Never a Doubt: Celtics at Cavs Behind the Box Score

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James Chasedown Block
Scott Sargent/WFNY

Cleveland Cavaliers – 124
Boston Celtics – 118
[Box Score]

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…

  • Harv

    I was hoping Dunleavy was a Tin Man, needing the first month of the season to loosen up and acclimate but we’re solidly in mid-season and he still looks thoroughly uncomfortable, both with the team concept and his own game. At least last night he didn’t try one of his soft no-look passes that get picked off. But the risk of signing old guys is that some will already be done. An unfortunate combo of Dunleavy, Mo Williams cleverly “changing his mind” to get his money but swallow a roster spot and the J.R. injury may fatally weaken the chances of a repeat. Unless of course, David Griffin is again cooking something risky and diabolical.

    Unless and until Boston uses their upcoming picks to get their alpha, their unstoppable player, they’re just Casey Affleck as Morgan in “Good Will Hunting”: indomitable spirit but always the scrawny little brother you admire as you kick his ass again. In the 4th quarter the Cavs just got tired of doing it; stopped running the offense, made mental holiday plans. At about the 4 minute mark Lebron freaky-deek tapped the inbounds pass back to Kyrie, so nonchalantly it was stolen and put in for a Boston score a second after a 3 pointer. If Lue was as truly the anti-Blatt as the popular narrative proclaims he would have pulled LeBron for that crap. Maybe risked sacrificing one game for a larger point as a team searches for nightly motivation. Alas, stars rule, coaches drool.

  • RGB

    No Show Mo’s roster-squatting is really burning my arse.

  • Harv

    as Windhorst likes to point out, those trade exemptions and other cap-saving maneuvers have become less sought after with the greatly increased cap space this year. But that freckled little red head has had months to lay groundwork for something diabolical. He’s probably flattering potential marks as we speak.

  • “If Lue was as truly the anti-Blatt as the popular narrative proclaims he would have pulled LeBron for that crap.”

    James apologized to Lue and the team for this during the subsequent dead ball timeout.

  • scripty

    Can anybody explain why the roster spots are taken up by Mo and Birdman? Is there some technicality that we are stuck w/ them or the Cavs are just sitting on their spots/contracts?

  • Harv

    Thx, now I see in Vardon’s piece that he did apologize. Rightly so.

  • Harv

    I think it’s goes something like this, but I hope someone else can correct me if I’m off: Mo didn’t tell the Cavs in time to have them not save him a roster spot. And Andersen was of course injured when already on. The Cavs can waive them to free the spots but their salaries still count against the cap. The team is so far beyond a certain the luxury tax threshold that any new player would in effect cost them like 4x the salary in penalties. Which means a decent player on a $6m contract costs as much as LeBron. They can try to find a trade to free up a spot but who can they afford to ditch who has value for another team? They’ll do something but it will cost Gilbert a pretty penny when he already has a historically high payroll. This is why Jordan McCrae not playing well kills them. He’s on a minimal contract and probably gone before the trade deadline.

  • scripty

    okay that’s how I was thinking it. makes sense.

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