Cleveland Cavaliers (21-20) 126
Los Angeles Clippers (26-14) 121
On Thursday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their six-game losing streak (that felt like a 20-game losing streak) with a 126-121 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. They followed up their victory over the Lakers by playing a game on Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, in a stroke of logistical common sense that undoubtedly delighted everyone on the Cavaliers that hates traveling thousands of miles day after day and annoyed everyone who gets to keep the points from their airline miles.
For the “realists” out there (aka Debbie Downers), Thursday’s victory over the Lakers was not much of an encouraging sign for many reasons—most of them being that the Lakers suck. To end the losing streak, Cavs fans surely would have happily taken a victory over Hickory High, but a victory over the Lakers still doesn’t carry as much weight as a victory over a team that has more than 12 wins.
The Los Angeles Clippers, on the other hand, are a legitimate basketball team. The Clip Show entered Friday night with a 26-13 record, including a formidable 18-6 record in the Staples Center.1 A victory over the Clippers would throw some water on the tire fires of public perception and, most importantly, hopefully start a new winning streak for the Cavaliers that will allow them to return to Cleveland with some enthusiasm having felt they salvaged the West Coast swing. The Cavs were able to do so in a 126-121 slugfest over the Clippers, but let’s look behind the box score.
69 – LeBron James and Kyrie Irving combined for a crazy 69 points Friday night against the Clippers. This is the third time this season that two Cavalier players have gone for more than 30 points in the same game, but the first since James and Irving did it on November 10. As was the case on Thursday night, it was seldom beautiful team basketball. There was far too much isolation and clearing out of the floor for either James or Irving to operate, even though each of them had at least five assists. The offense will not always be graceful, but the ability of the Cavs’ best players to score 30 on any given night is what makes them so frightening on the road and in the playoffs. If they turn things around going forward, there will be several more games where two Cavs teammates score in the 30s. There was no question that James and Irving absolutely willed the Cavs to victory tonight.2
10 of 12 – The Cavaliers needed Tristan Thompson to provide valuable minutes in Kevin Love’s absence due to back spasms. It’s almost becoming boring to mention that Thompson had a great game, which in most cases is through offensive rebounds and sheer effort plays. But Friday night, Thompson had an incredibly effective offensive performance, going 10-of-12 from the field. This marks only the fourth time in Thompson’s career that he’s had 10 or more made field goals, and his point total (24) exceeded 20 for the first time since December 5. Thompson, who is oftentimes comically bad on offense, didn’t only score on dunks from offensive rebounds (he had just three offensive rebounds) but hit hook shots, made some plays in the pick-and-roll game, made timely cuts, and even hit a floater off the dribble in the second half. If Thompson is remotely capable on offense, it elevates the ceiling of this Cavalier team. His layup with 46 seconds remaining off a well-designed inbound play and a great pass from James sealed the game. Get that money ready.
24 – Though nearly all of them came in the first half, the Cavs had 24 fastbreak points against the Clippers. Especially with their recent struggles, there is a need to score a lot of points via fastbreak; they have the athleticism and the ball handlers to be lethal on the break, and they will never scare teams if they’re not a threat on that break. Only 11.8 percent of their scoring has come from fastbreak points so far this season. Their rate in October was 15.2 percent, which has declined every month to a pathetic 8.6 percent in January so far. Twenty-four Cavalier points came on the fastbreak on Friday, good for 19.2 percent of their scoring total.3 This was mostly attributable to Kyrie Irving taking lessons from Rockets guard James Harden by running in the open floor immediately after a rebound or made shot and pushing the tempo. It wouldn’t be a stretch to argue that Irving’s early aggressiveness primed the pump for his offense, allowing him to have one of the best games of his career, with 37 points and an 80.6 effective field goal percentage.
Minus-18 – Clippers guard Austin Rivers, coach Doc Rivers son, had a plus/minus of -18 in his Clipper debut. In the first NBA game where a son was playing at the head-coaching direction of his father, Rivers shot 0 of 4, had one assist and zero rebounds. When Rivers substituted in for J.J. Redick with 2:23 in the third quarter, the Clippers were up 92-85. When Rivers left the game with 9:07 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers trailed 100-104, never to regain the lead. A plus/minus of -18 in only 11 minutes of playing time is fairly astounding, but on top of that it was clear that Rivers was a liability the entire time he was on the floor. Kyrie Irving shook him for a mid-range jumper knowing full well that Rivers was unable to bother his shot. This father-son experiment seemed doomed from the outset, and tonight all but confirmed that. Cavaliers coach David Blatt admitted he has had a learning curve this season, but at least Shani Blatt isn’t the Cavs backup point guard.
6 – Courtesy of Jacob here at WFNY (and the help of Basketball-Reference.com, of course), the Cavaliers back-to-back victory over the Los Angeles teams is only the sixth such occurrence in the last 24 seasons. That’s not too shabby.
— Jacob L. Rosen (@JacobLRosen) January 17, 2015
In the words of the great Bob Seger in “Hollywood Nights”:
“She stood there bright as the sun on that California coast
He was a midwestern boy on his own …
He’d headed west ’cause he felt that a change would do him good,
See some old friends, good for the soul.”
Sure, the Staples Center is in downtown Los Angeles, not Hollywood. But you just need to hop on 110 and take that to the 101 and get off at Sunset to get to Hollywood (in California speak). Friday night’s victory over the Clippers was a hard-fought road victory. Hopefully these two LA victories will be good for the Cavs’ soul and generate some positive momentum going forward for this developing team.