Cleveland Cavaliers – 124
Boston Celtics – 118
Another big first quarter from Kevin Love helped the Cleveland Cavaliers jump out to a sizable lead over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, but it took another clutch performance from Kyrie Irving to secure the victory. The Boston Celtics came into the game tied for the third best record in the East, but they have yet to prove they can hang with the cream of the crop in the East, losing 124-118.
The Cavaliers’ Big 3 of Irving, Love, and LeBron James all recorded double-doubles and combined for 85 of the Cavaliers’ 124 points. But, after extending their lead to 20 points in the third quarter, the Cavaliers let off the gas and the Celtics pounced on the opportunity. The Cavaliers’ defense really struggled, as the Celtics shot 68 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and closed the gap. But Irving and James wouldn’t let the Cavaliers lose, with each scoring nine in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
The Cavaliers’ depth issues again raised their ugly head, with Mike Dunleavy looking especially poor. Every Cavaliers starter had a positive +/- for the game except for LeBron James, who spends a significant amount of time surrounded by four bench players. The lack of depth and quality play from the bench unit is forcing the starters to exert more effort and play more minutes than the Cavaliers would like. Those minutes may have caught up with the team tonight, as Kyrie Irving’s hamstring tightened up on him late in the fourth after playing 41 minutes.
Let’s look behind the box score at some recent trends with the Cavaliers:
0 – Minutes for Jordan McRae. After an offseason in which he was referred to as the Cavaliers’ Jordan Crawford, the 25-year-old guard has failed to live up to expectations. Shooting just 32 percent from the floor, McRae has failed to carve out a role, even with limited depth in the backcourt for the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers have to make a decision on guaranteeing McRae’s contract by January 7. With Mo Williams and Chris Andersen taking up valuable roster spots and J.R. Smith out until almost playoff-time, McRae could be looking at his last week with the Cavaliers. His roster spot is likely better used on a veteran buy-out type player who can at least provide the Cavs some garbage minutes.
33 – points for Kay Felder—in his debut with the Canton Charge on Wednesday night. The rookie has looked shaky at the NBA level, but dominated with the Charge, adding seven rebounds, seven assists, and one steal in the 124-95 win over the Greensboro Swarm. Felder has averaged ten minutes per game with the Cavaliers, shooting 39 percent from the floor. He has struggled to get to the basket and finish, as a majority of his points are coming on long two-pointers. He is shooting 53 percent on those shots, but the Cavaliers most likely want him attacking the rim and finding more efficient ways to score. To Felder’s credit, he is getting to the free throw line, with one of the best FTr on the team.
1 – Mike Dunleavy’s entire positive contribution to the game was his one rebound. He added a turnover and a personal foul to his stat line. In theory, Dunleavy should have provided the Cavaliers with another decent wing who could stretch the floor and provide the sort of cutting and passing you’d expect from a veteran. Unfortunately, he has been a massive negative in most of his minutes with the Cavaliers.
2 – Roster spots taken up by Mo Williams and Chris Andersen. With J.R. Smith injured and McRae, Felder, and Dunleavy nearly unplayable, having two dead roster spots in Williams and Andersen leaves the Cavaliers incredibly thin. Richard Jefferson has provided quality minutes this season and Iman Shumpert has played above most peoples’ expectations, but the bench unit is still extremely thin. Channing Frye started off the season on a tear but his defense has slipped of late, making him hard to play and the Cavaliers’ defense a problem when Tristan Thompson sits.
64 – James Jones’ percent from three this season. Sure, it’s only on 22 attempts, but the Cavaliers may have to dust off Jones for some minutes for the foreseeable future.
43.5 – The NetRtg of the Cavalier’s 5-man starting unit of Irving, DeAndre Liggins, James, Love, and Thompson. This is tops in the NBA of any lineup in the that has logged over 50 minutes. While I outlined above why there are major concerns with the Cavaliers’ depth, Liggins has been a stabilizing force in the starting unit while also allowing Iman Shumpert to come off the bench. The Cavs would be a tough spot if not for the emergence of Liggins.
The Cavaliers travel to Charlotte to take on the Hornets Saturday night. Let’s hope Kemba Walker’s night looks something like this…