Brooklyn Nets (9-37) 116
Cleveland Cavaliers (31-14) 124
The Cleveland Cavaliers were dying for a “get right” game, and thankfully the Brooklyn Nets came to Cleveland at just the right time. The Nets are sort of like the Cleveland Browns of the NBA. They are a team that can stay in games and plays hard, but in the end, they just lack the talent to come out on top most games. With Brook Lopez sitting out for a rest game, Caris LeVert out with illness, and a slew of injuries, the Nets only dressed ten players for this game. In other words, this was one the Cavaliers couldn’t afford to lose no matter what.
The first half was an uneven affair, with the Cavaliers showing some of the suspect defense they’ve displayed throughout their recent struggles and the Nets doing their best to exploit the weakness and attacking the paint at will. In the third quarter, though, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving absolutely took over this game to build a 21-point lead. The Cavaliers were able to sit Kyrie and Kevin Love for the entire fourth quarter and LeBron was able to sit the final five minutes as Cleveland hung on for the win.
While this wasn’t exactly a flawless performance by the Cavaliers, it was precisely the kind of game they needed. With a big game against the Oklahoma City Thunder up next on Sunday, Cleveland could hardly afford to let this one slip away against a team they should beat. They will still be disappointed by giving up 116 points, the fourth straight game they’ve given up 116 or more, but a lot of that was due to a 43-point fourth quarter by the Nets when the game was out of hand and the Cavaliers sat all the starters except LeBron.
In the third quarter, when the game was still in question, the Cavaliers made some minor defensive adjustments, particularly with the weak-side help, that seemed to help and they got big offensive performances by their superstars as the team used some defensive stops to push the ball in transition and keep the pressure on Brooklyn. It all resulted in a solid win that will give them some things to build on as well as some areas that still need some improving.
Now, let’s look at the numbers.
- 30 – The Nets trailed by just two points with two minutes to go in the first half. The Cavaliers were able to use a late push to take an eight-point lead into halftime, but it wasn’t a comfortable eight point lead. The Cavaliers needed someone to take charge and get the game back in their control. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James responded. Kyrie scored 20 points in the third and LeBron added 10 as the two All-Star starters combined for 30 of the team’s 39 points in the quarter. It wasn’t just the point totals, but the way they got the points as well. LeBron knocked down all four of his shots in the quarter while Kyrie was three-for-three on three-pointers and five-for-five on FTs. Many of the shots were emphatic in nature and it was the kind of scoring explosion that had been lacking in recent games. LeBron ended the game with 31 points and 11 assists while Kyrie added 28 points and six assists.
- 26 to 14 – The Cavaliers had 26 assists to 14 turnovers against the Nets. The turnovers were still a touch higher than you’d like, but five of them came in that fourth quarter which was mostly “garbage time” and the 14 total was at least not the crippling 15+ performance that has killed the team lately. The 26 assists were a pretty good sign as the team continues to try to get out of their iso funk and get back to playing the complete team-offense that we saw earlier in the season.
- 46 – Last season the Cavaliers gave up 40 points in the paint per game which ranked 5th best in the NBA. This year that number has ballooned to 43.5 per game, which is 16th in the NBA. In their last three games, they’ve given up 44.7 points per game. In other words, it’s been a problem. The Cavaliers are simply making it far too easy for teams to drive into the lane and get easy baskets. They gave up 46 points in the paint to the Nets in this game. The perimeter defense has just been a little too soft and they are letting opposing ball handlers get by them too quickly and the help defense is either too late or gives too little effort in the help to disrupt the drive. Without any real rim protection on defense, the Cavaliers will have to figure out how to do a better job defending the screens at the point of attack and how to stop opponents from getting inside with such little resistance.
- 14 – Now for our nightly Kyle Korver tracker. Korver got off to a rough night shooting, but as all good shooters do, he didn’t let that stop him from letting the ball fly. Korver ended the game with 14 points on five-of-11 shooting from the field including three-of-six from long range. Korver continues to look a little more comfortable in the offense and his ability to get hot at any moment is a huge relief to the team in general as it fills the valuable role that JR Smith often played.
- 17 – Cavs rookie PG Kay Felder played 17 minutes in this game as he continues to eat away at DeAndre Liggins’ minutes. When Liggins was starting, his perimeter defense was a huge help to the team. Coming off the bench, however, his role was less defined and he seemed to be losing his niche a bit. Felder’s ability to handle the ball and really push the pace with tempo and his quick drives has seemed to help get the LeBron plus reserves lineup into their offense a little quicker and with more purpose. Felder had 9 points in this game and it’s good to see the rookie finding some minutes to develop with the team a little more. He’s still a major work in progress, but you can see a role for him on this team if he continues to work on some of his deficiencies.
With a solid win under their belt, the Cavaliers will now face a tough test on Sunday as the human triple-double machine Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder come to town. Had Cleveland lost this game, the pressure on Sunday would have been so much higher. With the monkey off their back, so to speak, the Cavaliers will now try to start a new winning streak and put this little tough stretch behind them.