The struggling San Antonio Spurs improved to 7-4 in a road win over the struggling 5-5 Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. This game was in many ways exactly what you might expect from two highly talented teams playing with intensity in November: ugly. Both teams are playing with lineups, getting a feel for their offensive sets, and came out with a lot of energy. At the beginning of the second half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called a timeout after just one possession, 19 seconds in.
This one matters.
Ultimately, it won't matter anymore than any of the other 82 games. But the world champion San Antonio Spurs wanted this one, and the Cavaliers hung tough. This isn't a time for moral victories. This was a slow, grind it out game and LeBron James and company came up short. With six seconds left LeBron James had the ball in his hands with a chance to tie or win the game. He committed his fifth and final turnover.
We expect the Cavaliers to be a transcendent offensive team by the time 2014 turns into 2015. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Heading into tonight the Cavs had the second most efficient offense in basketball. Tonight, they were far from good. LeBron James scored 15 points on 17 shots, and while he was able to hand out nine assists, he was responsible for the aforementioned five turnovers. He was slow on rotations, particularly in the first half.
Kevin Love was similarly pedestrian. 10 points on 12 shots, five assists and two turnovers. He got beat by Tim Duncan several times for Spurs offensive rebounds, and struggled to defend for a lot of the night. He appeared to get better over the last six or seven minutes of the game, but it was frustrating to see. One Cavalier who was effective on offense for most of the night was Anderson Varejao. He had three turnovers in the first quarter, but didn't commit one after that and finished with an efficient 23 points. He seems a step slow defensively, but his offensive output was welcome tonight.
Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, mixed in moments of offensive genius and sustained solid defense on Tony Parker with periods of spotty decision-making. James needs to find him on more spot up opportunities, I think.
In crunchtime, David Blatt went with the second round draft choice Joe Harris over Dion Waiters, Mike Miller, and Shawn Marion. While he came up with a big stop on Tony Parker midway through the fourth quarter, he gave up a couple silly fouls. A three pointer that would have given the Cavaliers a four point lead with just over two minutes to play didn't go down. They might have considered building a statue of his likeness next to Jim Thome downtown if he had found a way to nail it.
Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson have pedestrian statlines, but provided energy in short bursts tonight. I assume Blatt would say that the bursts just aren't consistent enough, and Varejao was just the hot hand and he had to ride it. I probably shouldn't assume, but I also wouldn't really blame him if that was his reasoning. Still, 38 minutes for Anderson Varejao feels like a lot.
The Cavaliers got sub-par offensive output from LeBron James and Kevin Love. They lost by two points and had a shot to win. They defended at a higher level than we are used to seeing. Time will tell what it means, but it remains a November game all the same.