After the final horn sounded in Chicago, Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving took a three from a few steps behind the right wing. The shot was off to the right, much like many of Irving’s shots against the Bulls. And despite a strong fourth quarter from their star and an overall commendable preformance, the Cavaliers fell in Chicago 96-81.
If this game hammers any specific point home, it’s this: the Cleveland Cavaliers are more than a notch below the Chicago Bulls and the upper tier of the Eastern Conference. Sure, they held their own and were able to grind with one of the league’s most physical teams for stretches. But take one look at the points scored in each quarter and paints a pretty clear picture.
Quarter one: Chicago 20, Cleveland 17
Quarter two: Chicago 25, Cleveland 19
Quarter three: Cleveland 24, Chicago 19
Quarter four: Chicago 32, Cavaliers 21
For three quarters, the Cavalier kept it close and competitive – a good sign since the Bulls have long had the Cavaliers number. But then there’s the fourth quarter – one where Irving greatly improved after three quarters of lackluster play. The Wine & Gold were simply outmuscled and beat on the inside time and time again over the course of the final twelve minutes. And that was a by Bulls team who was without Derrick Rose for the final few minutes. If this team is serious about sneaking into the playoffs as an eight seed, this is a bad sign. Simply put, quality basketball teams put forth effort for 48 minutes, and even on an off night, show enough toughness to recover. And for tonight at least, the Cavaliers were not a quality basketball team.
And until they can finish games as a team consistently, this team won’t be able to meet any sort of the expectations placed upon them at the beginning of the season.
As for the game’s major subplot (the first ever meeting between Rose and Irving), it largely fell flat. Both men shot under 50 percent from the field. Neither of the two had a long stretch of dominant play and there were no back and forth duels. If one were to declare a winner, it would have to be Rose. He committed zero turnovers to Irving’s three and dished out seven assists as compared to four from Irving.
His team also won the game. In the end, that’s really all that matters.
PG Kyrie Irving – 16 points, 26.3 percent shooting three turnovers, four assists. What a odd start to the season it has been for Irving. His stock was on the rise at the start of the season, and after having one of his best games against the Sixers on Saturday, he failed to preform in a high profile match up. He was also chewed out when first pulled out Coach Mike Brown. Sooner rather than later he’s going to explode with consistency, but his play has been disheartening thus far, especially on the defense end where is a target for an opposing teams pick & roll offense.
SG Dion Waiters – 13 points, 6-13 shooting, 6 turnovers. Pretty typical Waiters box score. The turnovers are obviously concerning, but 100 percent fixable. It was nice to see him play hard on defense in the second half, as well as take some smarter shots. Not great, but it’s better than he’s been in the majority of this season’s game.
SF Alonzo Gee – seven points in 19 minutes, 3-4 from the field. This is the type of game that will help Gee keep a starting spot until the Cavaliers – bound by the rules of physics or whatever – find a legitimate starting caliber NBA small forward. You’re move, Earl Clark (who, by the way, got his second straight DNP).
PF Tristan Thompson – 39 (!!) minutes, 6-11 shooting, 13 rebounds, 14 points. If Tristan was in a class I was teaching, he would get an A. I would love to see some advanced statistics on this game specifically, but pulling down 13 rebounds against arguably the best front court in the league is no simple task. He’s been the best Cavalier by far this season and he does nothing but impress. Something tells me when the Cavaliers play the Bulls again the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we will see more of Thompson doing nasty things to Carlos Boozer on the block.
C Andrew Bynum – 21 minutes, 11 points, 3-5 shooting, 5-5 from the line, six rebounds, two blocks, three turnovers. I had to start this game on ESPN Gamecast, but I’m really looking forward to going back and fully engrossing myself in Bynum’s performance tonight. He’s a monster asset for the Cavaliers against teams like Chicago and Indiana, so his box score in encouraging. Three turnovers isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. Maybe this is a sign of good things to come. Maybe.
CO – BENCH STARS:
SG C.J. Miles – 9 points in 19 minutes & PF Anderson Varejao – 29 minutes, six rebounds, five points, two blocks, two steals
Miles continues to be the best scorer off the bench – especially when you consider that Jack has been in a funk as of late. He was not as prolific tonight, but he still lead the bench in scoring. As for Varejao, this may be an indication of what he’ll do when ideally moved to bench to make room for Bynum in the starting five. Both have room for improvement no both ends, but neither man is lost. This duo leading the second unit could become a strength in the not too distant future.
Mike Brown baffled me tonight with his lineup choices. I understand the frustration of failing to meet expectations, the pressure to win, etc. But it is far too early in the season to play players like Henry Sims and Matthew Dellavedova early in a game where it’s not a blowout and/or you’re short due to injury. Why give those guys minutes ahead of a Tyler Zeller or Earl Clark? What’s the upside?
Even more baffling was the DNP for Anthony Bennett. The rookie has undeniably struggled – making only one bucket so far through seven games – but sitting him on the bench will do him no good. For him to begin to blossom and start living up to his potential, he needs minutes.
Behind the scenes, I’m sure Brown is under a decent amount of pressure to win now. Maybe he feels the need to try these guys, hoping that they can come through big (a la Lester Hudson) and help the Cavaliers win a game.
Still, here is hoping Brown sticks to a starting lineup, a rotation and gives Bennett a chance to find his groove. They may struggle in the meantime, but they’ll be better in the long run for being patient now.