The Cleveland Cavaliers endured not only a lockout-pluaged 66-game season, but also one of the weirdest seasons in the team’s 42-season existence. The very quick coming of age for rookie point guard and No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving, the plethora of injuries and Cleveland’s own version of “Linsanity” made for a storyline-filled season. Let’s just say that the Cavaliers season was like an up-and-down roller coaster; a roller coaster with more plummeting drops than heroic climbs.
For the sake of uniformity I will dissect the Cavaliers season into three 22-game slates, starting with the Good, the Bad and the Very Ugly:
The Good – Games 1-22 – Record: 9-13
The Cavaliers only topped the .500 winning percentage mark twice this season, with both of those times coming within the first seven games. With that said, the Cavaliers didn’t really face anyone impressive until the 11th game of the 2011-12 NBA season when they squared off against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Even though the Cavaliers lost 97-92, they fought back in the fourth quarter behind a 21-point performance.
Irving’s impressive performance against the Lakers was only one of 11 20+ point performances for the rookie who only played 11 games in college with the Duke Blue Devils. Apart from Irving forward Anderson Varejao was having the best season of his career, averaging 10.8 points and 11.9 rebounds through the first third of the Cavs season.
The Cavaliers were in the thick of playoff talks, competing with the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. With a healthy team, experienced veterans and a rookie who was wowing fans from game two the Cavaliers were right to think they were a playoff team. Head coach Byron Scott said it himself.
“Nobody in the NBA world thought we would be in this position right now,” Scott said. Unfortunately things didn’t go Scott’s way.
The Bad – Games 23-44 and All-Star Weekend – Record: 8-14
Although the record does not show it, the Cavs were a completely different team in the second third of the season than the first third. A wrist injury that Varejao sustained during an overtime loss to the Bucks sidelined Cleveland’s double-doulbe machine for the rest of the season. Wild Thing finished the season averaging 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds, by far the best statistical season of the seven-year veteran’s career.
With the absence of Varejao in the middle the Cavaliers organization had to go to some players and ask them to step up. The great play of veteran Antawn Jamison (averaged 21.8 points during games 23-44) and the emergence of rookie forward Tristan Thompson as Cleveland’s big man kept hopes of a playoff birth alive.
After nine games into the second set of 22 games the All-Star break took center stage, especially for Cavaliers fans. Thompson and Irving were both elected to compete in the annual Rookie-Sophomore game.
Although they were both put up against each other (teams were chosen by Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley), the two ended up being the top two scorers in the game. Irving was a perfect 8-8 from beyond the three-point arc, giving Team Chuck the win and coming away with the MVP award. It was one of the brightest points of the season for Cavs fans. The two rookies finally raised eyebrows from around the league.
10 games after the All-Star break things finally started to fully plummet, and fast. Developing guard Ramon Sessions was dealt to the Lakers for a couple of bench warmers, the 24th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and an option to swap 2013 first round picks. Sessions finished the season averaging 11.3 points and 5.5 assists and is a starting guard for the Lakers playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. Who would’ve thought?
Bench contributor and guard Daniel Gibson, who may not be with Cleveland next season, suffered a left foot injury against the New Jersey Nets in Cleveland’s 43rd game of the season. The injury also ended Gibson’s season, raising questions about his future with the team.
The Ugly – Games 45-66 – Record: 4-18
When I call this section “ugly” I’m using the term very loosely. A nine-game losing streak, no Irving for 11 games and an absolutely embarrassing late-season loss to the Detroit Pistons are enough to leave a Cavaliers fan reciting the most famous line in Cleveland sports history; “There’s always next year.” With injuries to key players (Varejao, Gibson and Irving) and the final playoff spot out of reach, it only made sense for the Cavaliers to play the “tank game” for the remainder of the season.
Everything had pretty much been wrapped up for the Cavaliers. Irving was the runaway Rookie of the Year winner before games were even played in the month of April, as the probability for winning the NBA lottery increased after each embarrassing loss the Wine and Gold took.
Although there were more bad moments than good (and more ugly moments than bad), the Cavaliers had their own version of “Linsanity” to keep fans happy. Guard Lester Hudson, who is now playing for the Memphis Girzzlies, electrified fans with his impressive and clutch performances off the bench.
Hudson was signed to a 10-day contract that was about to expire after a game against the Toronto Raptors. Hudson scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter and clinched the game with some late free throws. That earned him a second 10-day contract, which was his last contract with the Cavaliers.
The game after the victory against the Raptors saw Hudson take over once again, sending the Cavaliers to overtime with a late three pointer. Although they lost, it was clear that Hudson was fighting for a job in the NBA.
Two games later Hudson once again delivered for the Cavs, driving down the lane and converting on a five-foot layup attempt. This sent Cleveland into overtime with the Indiana Pacers, who ended up beating the Cavs by six points.
During his time with the Cavaliers Hudson averaged 12.7 points and played in three of the Cavaliers four wins during the final stretch of the season.
Finishing off the season with the third-best opportunity to win the NBA lottery the Cavaliers are looking forward to entering the rebuilding process with great optimism. Owner Dan Gilbert and the rest of the Cavaliers organization will be hard at work this offseason to fill in the missing puzzle pieces, evaluate draft prospects and shuffle players around. If the Cavaliers want to take the next step to becoming among the NBA’s elite once again they’ll have to have a very busy offseason.
All we can do now is wait, and hope for the best.
Stay tuned to Right Down Euclid for my 2012 Cleveland Cavaliers team awards