Before the season, many wondered what, if any, similarities the Cleveland Cavaliers would have with LeBron James' first Miami Heat team. It wasn't sure what kind of start the Cavaliers would have, but it seemed that while the team learned to mesh and complement one another, there might be periods of lackluster play interrupted by fits of brilliance. Just like that Heat team.
That may or may not be a recurring theme of this young season, but it was tonight. An uninspiring first half that led to a lead of point, largely because of an offensive awakening from Dion Waiters rolled into a fantastic third quarter. Cleveland outscored the overwhelmed Brooklyn Nets 35-18. LeBron James got rolling offensively, the Cavaliers offense became balanced, and Tristan Thompson came off the bench to anchor an impressive stretch of defense. Thompson seemed to be a catalyst for the defensive turnaround, but Irving, James and Waiters were impressive on that end as well.
The first half was largely boring and disappointing, but Dion Waiters came in and changed that. A mix of smart and questionable shots were all working for him, and he broke down the defense for a couple easy assists that were fantastic. He leaked out in transition at the right moments and got easy baskets. With his athleticism, he should be taking notes from Corey Brewer and Kevin Love's connection last year in Minnesota. He should be a force in transition. The Cavaliers outscored the Nets by 32 points with Waiters in the game, an incredible reversal from recent trends. He finished with 26 points on 21 shots, handing out four assists without a turnover. Excellent, and his history suggests he might be able to build on this. Confidence is important with Waiters, and perhaps he can turn a corner.
James played a complete game, again. His defense was on point in the third quarter. 18 points on 17 shots isn't the efficiency you might expect, but he added seven assists to just three turnovers while picking up three steals. His offense to get the team going right after the half was essential. Dion and James were helped by Kevin Love. His defense when paired with Anderson Varejao was not particularly good, but 19 points on 14 shots and 14 rebounds is just fine. He seems to defend better as a five with Tristan Thompson on the floor, but it's been a small sample size.
Speaking of Thompson, his energy was once again a key difference. 14 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and a couple of supremely fun finishes on supremely fun LeBron James dishes. His minutes have been ticking up in recent games, and it's clear he is gaining the trust of coach David Blatt. He has literally zero range offensively, but it's not the most important thing when he shares the floor with Love.
For the Nets, it was great to see Sergey Karasev get some run, and he did pretty well with his minutes. He is noticeably stronger, and scored 11 points on five shots. He's still just 21 years old and could very well find his place in this league.
The Nets were missing two of their best players, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, so it's important not to read too much into a single victory. The Cavaliers were supposed to win this game, and they did. That's important, and any win on the road is worth getting excited about. They get the Toronto Raptors at home tomorrow night. We will see you then.