first half, the Cavs looked flat and out of sorts.There was little semblance of the movement-heavy offense that lead the Cavs to a route over the Denver Nuggets on Friday. In it's place was a stagnate, drive and kick heavy attack that was easy for the Pelicans to defend. It didn't help that Anderson, a noted marksman, was given ample space to spot-up and get in a rhythm from 3-points range.
The Cavs, however, were a different team in the second half. Anderson was held in check and the Cavs largely controlled both ends of the floor. Irving scored 22 points in the second half and LeBron began to attack the rim with little resistance. After taking the lead 80-79 behind late third quarter Irving's run, Cleveland continued to expand its lead well into the fourth quarter due to a better defense performance and its offense getting back the movement that made it so successful in the previous game. This all made James' curtain call redo a possibility.
- Joe Harris, in his first extended action, was a nice surprise and it says something that he finished the game on the floor with Irving, Love and LeBron. The rookie was decisive on offense while playing active defense. With Matthew Dellavedova and Dion Waiters out with injuries, it makes sense that Harris received more minutes than normal. It remains to be seen if Harris will continue to see time once Waiters returns this week and Dellavedova comes back in a month or so, but at the very least, there are early signs that Harris can be a rotation player in the NBA.
- Tristan Thompson largely showcased what makes him a valuable part of this Cavs team tonight. He finished with six rebounds and did a overall good job on defense sans losing Anderson a few times in the first half. At one point, he even blocked Davis. Considering Anderson Varejao's injury history and Thompson's play, I co-sign FTS Editor David Zavac's idea that Thompson should play 25 minutes a night.
- Cleveland's defense still leaves a lot to be desired. It was better in the second half overall, but the first half showcased some of the problems the defense has. For instance, when the Pelicans were moving the ball, the Cavs' defense struggled to rotate around and gave up several open looks on the back end. Varejao and Love also combined to give Pelicans guard Eric Gordon a way too easy layup. Blatt noted that Cavs' tendency to be lax on defense in his post game press conference, saying the Cavs had some "very lethargic moments" during the course of the game.
- Of course, these were the same type of looks Love took advantage of in the second half. Love had several open 3-point looks and took full advantage. After Irving's third quarter burst, Love was essential in the Cavs getting out ahead of the Pelicans in the second half.
- And yes, LeBron can still dunk.