Everyone take a deep breath. The losing streak is over. We can all relax. Well, at least a little bit.
Cavaliers bounced back from (possibly) their worst loss of the season, beating the Boston Celtics 97-91 and snapping their season-long 10-game losing streak. Tristan Thompson led everyone with 29 points and 17 boards (both career highs) and Alonzo Gee finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, as the Cavs improved to 23-52. The Celtics were paced by Jeff Green’s 23 point, nine rebound, four assist evening and got 16 points and seven boards off the bench from someone named Shavlik Randolph. Boston, firmly rooted in the 7th seed in the East and playing without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, saw their record fall to 39-37.
This wasn’t Cleveland’s most impressive win of the season, but it was possibly their most important. Following a week of coaching speculation and the debacle that was Wednesday’s loss to the Nets, it was nice to see the Cavs bounce back and win on the road in Boston. Yes, the Celtics were missing key players on Friday night, but when has that foretold a Cavalier victory? The Nets were without Joe Johnson on Wednesday night and the Cavs lost by roughly a billion. That they played hard and didn’t overlook a hobbled Celtic team is (sadly) itself a minor victory.
A win is a win. But a bounce-back win after a week of “have the Cavs quit on their coach” speculation is even better. The Cavs played a fantastic third period, holding the Celtics to just 16 points and ending the quarter on a 19-6 run that (coupled with their 8-0 run to start the fourth) put them in firm control of the ball game. Cleveland’s lead ballooned to as many as twelve during the fourth (82-68) and while the Celtics made their requisite run, the Cavs never let them get closer than four points. There would be no repeat of last week’s loss to the Celtics at the buzzer. The young Cavs kept up their defensive pressure in the final period (and Boston did their part by missing open treys and stumbling into some unforced turnovers) and Cleveland went 7-8 from the free throw line in fourth quarter to keep their hard earned victory.
Oh, that Kyrie Irving guy played too. It wasn’t Irving’s best night, as he finished with just 11 points on 4-20 shooting (though also eight assists and five boards), but it was enough. The young All-Star set up Tyler Zeller for an easy layup to increase Cleveland’s lead to 93-87 with two minutes to play and he followed it up thirty second later with his only basket of the fourth, a step back jumper to put the Cavs up 95-87 and essentially ice the game.
It’s hard to draw any long term conclusions to from this game. A late season win versus a hobbled Boston team usually isn’t something to write home about. But when your team hasn’t won in over three weeks, you’ll take whatever you can get. On the immediate level, it’s nice to see them stop the bleeding and have them bounce back from such a soul crushing loss. I wouldn’t have put it past this team to come out blasé and lackadaisical versus Boston; one of their big problems this season has been overlooking bad teams or teams with injuries (and that would’ve definitively answered the “have they quit on Byron?” question). But that didn’t happen. The Cavs were aggressive from the start, carried over that assertiveness through the third period and held off a late Celtic charge during the fourth.
An absolute monster game from TT. That was awesome. A career high 29 points to go with a career high 17 boards is impressive. But you know what’s really impressive? That Thompson finished 9-9 from the charity stripe. I’m gonna say it again. Tristan Thompson went 9-9 from the free throw line. Thompson’s the reason the Cavs won this game. He had seven (7!) offensive boards and they were all important (he had a powerful putback dunk that put the Cavs up 89-83 with about five minutes to play). Thompson’s effort, energy and overall play led the Cavs to this victory. It was a truly excellent performance by the Cavs’ second-year big man.
I really miss Dion Waiters. I simply like watching that dude hoop. I love his moxie and the fact that he gives a damn. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s the only other Cavalier asides from Kyrie who can create his own shot. It’s no accident that this late season swoon happened to coincide with the Cavs being without their two primary ball handlers and scorers. The Cavs miss him too. There’s a reason why Irving shot just 4-20 from the floor and that reason is Avery Bradley. Going forward, having Dion (or someone like him) around to take the load off Kyrie and take advantage of when a team sticks a Bradley or Tony Allen on Irving is very important.
Rec-league Walton tweaked an ankle. Luke Walton had one of those twisted ankles where he just came down on the side of his foot and rolled it. He immediately went to the locker room and didn’t return to play. Walton being Walton, he somehow finished with two assists in his three minutes on on the court. Because of course he did.
The more I watch Mo Speights, the less I like. Speights played just two minutes against Boston and lost his playing time to Kevin Jones. Was Kevin Jones impressive? Not really. He shot just 1-6 and finished with two points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes. But Jones did things that Speights didn’t do, like rebound and make defensive rotations. And have not-awful body language. And while Speights has had some monster games off the bench for Cleveland, I’m not really sold on a guy who’s go-to move is a contested 18-footer.
Time to start a new streak! I’m not joking either. The Cavs next game is Sunday night at home against the Orlando Magic. This should be a winnable ball game. Orlando’s record sits at 19-58 which puts second in the race for the most ping-pong balls in next months NBA Draft Lottery. The Cavs are at 23-52, currently fourth behind the Phoenix Suns, who are 23-53. Tip off is 6:00 pm.