I blocked it out of my memory, but I was reminded that the Cavaliers lost to the Kings on Sunday night by 44 points. After that effort, a sight for sore eyes in the depleted Los Angeles Lakers showed up next on the schedule in this 5-game West Coast swing. But, it was anybody’s guess if the Cavaliers would have enough focus or defensive effort to captialize. Well, it was a split decision in that regard, because the offense was pretty spectacular for long stretches, but the defense was atrocious as the Lakers scored out of control in the second and fourth quarters. It was Luol Deng’s impact at both ends as well as a little #DWaitersZone cameo that pulled the Cavaliers through as they eeked out a 120-118 win in Staples Center to improve to 2-1 on the trip. Let’s hit some of the high points.
Offense: not the problem: The wine and gold hit their shots in this game, shooting 47% for the game and a scintillating 13-of-17 (77%!) from the three point arc. They handed out 27 assists (17 of those were in the first half), and they got at least 11 points from six different players. They got to the line 32 times, which is surprising on the road, and they made 25 of them. Five different guys had at least four trips to the charity stripe, and their lowest point total for a quarter came in the first with 28 points. Cleveland hit the offensive boards hard against a mostly-small Laker lineup with 16 of them (11 of those were from Andy and Tristan).
Dion, Delly, and Deng: Luol Deng really led the charge for the Cavaliers tonight right from the tip. Deng had 9 points in the first six minutes, and he added three treys to start the second half. In all, Deng made each of the five three-pointers that he took on his way to 9-of-15 shooting overall for a Cavalier-high 27 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 2 turnovers in 38 minutes (minutes restriction be damned!). Deng was equally important on the defensive end, switching onto the red-hot Nick Young and forcing some key fourth quarter looks. The most important thing for me was seeing Deng’s body language throughout his scoring surge. He didn’t celebrate, and all he could focus on following the game was the team’s poor defensive effort. That’s my (and more importantly, Mike Brown’s) kind of guy.
As for Dion, he played a pretty quiet first three quarters. In that fourth quarter, however, he got going by attacking the basket. Waiters was 3-for-7 from the field in the quarter, but he made 5-of-6 at the line and handed out 3 assists. The final line? 17 points (13 in the 4th), 4 assists, 2 steals, and 0 turnovers. It was Waiters that took charge of the offense when Kyrie had to sit with his 5th personal foul with 9:21 in the fourth. The Cavs trailed by one at that moment, and when Kyrie re-entered five minutes later, they had a five point advantage.
Then, there’s Delly, who just continues to warrant additional playing time. In just under 20 minutes, Delly hit a trifecta of threes and scored 11 points. When Irving and Jack left the floor, it was the Delly-Dion-Deng perimeter crew that facilitated more ball movement and allowed the Cavs to go on a bit of a run. On offense, Delly’s crisp passing, proper spacing, and direction keeps the offense moving. On the other end, he helped slow down the Laker perimeter players.
Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack each had off games. Irving was just 5-of-12 with 13 points and 4 assists. Jack shot 1-of-5 for 4 points and 5 assists, and his defense was atrocious at times in the small ball lineup. In his last five games, Jack is averaging just 6.8 points and shooting 32%. The most positive thing from this game was probably to show that this team with Deng can win a game where Kyrie has an off night. Irving played just 30 minutes, while C.J. Miles played just 14. That gave Delly more minutes than Jack and Miles in this one.
Defense: the problem: Let’s not delay this any further: the Cavaliers’ defense sucked tonight. The Lakers shot 52% for the game, and they matched the Cavaliers with 13 three pointers (thought it took them twice as many attempts at 34). The Laker backcourt of Nick Young and Jodie Meeks lit up the Cavs from the perimeter. Young had 28 points on 7-of-16 shooting that included four threes and a perfect 10-for-10 at the line. Meeks shot 9-of-14 with six threes and 26 points. These two certainly made some hero shots, but the Cavs did a terrible job of contesting the three point looks, instead overhelping in the post on Pau Gasol as well as sagging on dribble penetration.
Thankfully, Kendall Marshall couldn’t hit his open jumpers (4-for-11 and 2-for-6 from deep), but he did dish out 16 dimes as the Lakers had 35 assists on their 44 field goals. The Lakers scored 40 points in the second quarter and shot 77%, and they turned it on in the fourth again to score 33 points and 52%. In the first and third quarters, the Cavs allowed just 45 points.
For whatever reason, the Cavaliers defense doesn’t travel well. While they’re the third best defense at home, they’re dead last on the road. That’s good for the second greatest home/road differential in the league (h/t goes to our own Jacob). It’s a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
End game: The wine and gold truly did try to give this one away. They split three pairs of free throws in the final 34 seconds between Irving and Tristan Thompson. Luol Deng fouled Nick Young on a three-point attempt that allowed him to cash in from the line. Then, with 16 seconds remaining, Nick Young got a three-point attempt off to tie the game, but he misfired as Deng and Varejao did a good job of chasing him high off the ball screen and forcing him to lean to his right on the run to shoot it. Tristan Thompson secured the defensive rebound, splitting the free throws to pretty much book it for the Cavs.
(Photo: Mark J. Terrill/AP)