Cleveland Cavaliers – 103
Memphis Grizzlies – 86
It was never a question of if J.R. Smith would break out of his 9-42 slump from three-point range, it was a matter of when. Unfortunately for the Memphis Grizzlies, we got our answer in the Cavalier’s 103-86 win on Tuesday night. J.R. shot 6-10 from three on his way to 23 points. He had reached his season high of 17 by halftime and the team was clearly feeding off of his energy.
Memphis carried a six-game winning streak into Cleveland even without their two stars, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, or recent free-agent acquisition, Chandler Parsons. The Cavaliers were without their own star point guard, Kyrie Irving, as he was given the night off to rest. Kyrie’s absence didn’t hinder the Cavaliers, as they did what they’ve done so frequently: jump out to an early lead and keep their opponent mostly at bay for the rest of the game. Kevin Love’s nine first-quarter points actually came short of his league-leading 9.5 first-quarter scoring average. The forward had a monster game, scoring 29 points on 17 shots and added 13 rebounds. LeBron James continued his overall mastery, with 23 points, six rebounds, eight assists, and three steals.
With a sizable lead in the fourth quarter and Kyrie in street clothes, the Cavaliers went deep in their bench, playing twelve total players. DeAndre Liggins got the start at point guard, and again showed high energy and solid defense. Kevin Love compared his play to that of former Cavalier Matthew Dellavedova in that his energy is contagious to the rest of the team. Liggins was able to draw offensive fouls and force turnovers with heads-up play that is likely to keep him in the rotation for the time being.
Beyond Liggins, Kay Felder also got some run in the rotation. The rookie carries himself like an NBA player, but his play could certainly use some seasoning. Felder had a few questionable plays and can rely too much on his Dion Waiters-eque pull-up jumper at times. His 5’5″ height is always going to be an issue, and it would probably better serve him to spend time with the D-League Canton Charge if the Cavaliers can afford it.
Jordan McRae also got some run late in this contest. The guard had become part of the rotation in mid-November, averaging over 15 minutes from November 13th through the 25th, but has received four DNPs since then. McRae struggles to do much beyond look for his own shot and the Cavaliers trying to pump up his trade value prior to the season is funny in retrospect.
Most of the Cavaliers head to Memphis Wednesday night. Ty Lue announced in the post-game that Kyrie, LeBron, and Love will not be traveling with the team and given the night off. The Cavs will start Liggins, Iman Shumpert, Smith, James Jones, and Tristan Thompson.
Let’s look behind the box score at the Cavs’ recent success:
0 – Mike Dunleavy’s minutes even in a blowout win. Dunleavy seemed like an absolute perfect fit heading into the season, but he hasn’t just fallen off a cliff, he exploded like this was some sort of Road Runner cartoon.
800 – Kevin Love made his 800th three-pointer on Tuesday night. Pretty impressive for a player who only took 19 total threes his rookie season.
+6 – The Cavs are six points better than their opponents with Kevin Love on the court and LeBron off the court. This compares to all other non-LeBron minutes, where the team is minus 15. Love’s ability to anchor the second unit while LeBron rests has been a major asset this season.
43.5 percent – LeBron James assists on 43.5 percent of his teammates’ field goals while on the court. LeBron’s USG has crept back closer to his career averages after beginning the season much lower, but that hasn’t changed the fact that he’s looking to pass more than ever. Ty Lye has been creative in putting shooters around LeBron and making it easy for him to have the space to do things like this:
.600+ – The winning percentage of seven teams in the Western Conference compared to just two in the Eastern Conference. A lot of people expected the West to fall-off a bit this season, but so far it has been great. Memphis has survived crushing injuries, Russell Westbrook has carried Oklahoma City, and Houston’s defense hasn’t been as bad as many predicted.
The Cavaliers’ next game is Wednesday night in Memphis at 8p.m.