Well, that’s a nice start. The first two plays of the game? Two break away dunks by LeBron. It took James all of 20 seconds to break Mark Price’s Cavalier steals record and the Cavs jumped out to an early lead 4-0. The quickly pushed that lead, getting ahead with scores of12-3, 18-10, 25-12 and they headed into the first break leading 29-19. Of the Cavs 12 field goals in the first period, 7 (7!) of ’em were either dunks or layups (and LeBron had 4 outta the 7).
Toronto made this game close in the second period. The bench bunch came in and pushed the Cavalier lead up to 19 and the Cavs looked well on their way to another laugher. But Toronto got back into it. The Raptors moved the ball well and their shots started to drop (Anthony Parker hit a couple treys), and the Cavs kinda unraveled, receiving not one, not two, but three technical fouls (LeBron, Wallace and assistant Mike Malone all picked one up). The Raptors were about to end the half on a 18-7 run, but LeBron nailed a 30 foot trey at the buzzer to push the from 5 to 8 (59-51 at half).
As weird as this sounds, I was actually happy that Toronto made that run. The Cavs have now won a NBA record 9 straight games by 12 or more points and while that’s sweet and all, I’d like to see how they perform in close games (you know, like the ones you get in the playoffs). Would they suffer from a third quarter malise? Did Toronto gain enough confidence to stick around for the entire game? In a word, no. By the nine-minute mark of the third period, the Cavs had pushed the lead to 67-53. At seven minutes, Toronto had commited 5 turnovers and the Cavs had a comfy 77-55 lead. The Raptors only had 4 points over the quarter’s first eight minutes and their 6th point of the period cut the Cavalier lead to 82-57.
I think the efficiency is what is amazes me the most (both individual and team). The Cavs shot 49% from the floor, had 29 assist and 11 steals to just 11 turnovers and they out rebounded the Raptors 45-33. And what more can you say about LeBron? In 31 minutes (in just three periods), James scored 31 points (11-18 FG, 2-5 3pt, 7-8 FT), grabbed 5 boards, had 5 assists and 3 steals. LeBron had six dunks, my favorite being the one he got from Z after James made a nice cut at the top of key (Z laid the ball off and James just turned the corner and threw down a thunderous dunk in traffic).
This defense is sick. The Cavs held Toronto starters to just 40% shooting (16-40) and only one starter (Jose Calderon, 14 points) hit double figures. Future-Cavalier Chris Bosh finished 4-11 for 9 points (though he grabbed 11 boards). Jermaine O’Neal (who I still don’t like) was 2-6 and finished with 8 points (and just 4 boards). Anthony Parker was 3-5 on treys but 0-3 from everywhere else. The Cavs forced 19 turnovers and the led to 27 points.
Good game for Mo. In 30 minutes of play, Williams finished with 13 points, 9 assists, 4 boards and a steal. He was 6-10 from the field and 1-3 from downtown. He can get into the lane seemingly whenever he feels like it and his floaters and junk shots inside are extremely effective. Plus, when he gets inside he draws the defense, allowing him to find good looks for other players (like the overhead hook pass he got to Varejao for a wide open lay-up).
I’m kinda bummed that Z didn’t break the rebounding record during one of his offensive tip sequences (you know, the ones where he’ll gets3 boards in 4 seconds). Instead, he broek it when he and LeBron went up for a defensive board and James dropped the ball like it was on fire (which was kinda cool to see, actually). Z had another solid game, scoring 13 points on 5-9 shooting to go with 6 boards and an assist in 23 minutes. He battled Jermaine O’Neal for most of the game and was extremely effective (they have a little history from O’Neal’s healthy Indiana days IIRC).
The bench played well. Wally Szczerbiak shot the ball well, scoring 16 points on 5-10 shooting (2-5 3pt). Sasha Pavlovic played well in his 22 minutes of court time (with a good chunk of it non-garbage) going for 9 points (4-9 FG, 1-2 3pt), 5 boards and 2 assists (I really like that he showed up other parts of the stat sheet. If Sasha can do some more little things besides scoring, he could be extremely valuable). The two main big men off the bench were Anderson Varejao and Darnell Jackson (J.J. Hickson only got 4 minutes of PT). Varejao was solid, if unspectacular, getting 9 points and 4 boards in 24 minutes and Jackson looked good, if a bit rushed offensively, scoring a point to go with 4 boards in 17 minutes. Personally, I’d have liked to see Hickson out there (cause I love watching that kid play and grow) but it’s not a bad idea to throw Jackson out there to get him acclimated.
Daniel Gibson looked good before he got hurt. Boobie hit both 3s he attempted, scoring 6 points in six minutes (he also had a sweet inside pass to LeBron for a dunk). Gibson hurt his left big toe midway through the second period and never returned (and he didn’t travel with the team to Philly). It’s a shame too, because Boobie looked really confident and comfortable when he was out there and it looks like his jumper was getting back on track.
Things are going so well that they’re allowing Ben Wallace to shoot jumpers. And ya know what? I’m ok with it. I’d actually rather have Big Ben hoist a 10 foot spot-up J than try to back a guy down for 15 seconds before throwing up an over-head prayer. Wallace was 2-5 from the floor (he missed both jumpers and a dunk attempt) but had a couple of dunks to go with his 5 boards and usual stellar defense (Toronto big men were 9-24).
Another underachieving East contender coming up. The Cavs face the “new look” 9-12 Sixers in Philly on Wednesday and I’m not expecting another blow out. But, I wasn’t expecting a 20-point victory over the Rapters either, so who knows. Elton Brand had been banged up and looks like he’d be a game time decision. This blowout allowed the Cavs to again start off a 4-in-5 stretch by resting their starters for the final period, so they should be pretty rested when they get to the city of brotherly love.