Offensively, the Cavs were great. They scored 61 points in the first half, had 90 at the end of three periods and shot over 50% for the game. Unfortunately, those same stats could’ve also be used to describe the Spurs’ Saturday night.
The Spurs’ offense is incredible. They shot 61% in the first half, 57% for the game and they confused the young Cavaliers early and often. Every time the Cavs would get themselves a basket, the Spurs seemed to answer right away, usually with a much easier bucket. Lack of communication killed the Cavs; if San Antonio’s shooters weren’t wide open, they had two Cavaliers running at them, allowing someone (say… like Kawhi Leonard) to get easy put-back dunks. The Spurs are constantly moving and if you aren’t paying attention, they’ll make you pay (San Antonio had 32 assists on their 45 made field goals). There’s a reason why they’re first in the Western Conference with a record of 51-16.
And, late in the game, the Spurs made the Cavs pay.
Cleveland had hung around all game, didn’t wilt in the third period and were in it down the stretch until their defense failed them. The Cavs were down just two points with about four minutes to go when Duncan sealed Thompson, Manu Ginobili drove baselie and found Duncan for a layup. The next time down, Dion fell asleep and Duncan found Leonard for a backdoor layup. And unbelievably, the next time down, Boris freaking Diaw drove from the top of the arc right down the middle for an uncontested dunk. A two point deficit with four minutes left had turned into an eight point deficit with two minutes left.
That was that.
Wayne Ellington returned from a tweaked ankle to lead the Cavs with 21 points off the bench. Shaun Livingston led the starters with 16 points and five assists and Alonzo Gee and Dion Waiters each scored 15 for the Cavaliers, who fell to 22-44.
Overall, hard to be too upset with this loss. Sure, the Cavs had their mental miscues, but the effort was there. The Cavs were on the road and made the best team in the West have to work to put them away. Hell, Greg Popovich had to get himself thrown out to wake up his team and get them to match the Cleveland’s energy.
You’re not gonna believe this, but Tim Duncan versus Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller isn’t a matchup in Cleveland’s favor. Duncan was not worried about Cleveland’s bigs at all; the Big Fundamental finished with 30 points, 12 boards, four assists and five blocks. He put on a clinic. Duncan would routinely let Zeller or TT overplay him to one side, only to let the pass come to him from a different angle and net himself an easy layup. He was always where he wanted to be when setting up on the block. Also, Duncan looks noticeably thinner than he has in years past. Timmy sent Zeller to the bench with foul trouble and he frustrated Thompson (3-12 FG and seemed to be rushing) at the defensive end.
Alonzo Gee led a fastbreak and it wasn’t a train wreck. Seriously. It happened. Gee centered the ball, didn’t overdribble and found Shaun Livingston (in stride!) for a layup. Gee also had a coast-to-coast “and-one” but that was much scarier.
Marreese Speights bounced back with a solid game. After pretty much no-showing in Dallas, Speights had 19 points, seven boards and four blocks in 23 minutes off the bench. With Zeller in foul trouble (and just being overmatched by a Hall of Famer), Speights got some extra time and made the most of it. While I still feel he’s all too happy to take those 17 footers, his defense at the rim (four blocks!) was spectacular.
No All-Star point guards, no problem. With both Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker sitting out Saturday’s game, there was some concern how the offenses would look. Well, 232 points later…
I can watch Luke Walton play basketball all day. Walton played 22 minutes and had seven assists. SEVEN. I really hope both he and Shaun Livingston stick around in the Wine and Gold. Having a couple pass-first veterans with high basketball IQs is never a bad thing. Walton’s a guy who drives the ball, not looking for his shot and knowing he’s looking to pass. And it works. A couple times versus the Spurs, Walton drove, sucked in the defense and found Ellington for a wide open trey. Luke Walton for player-assistant coach!
Schedule doesn’t get easier. The face the Pacers Monday night at The Q and then get to deal with the red hot Miami Heat on Wednesday.
(AP Photo/Bahram Mark Sobhani)