The two Cleveland Cavaliers All-Star starters rose to the occasion and set the tone as the Cavs took down the Suns 118-103 Thursday night.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were not only voted as All-Star game starters Thursday night, but also led the way to the Cavaliers victory. LeBron managed the game, dishing out 15 assists and scoring 21 points on 8-12 shooting, while Irving scored a game-high 26 points.
With Kevin Love sidelined with a sore back and J.R. Smith still recovering from thumb surgery, it was a trio of surprise players that provided the shooting punch the Cavaliers were missing. Veteran James Jones got the start for Love and scored 14, Iman Shumpert (starting for injured J.R. Smith) scored 17, and Channing Frye added 18 off the bench. The three combined to go 13-21 from three. Shumpert, in particular, was a boost, shooting 5-7 from three after a prolonged cold spell from beyond the arc.
Love participated in part of shoot-around in the morning prior to the game, but was unable to go against the Suns. Tristan Thompson dislocated his finger in the first half, but returned to play in the second half because he’s some sort of indestructible freak.
Phoenix had four players score more than 18 points in the contest. Tyson Chandler proved to be a tough match-up for under-sized Tristan Thompson, as Chandler scored 22 points and gathered 16 rebounds. The Suns’ back court of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker didn’t shoot the ball well, but still combined for 43 points, 13 rebounds, and 17 assists.
Thursday night was the Cavaliers’ return home after a six-game, eleven-day road trip including the beat down against the Warriors on Monday. They play the Spurs Saturday at the Q. The Spurs will be without big man Pau Gasol, who broke his hand in pre-game warm-ups on Thursday.
Let’s look behind the box score:
57-25 – Ty Lue’s record as a head coach after coaching in his 82nd game.
+12 – Shumpert’s +/- for the game. The starting lineup with Shump in place of J.R. Smith or DeAndre Liggins was -12.3 in 88 minutes coming into tonight, so it was encouraging to see that lineup excel.
19 – Shump’s percentage from three from Christmas until Ty Lue inserted him in the starting lineup three games ago. Since then, Shumpert is shooting 61 percent from three. This is obviously unsustainable, but it looks like Lue’s decision to insert Shump into the starting lineup was the correct one.
33- Percentage the Cavs shot from behind the three point line on their six-game road trip. This was good for 25th in the league during that time span and down from fourth place at 38 percent on the season.
7′ – The Cavaliers don’t have any players seven feet or taller on their roster. At most positions, they are undersized, especially on the wing. Between J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, DeAndre Liggins, and Kyle Korver, there isn’t anyone with significant length to throw on opposing wings to frustrate their shots. Not to obsess with the Golden State Warriors, but with Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, they have the ability to shoot over a lot of smaller defenders. David Griffin has mentioned the Cavs are looking for a play-maker, and LeBron James wants a backup point guard, but when it comes to the trade deadline, a long, athletic wing defender might be of the most use.
8 – Kyrie Irving’s All-Time rank among Cavaliers players in scoring. He passed Larry Nance in this contest.
After the Spurs game on Saturday, the Cavaliers’ schedule lightens up considerably through the end of January. They currently have a 2.5 game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.