They had me worried there for awhile. Much of this game felt like the Memphis and Chicago losses; LeBron had some ‘wow’ moments (an in traffic reverse dunk? Why not?) but the Cavs could never retain a lead (they trailed at the end of the first and second quarters) and the game was tied with 8 minutes left. In the end, the combination of LeBron going off (44 points, 16-29 FG), an increased defensive effort (13 point fourth quarter from OKC)and a barrage of 3-pointers (the Cavs were 11-22 from downtown) pushed Cleveland over the top.
LeBron put on a show (even eating some French Fries from a young fan). Is it weird to anyone else that we watched a Cavalier score 44 points (not to mention 7 boards, 6 assists, 4 steals and a block) and our reaction is simply: ‘hey, LeBron had a nice game’. Dear lord, if Price or Daughtery would’ve dropped 44 in a game (not to mention LBJ’s ridiculous box scores), I would’ve freaked out for a solid week. LeBron makes these types of outbursts seem common. I liked a lot of what we saw from James; for the second game in a row he made a concerted effort to get some points off the low block. Of course, I’d like to see this even more (he almost always scores when he gets himself in good position) but at least it looks like he’s starting to realize he can get some easy buckets this way. Now, James also hoisted eight treys but, in his defense, he was feeling it, going 5-8 from downtown (he hit three in a row to end the third and give the Cavs a lead going into the fourth). I just hope they stick with the post work. It’s great to see in against the Thunder in December, I wanna see it come June.
Robin showed up. The only other Cavalier to have a decent scoring night was Mo Williams (no other Cavalier had double digits), who scored 22 points (8-18 FG, 4-9 3pt) and hit the biggest (and longest) shot of the night. With 4 minutes to go and the Cavs up 91-87, Williams salvaged a possession (and possibly the game) by swishing a 48 foot heave as the shot clock expired. That three put the Cavs up 7, demoralized the Thunder and their fans and sparked the Cavs on an 8-2 final push. Mo had 11 of his 22 in the final quarter.
Live by the three… As a team, the Cavs shot 11-22 from downtown with LeBron going 5-8 and Mo making 4-9. Now, much of the Cavs comeback was fueled by their defense (the Thunder followed a 54 point first half with 35 points in the second) but 8 of the Cavs’ 11 threes were made after halftime (they shot 8-17 from behind the arc in the second half). You aren’t going to lose many games where LeBron and Mo combine to go 9-17 from downtown.
But I don’t want to discount the defense. Yes, Kevin Durant scored 29 points (poor Anthony Parker, KD abused him) but not a one came in the final period. After scoring 12 points in the third, LeBron and Jamario Moon (who had a nice 9-4 off the bench) held Durant scoreless down the stretch. Until Nenad Krstic’s putback with 30 second left, the Thunder hadn’t scored since there were over seven minutes to go (not just field goals, but no points at all. With 7:15 left, the Cavs led 88-87, they won 102-89). I don’t like that the Cavs seem to be drifting and out of their defensive mindset (they sometimes play D for only a half each game) but it’s nice to see that, when they want to, they can shut teams/players down.
J.J. Hickson in on a short leash. If you’re surprised by this, you haven’t been paying attention to Coach Mike. I don’t mind it too often (though I thought yanking a minute into the second half against Portland, never to return, was a bit much) but I’d like to see Brown take him aside, tell him what he did wrong and then send him back out. Also, I really like Brown’s lineup of Mo/Delonte, Moon, LeBron, Varejao and Z/Shaq, except for the Z/Shaq part. Sub J.J. in for Shaq/Z (let Andy play center) and you have one fast, athletic lineup (especially with Delonte). As is, it’s a really quick lineup with a plodding center (and not a lot of shooters when Shaq is the in the middle). With the right mindset from J.J. (which is the issue, really) that could be a very good offensive AND defensive unit.
A couple of easy ones coming up, in theory. Before heading back out West, the Cavs face the Nets (2-22) and Sixers (5-18) on a back-to-back starting Tuesday night in Cleveland. This is one back-to-back where a split is unacceptable.They have to dominate these two bad teams; no halves without playing defense and no 1-on-5 offense. These teams have a combined seven wins, you gotta sweep these two games (especially given the fact that they’re about to go to Dallas, Phoenix, Sacramento and Los Angeles).