That was something...
Mike Brown had stressed last night that the Cavs starters needed to stop allowing the opposition to hit them in the mouth first and that was not the case this evening. While the starters were able to come out with energy, the team was unable to sustain it and found themselves trailing 61-46 at the half. While the Cavs haven't been winning a lot as of late, they have refused to quit. They came back against Oklahoma City, Houston and now New York. The team is playing with heart and seem committed to trying to right the ship despite the near extinction of their playoff odds.
Dion Waiters was the driving force of the team in the first quarter of the game. While it has been great to see him start to put up more efficient performances, his all around growth has been off the charts. He is becoming more and more familiar with the flow of the game, making smarter plays, committing himself to the little things that impact a game and has been a vocal/ emotional catalyst for the Cavaliers since he's returned from his injury. Earlier this season I wrote about how both Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving needed an attitude adjustment -- about how Dion needed to stop letting his passion get the best of him and maintain his focus, while Irving needed to stop making excuses, trust his teammates and do more of the little things. What's great is that both players have come out and said that they needed to make changes to their games and have acted on it. But with Irving out Waiters has really shown a great sense of maturity and accountability that wasn't there earlier this season. He, like all of our young players, is prone to make the odd stupid decision or blown defensive coverage. But he follows it up with consistent effort and is really starting to show the signs of the player Cavs fans hoped he would be.
Waiters finished with 22 points, 2 assists and 5 rebounds (remember he said he wanted to work on his rebounding) on 9-17 shooting. He also managed to be a calming force, particularly down the stretch for the team. He had a few chances where he could have tried to get a quick bucket before the defense was set but he settled the ball down, used the clock and the team was able to run a play. This team isn't going to make playoffs or get great odds for a lotto pick, so the most important thing for them is to see growth like this in their core if they hope to improve next season.
Jarrett Jack was unbelievable. He played the role of Kyrie Irving tonight scoring 31 points, 11 assists on 13-19 shooting. He hit some ridiculous shots late in the game and even peppered in a few Jarrett Jack moments to make sure the performance wasn't too large of a shock to the system of Cavs fans. He may not know where the sideline is all the time, but tonight he became very well acquainted with the bottom of the net. Jack has actually had a few good performances lately and, while he can be maddening, he has also shown that he can be a solid contributor at times.
- It was nice to see Luol Deng back in the lineup for the Cavs. I had spoken to him last night and he advised that yesterday was the first time he was able to push himself since his injury. While it's not perfect, it's a lot better than it has been. All things considered he looked pretty solid tonight.
- Tristan Thompson looks exhausted out there. He is not playing with the same energy that he has become known for and when he's playing without energy, he isn't very effective. He had a good shooting night but only pulled down four rebounds. We can only hope that nobody in the locker room tonight starts a fight by accusing Thompson of gifting rebounds to Waiters. #ReboundingBuddyBall
- This game really hurts the Knicks playoff chances. They had won eight straight games but really needed this one before they go on their west coast trip. They are now four games back of Atlanta in the loss column. THIS IS OUR SUPERBOWL!
- I mentioned the transformation in Waiters above, but it really is nice to see the majority of the team still playing hard. This organization hasn't seen a team compete this late in the year in a very long time and it was disheartening to see the team so dejected towards the end of last season. I'll take the team being held accountable and having fun together along with the 9th or 10th pick in the draft over moping and quitting to go along with the 7th or 8th pick. Would this team benefit from a top prospect? Absolutely. But that ship has sailed and this season has been basically the worst case scenario. But now that we're here why not try and create some momentum for the future. As a Knicks front office member once said... "Mo's a bitch".