Heading into this latest Cavs game, the season appeared to be as low as could be. After a week of drama and speculation, a New York Daily News report centered on Luol Deng comments painted the team as an absolute mess.
Over in Houston on Saturday night, the final result wasn’t that terrible after all, somewhat. Heck, the Rockets have won two-thirds of their games this season, so this could have been much, much worse. The final score read 106-92. It was a wee bit close for a few minutes midway through the third quarter, but that was about it. The Rockets are a much better team.
During a 33-12 rally by the Cavs that intersected halftime, they looked very solid, especially offensively. Small victories! But at half, only three Cleveland players even scored more than two points: Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Luol Deng. Those were the three players with notable efforts, really. The Rockets are just too good, too talented and too efficient in their schemes. It wasn’t really that competitive. Yikes.
15-19-21-7 — Guards Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin tore up the Cavaliers. They were the difference makers. Although Houston only scored 45 points in the second half after a dominant first-half offensive performance, both of these unheralded guys had very, very impressive all-around games. Heck, Beverly actually didn’t score, but still managed to rack up eight assists, 10 rebounds and five steals. When was the last time a Cleveland player made that kind of impact sans scoring? Lin, off the bench, did complete his first career triple-double with an eye-popping 15-10-11-2 line. Their intensity was too much for the Cavs to handle on both ends.
4.3-4.6 — This is now the second time this season I’ve called out Tristan Thompson for a disappointing stretch of games. In his last three contests, those are his point and rebound averages: 4.3 and 4.6. He actually had a better 6-7 tonight on 2-for-6 shooting. Terrence Jones, Houston’s second-year starting forward, showcased his tantalizing offensive repertoire. Yes, Thompson did play some better defense tonight compared to what Kirk’s Film Room showed last week. While Thompson’s rebounding numbers are lower with Anderson Varejao on the court, it seems that he struggles to find an overall rhythm without his usual frontcourt starting partner.
20:36 — Big man Henry Sims again totaled over 20 minutes tonight off the bench. Really, it’s not fair to see a Tyler Zeller-Dwight Howard matchup in any setting, so Sims provided some decent toughness and intensity in the low-post. He had seven points, six rebounds, a steal and two blocks. That’s solid production. Before Thursday’s disaster against New York, Sims had just 69 career NBA minutes in two seasons with New Orleans and Cleveland. Then, he had 22:03 in playing time against the Knicks on TNT. That was unexpected. Tonight, again without the services of Varejao, he was in the regular rotation and played decently throughout the game. Is he an NBA-caliber player? I’m still not really sure. But at only 23, there’s maybe some hope here. Maybe.
-15 — At halftime, Jarrett Jack was a -15 in 12 minutes in his first start alongside Kyrie Irving this season. The lineup shift — moving C.J. Miles back to the bench and starting Jack practically at point guard — was a bit of a surprise. It didn’t really make a difference at the start, as Jack only totaled two points and an assist by halftime. He had a much more productive second half, assisting several times on that continuing run that made the game actually close for a bit. But who knows if this is a long-term signal. I’m still not really sure why Jack was given that offseason contract if the team is so invested in making Irving-Dion Waiters work for the long-term. Oh Cavs.
7-for-26 — Yes, this wasn’t that good of a game from the Cavaliers. Yes, Lin and Beverly had very good games in supporting roles. Of course, All-Stars James Harden (28 points) and Dwight Howard (26 points) had their usual, dominant lines. But the Cavs did limit the NBA’s most aggressive shooting team to only 26.9% shooting from three-point range. If the Rockets are going to destroy you, they’ll do some from behind the line with Harden, Lin, Chandler Parsons, et al. But that didn’t exactly happen. Parsons had only seven points. Beverly was 0-for-5 from behind the line. So that’s a slight positive amid all of this chaos.
71.6% v. 51.2% — This stat. This stat. It’s one I shared pregame and made me already quite sad and defeated before this affair. On the season, the Rockets lead the NBA (and perhaps are setting an all-time record) by taking 71.6% of their shot attempts from the restricted area or three-point range. That’s efficient, by default. The Cavs are tied for last with the Memphis Grizzlies with a 51.2% mark. So at the start, the Cavs are already playing from behind. Recall my article on Kirk Goldsberry’s ShotScores that broke down efficiency by shooting zone. Or heck, Goldsberry’s chart himself. The restricted area and three-point range are the best shots in this competitive game of basketball. The Cavs don’t shoot many of them. The Rockets shoot the most. That’s not ideal.
The Cavaliers next play on Monday night at Dallas. If you recall, the Mavs beat the Cavs on MLK Day a couple weeks ago on that Jarrett Jack inbound failure. It should be a hoot. In the meanwhile, I’d (hope and) expect there to be more reports on the ensuing drama. We shall see. Stay tuned. I’m not really sure why I watched this game tonight.
Photo: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan