Cleveland Cavaliers (29-10) 120
Sacramento Kings (16-23) 108
The Cleveland Cavaliers came into Friday evening’s game in Sacramento against the Kings with a sputtering offense and having dropped two straight games and three of their last five. It wasn’t exactly crisis mode, but with just making a big trade for Kyle Korver last week, the team was clearly desperate for a practice to work on some things.
Unfortunately, part of the struggle with a west coast swing is there’s simply no time for practice. For Cleveland, a simple shootaround would have to suffice. Being able to work out a few sets with Korver and to get the offensive ball movement back in place seemed to work wonders for Cleveland in this game. Playing a Kings team ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency didn’t hurt, either.
Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert, who stepped into the starting lineup in this game, both got off to quick starts in the first quarter to get the offense kick started. Meanwhile, on defense, the Cavaliers were able to disrupt Sacramento’s flow and create some turnovers and fast break opportunities. Cleveland would end the first with a 32-15 lead and would open a 24 point lead in the second quarter before eventually taking an 18 point lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Kings fought back to make it a game and early in the fourth quarter they had chipped the deficit all the way down to just six points. But then a Korver three, a LeBron James and-one, and two shots by Channing Frye would quickly push the lead back up to 13 and from there the Cavaliers would hang on and keep the lead hovering around 10 the rest of the way.
The Cavaliers needed this game to get some things back on track, particularly with their rematch with the Golden State Warriors looming on the horizon. The Kings may not be an elite team, but this was the Cavaliers fifth consecutive road game and the Kings are a team trying to fight for a playoff spot, coming into this one sitting ninth in the Western Conference. It was a good win and a good way to build some momentum before concluding their road trip on Monday in Oakland.
Now, for the numbers:
- 11 – Kevin Love scored the Cavaliers’ first seven points and nine of their first ten. He would finish the quarter with 11 points to get the offense really started, making sure the team wouldn’t come out stale on offense again. Love finished the game with 15 points and 18 rebounds. The last couple games the Cavaliers offense hasn’t been quite right. It was huge to have Love set the tone early, attacking the paint and flashing out to the three-point line when necessary. It seemed to get the ball moving early and the offense never looked back.
- 27 – The Cavaliers had 27 assists in this game, which was a sight for sore eyes for an offense that needed rejuvenation. Cleveland had gone seven straight games with less than 20 assists. Since LeBron’s return, the Cavaliers are 38-39 in games in which they have fewer than 20 assists. They are 60-5 in games in which they have 25 or more assists. You can ask whether the team loses because they aren’t moving the ball, or if they aren’t moving the ball because they’re losing, but either way, the Cavaliers are a team that sometimes becomes victims of their own excellence at isolation basketball. This team and this offense, in particular, are at their best when the ball is moving around and they are using their movement and passing to create great shots for everyone. It was a relief to see things go somewhat back to normal in this game. LeBron led the way with 15 assists, coming one short of his career-high, and Kyrie Irving chipped in with five.
- 18 – Kyle Korver had something of an inauspicious start to his stint with the Cavaliers. After scoring just two points in each of his first two games with Cleveland, thus not making any three-pointers, it was clear Korver wasn’t exactly comfortable with this offense. While it’s easy to think to play with the Cavaliers you just need to be able to stand somewhere and wait for LeBron to get you the ball, the truth is you need to have an understanding of the offense and you have to build some chemistry so teammates know where you’re going to be and how to get you the ball. The Cavaliers spent some extra time in shootaround ahead of this game with the LeBron-Richard Jefferson-Channing Frye-DeAndre Liggins-Korver lineup to figure out some basic sets and to get Korver a little more acclimated with the offense. The results were exactly what Cleveland hoped. Korver had 18 points in this game, knocking down four of six from three-point range. It was vintage Kyle Korver, showcasing just how scary lineups with Korver, Frye, and LeBron can be. When Love came into the game with this lineup, things really got interesting with the offense as they ran a beautiful set with Love and Korver setting low screens for each other and Tristan Thompson then setting a down screen to free Korver to the wing. This gave LeBron the option of hitting Love down low in the paint or Korver on the wing for an open shot. It’s a potentially lethal play and as the Cavaliers get more familiar with it and use it more, it’s going to be a handful for opponents to deal with. It’s a variation of something the Miami Heat used to run with LeBron and Ray Allen all the time. In this case, Korver will be playing the part of Ray Allen and it’s a play already paying dividends.
- 6 – The Cavaliers had six players in double-digit scoring against the Kings. They were led by Kyrie Irving’s 26 points, but this was one of the most evenly-distributed scoring efforts of the season by the Cavaliers. In addition to Kyrie’s 26 and Korver’s 16, Iman Shumpert had 16, LeBron had 16, Kevin Love had 15, and Channing Frye had 10. This was a game where LeBron never really had to take over from a scoring standpoint, choosing instead to play the distributor role. Just missing the double digits club were Tristan Thompson with nine and Richard Jefferson with eight.
- 26 – DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings with 26 points. He also had eight rebounds and 11 assists while shooting nine of 16 from the floor. Cousins has always been an excellent player, but he is really taking another step this season. He has probably the most complete game of any big man in the league today, and he was showcasing all of his skills in this one. There are not many bigs in the NBA capable of running the floor and generating the offense the way Cousins does and he was a handful for the Cleveland bigs in this one. If the Kings do make the playoffs this season it will be more or less solely on the back of Cousins, who is just such a great player and so much fun to watch play.
The Cavaliers now have a couple days off to rest up before their big rematch with the Warriors on Monday. After that, the team finally gets to return home to Cleveland. It’s going to be fun to watch Korver grow in this offense as the team has time to get some practices in and eventually build some chemistry before the playoffs start. For now, though, their focus will solely be on trying to beat the Warriors once more.