It’s official, the Cavaliers are going back to the playoffs. Not that it was ever in doubt, but with the 125-120 win over the Los Angeles Lakers the Cavs clinched their third straight playoff appearance.
For a weekend game in L.A. the Cleveland Cavaliers came out with a surprising amount of energy to start the game. The Los Angeles Lakers have pulled the plug on their season, deciding to make both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov healthy scratches for the remainder of the season. So it’s likely that the Cavs saw this as an opportunity to put their opponent away early.
Despite the energy and high tempo, the Lakers matched the Cavs output in the first quarter. D’Angelo Russell had the best scoring quarter of his career with 18 points and hitting four straight threes to start the game.
Kevin Love’s play to start the game was a continuation of the quality minutes he gave the team against the Pistons. There’s been little visible rust to his game to this point and has been a very strong presence when he’s on the court. As the game progressed, it was obvious that his legs were feeling a little heavy at times. But there’s been no real drop-off to his mobility and he’s getting into position for quality looks.
The hot shooting of the Lakers continued into the second quarter. The team caught up to the Cavs and even established a eight point lead midway through the quarter after an 18-2 run. The bad-luck Cavs also had yet another injury scare, as Deron Williams jammed his left thumb playing defense and went straight to the locker room. Williams eventually was able to come back and play for the second half.
The Cavs got their acting on with some role reversal by cutting the lead to three before LeBron James checked back into the game. Their run was fueled primarily by some hot shooting from Irving, who put up 21 first half points on 8-11 shooting.
The trio of James, Irving and Love combined for 48 points in the first half. Unfortunately the rest of the team only had seven points as the Cavs trailed 59-55 after two quarters. Part of that may have been a result of the rest of the team playing last night. But the defensive effort from the team continued to make things much tougher than it needed to be.
Effort is obviously the biggest culprit for the defensive woes. However, the inconsistencies in who has been available to play may also be harming their defense. The team hasn’t had a lot of continuity and the communication has suffered as a result. While the effort switch can be flipped, the process may not be so simple until the team gets more minutes together as a unit.
D’Angelo Russell continued his out of body experience in the third quarter. It didn’t matter who the Cavs threw at Russell, he was in a rhythm and playing with an aggressiveness that hasn’t always been there this year. He had 37 points after three quarters.
A collision in the third with Julius Randle resulted in a mouth injury for Tristan Thompson that forced him out for the game. While he’s likely going to need some dental work, it’s certainly more positive than if he were to suffer a structural injury elsewhere. It’s unclear whether or not his injury will end his league leading iron-man streak.
The story of the game was the duel between Kyrie Irving and D’Angelo Russell. While the two didn’t spend much time matched up on defense, the two went shot for shot throughout the night on the offensive end. For Russell, he scored a career high 40 points. While Irving poured in 46 points on 15-21 shooting, including 14 points in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs flipped the switch in the fourth quarter, matching their season high with 43 points in the quarter. With Thompson out, the Cavs went with Love at center, then transitioned to LeBron at the five. At the end of the day, the Cavs simply created too many matchup problems for them and were able to defend when it matters.