The Cleveland Cavaliers moved the ball with ease in the first half against the New York Knicks, and it stemmed mostly from Luke Walton. In the first half the Cavs dished out 20 dimes on 26 shots made, with Walton and Kyrie Irving accounting for 14 of the assists (i.e. another interesting stat, seven of those 14 assists resulted in Marreese Speights’ buckets). Walton ended the night with a game-high 12 assists, and it had to be one of his best performances of the season.
The Cavaliers almost pulled off a team-oriented performance but couldn’t finish the job in the second half. Cleveland finished the first half with 20 assists, outdoing the New York Knicks by nine. The ball movement was fluid for Cleveland in the opening two quarters, but their feet when cold in the second act. It looked like it could have been a fatigue issue without having rookies Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller to depend on.
New York moved the ball much better in the final two quarters, as they totaled 12 assists. Cleveland only managed to get five.
Five assists in the second half compared to 20 in the first 24 minutes. There was a reason Cleveland was shooting 80 percent late into the first half; they were moving the ball and making the Knicks stay on their toes. When Carmelo Anthony went out, things started to get surprisingly better for New York. Cleveland scored 34 points in the first quarter alone. They only managed 36 in the second half.
Cleveland’s worst quarter has to be the third quarter. They rank 20th in the league and average just 23.5 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. That’s their lowest mark in any quarter. We always see their sluggish starts to the second half, and it occurs because of how the team closes out the second quarter. Cleveland got up by 22 points with 7:28 remaining in the first half, but they got outscored 72-45 (27 points) from that point on. 13 points in the third quarter by the Wine and Gold was the lowest quarter total on the night. That included games involving the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats.
The issue stems from lack of depth. I totally understand that Waiters and Zeller not being available for the game had a lot to do with the outcome. Wayne Ellington struggled in his first start as a Cavalier, shooting 2-of-7 from the field and scoring just seven points. His job was to be effective from long-range, but he only shot 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. I was surprised that C.J. Miles didn’t get the start, but neither of those players had an effective enough impact on the game. The way Waiters has been playing lately would have definitely put the Cavs over the top, and the rookies would have made Amar’e Stoudemire and J.R. Smith less effective on offense. The two New Yorkers combined for 40 points off the bench, while shooting 50 percent from the field.
The Cavaliers are playing like a team that hasn’t found their identity. That is true. That is also the reason why the Cavaliers seem invisible in the final minutes of the first half. This is a huge momentum killer, and role players are the type of guys who can come up big in these situations. The Cavaliers have yet to figure out their supporting cast.
Obviously Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Waiters and Zeller are part of the future plans, but I can only envision Speights and Anderson Varejao as possible long-termers. This draft will tell a lot, so hopefully the Cavaliers’ front office is prepared for one of the most strategically important drafts of the Irving era.