A slice through the lane off an Anderson Varejao screen, open hardwood between him and the bucket, Kyrie Irving may have been just a little surprised that he was so wide open. As Danny Granger sliced through the lane, flying by in a panic to challenge the shot, he caused just enough disruption to break Kyrie’s concentration at the hoop as his game-winning layup try spun off the back right side of the rim, sending the game to overtime. In that overtime, it was Danny Granger taking over as the undefeated Pacers got back a game they tried to hand to the Cavaliers down the stretch, who clearly wanted it more with their scrappyness and effort. This 98-91 overtime victory for Indiana will leave a bad taste in the 19-year-old rookie point guard’s mouth, but Cavaliers fans have plenty to be encouraged with in their top draft pick and this battle against a much-improved Indiana squad.
For the first time in three tries, Kyrie Irving was very aggressive on the offensive end right out of the gate. He looked to attack Pacer point Darren Collison, not a top defender by any stretch, and pushed the ball off makes and misses alike. When the Cavaliers run, Kyrie has his best chance to distribute and score for himself as well. Irving finished with a team-high 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 34 minutes. Of those eight field goals, five were layups, which speaks to Kyrie’s ability to penetrate even in traffic and with a 7-foot shot blocker such as Hibbert looming. He also took several confident jumpers, though he missed a fair share of them late in the game. While he definitely has a long way to go, it’s big for me at least to see Kyrie want the ball at the end of the game. He has shown the ability to get good shots even when the defense knows the offense is running through him, and that’s what you need from your best player. Number two will have plenty of game-winning opportunities in his career with the wine and gold, so I’m not sweating this one too much, and I hope the young fellow isn’t either.
What the Cavaliers showed as a unit tonight against the Pacers, a playoff team in my estimation in the current Eastern Conference landscape, was nothing short of impressive. Though their offense waned in the second half, their defensive toughness and will was pretty consistent throughout. Despite shooting 39% as a team (just 5-of-25 from three point land), the Cavaliers seemed more eager to get on the floor for loose balls, they were more focused on defense, and they got some timely shots from both Irving and Anthony Parker that set the scene for them to have a shot for the win.
One thing that was irritating in this one was the wine and gold free throw shooting. They got to the line 31 times, but connected on just 18 attempts for a 58% clip. Irving, a good free throw shooter, was just 4-for-7. The team has some rough free throw shooters in Samuels, Jamison, Thompson, and Varejao, so expect this to continue to be a hot-button issue all season long. The saving grace is that their guards (Irving, Sessions, Gibson) largely convert their free throws. The Cavs also gave up 17 offensive rebounds and were outrebounded 60-49, but Indiana’s large frontline caused that more than a lack of effort.
The Cavs got a little banged up in this one, specifically Anderson Varejao. In the span of about five minutes of game action in the third, Andy turned his ankle, banged knees with a Pacer driving to the basket, and landed on his tailbone hard. The third injury came from a flagrant one foul by David West as he yanked Varejao down viciously by his shoulder as the Brazilian big man went up for a layup. Varejao takes a beating at the center position much more than he did playing power forward, so these bumps and bruises will continue. Let’s hope that he can stay on the floor unlike last season. Boobie too injured his right ring finger in the third quarter, but he returned later in the second half.
When the Cavaliers got to overtime, the wind was out of their sails from the missed game-winner and there were overtime lessons to be learned. The Cavaliers had no answer for Danny Granger (though Alonzo Gee put up a valiant effort) as the Pacer guard poured in 9 of his 22 in the extra session. The sequence that sealed the deal was an Antawn Jamison’s three point shot being blocked by David West and a Granger three that gave Indy a six-point lead with 1:29 to play.
As you guys probably know by now, I’m one of those guys who calls out bad officiating when I see it, admittedly sometimes maybe too much. However, last night’s crew of Bill Spooner, David Guthrie, and Josh Tiven was one of the most clueless and aloof officiating displays for the entire span of a game that I’ve ever seen in the NBA. Perhaps the best example without creating a laundry list would be the offensive foul that Tristan Thompson was whistled for in the first half where he slightly extended his elbow on an offensive rebound as he went up for a dunk. Tyler Hansbrough had a similar play in the fourth quarter but lowered his head and made contact with the defender with his head and elbow, knocking him backward…. no whistle. NBA officials are nothing if they’re not inconsistent. That’s all I really ask for. One more I couldn’t help but laugh at was the play in overtime where Gee knocked over his man while they had the ball, everyone stops because it’s either a foul or a travel, there’s no whistle, and everyone just looks around as the ball rolls out of bounds off the Pacers. Pacers ball! Of course.
The 1-2 Cavaliers head back home to The Q to take on the New Jersey Nets Sunday night.