San Antonio Spurs (34-9) 118
Cleveland Cavaliers (30-12) 115 (OT)
The Cleveland Cavaliers lost about as devastating a January loss as feasible on Saturday night. Still smarting from the annihilation they suffered at the hands of those darn Golden State Warriors on Monday, a nice and complete win over the second best team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs, would have been a nice antidote for the winter listlessness (not to be confused with winter listness, which facilitates the attainment of all your Christmas loot). ‘Twas not meant to be. Let’s look at all the ways this terribly tantalizing tease of a game went sideways.
12-of-22 – The Cavaliers left several points on the table, missing an agonizing 10 free throws, making only 12-of-22 (54.5 percent). Tristan Thompson went 0-of-4 from the line, each one a scalpel-jab to the spleen of Cavs fans. Believe it or not, in a game that went to overtime, those points were meaningful.
26.7 – Kevin Love shot a debilitating 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) on the night. My heart aches for Big Lil’ Kev, but the Cavs simply aren’t good enough to sustain sub-30 shooting nights from one of Love, LeBron James, or Kyrie Irving against a team as good as the Spurs. Few teams could. In the second half (see the shot chart below), he went 2-of-8 (all threes), which included six missed corner threes, nearly all of which were wide open. Kevin Love has been tremendous this year, but he hasn’t had a marquis game since his food poisoning/flu/tapeworm incident, and I expect the back is still bothering him after back spasms sidelined him against the Warriors and the Phoenix Suns.
29, 7, 6, 7 – LeBron James was largely spectacular on Saturday, with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting (76.0 true shooting percentage), with seven assists, and six rebounds. James had 10 points in the fourth quarter, capped by a deep three-pointer that tied the game with less than a minute remaining. If Love is able to make some open threes, he has a bonus handful of assists. Although he played uneven defense throughout, he was all up in Kawhi Leonard’s grill on the Spurs’ last shot of regulation. Turnovers continue to plague James, as he had another seven on Saturday, including a costly one in overtime when James expected either Thompson or Irving to be … somewhere near the left corner — it’s hard to say who was at fault, but I’ll go ahead and blame a combo of sunspots and the government.
29 & 9 – Kyrie Irving was dynamite offensively against the Spurs, as he has been in the spot if you remember his 57-point masterpiece in 2015. Irving scored 29 points (all eight Cavalier points in overtime) on 13-of-22 shooting (59.1 percent), adding nine assists. The Spurs had no match for Irving in the pick-and-roll, as he showed great patience in allowing Tristan Thompson to roll to the hoop, waiting to see how the defenders reacted, and either exploiting a mismatch or waiting for a slow double to give him an alley to pass to Thompson. He was not great defensively (what else is new), but his nine assists show a return to the pass-happy Irving that ended 2016.
49.5 – The Cavaliers lost despite shooting 49.5 percent. It would have been one thing to lose if they had simply missed shots, but to waste a good shooting night … at home … in a game they entered the fourth quarter leading … it stings. The Cavaliers are now 18-2 in games in which they shoot better than 47.5 percent this season.
50.0 – Well the Spurs out-shot the Cavaliers, making exactly half of their 96 field goal attempts. The Cavs have plenty of self-reflection to do, but the non-transition defense was decent. The Spurs are just relentlessly professional in their execution and make some difficult shots (they made 19-of-24 field goals from the start of the second quarter to 8:00 remaining in the third). It’s why they’re the best-coached team in the league. Rookie Dejounte Murray scored 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Where the hell do they find these guys? I’m convinced the Spurs could turn me into a competent NBA player. Okay, maybe not me. But anyone else over 6-0 who can run a sub-12-minute mile.
25 – The Cavaliers allowed 25 fast break points, including 15 in the first half. Yeah, could have done without that. The Cavs basically have a crisis with their transition defense.
41/6/5 – Kawhi Leonard is a bona fide stud. He’s a top-five player, and the best two-way player in the league. Leonard scored 41 points (15-of-30) with six rebounds and five assists. He scored in a ton of ways, even hitting a three-pointer off the dribble at the top of the key, something no one imagined he would have ever had in his arsenal merely two years ago. The dude can just ball, and it’s just hell to watch him beat up on your team in a doggedly methodical manner that’s impossible not to respect. Tim Duncan-less, he’s the reason the Spurs can go into Cleveland and beat the Cavs even when they play at a high level. Oh, and Leonard also had six turnovers, so if dumb people are criticizing James for his inordinate number of turnovers, then point out that the game’s MVP shot a much lower percentage and had a lower assist-to-turnover ratio.