One of these days they’re gonna play for the entire 48 minutes. The Cavs were so-so the first half; they didn’t shoot well, but they attacked the rim (Bogut was on the bench in foul trouble) and got to the line (21 FTA compared to the Bucks’ 5) and went into the second half trailing by two. The Cavs then came out of the locker room and dominate the third quarter. The defense was great (Milwaukee had just 12 points for the quarter), the ball movement was good and Mo Williams got hot (two long FG and two treys) and the Cavs went into the fourth with a 10-point lead.
The last half of the fourth was not fun. With 6:33 to go, the Cavs built their lead up to 83-68 with a combination of good defense and Delonte West kicking ass. West had 7 points in the first half of the fourth (posting up smaller guards! attacking the rim!) and the Cavs looked on their way to an easy victory. But they had just 2 points for the rest of the game and, you’re not gonna believe this, but the offense broke down- they went 1-9 from the floor (a LeBron jumper witha little under 5 min to go) and took zero (!!) free throw attempts. But there were terrible post ups (when you’re ‘on the block’ you’re not supposed to be 22 feet from the hoop), bad passes (behind the back, really?) and just terrible, terrible jumpers (seven of their final nine shots were jump shots). The Bucks had a chance to tie the game at the end but Brandon Jennings missed a trey (good D by Mo, give him credit) and Varejao chucked the ball down court as time expired.
Somehow LeBron didn’t get a triple double (he entered the fourth quarter with 22-9-8). James finished with 26 points, 10 boards, 8 assists, 3 blocks and 6(!) turnovers. I don’t know if he doesn’t trust his teammates, his coaches (is he trying to get Mike Brown fired?) or just thinks he has to act like Kobe down the stretch (stop watching ESPN!) but this is becoming a major issue. My favorite part of LeBron’s game is his unselfishness and that he’ll make the correct pass (even to Donyell Marshall); watching him go 1-on-5 when it’s not needed is extremely frustrating.
ESPN found a neat stat to hammer home. Apparently, when James is paired with Shaq they have a +/- of +5 and while paired with Z it’s a +125. Interesting… kinda. A lot of this is based on the fact that LeBron and Z not only have chemistry but Z spaces the floor and can knock down jumpers. Shaq had a decent night, going 4-6, scoring 9 points and getting Andrew Bogut into foul trouble (which probably won them the game, as Bogut only played 17 minutes). As for Z, he had 6 points, 5 boards and 2 assists (both to West) and was +11 in just 16 minutes of court time (Shaq was -7).
Brandon Jenning had an off night (though the Cleveland defense was good). Jennings was just 5-21 from the floor (1-8 3pt, 7-7 FT) and finished with 18 points, 8 assists and 4 boards. The Cavs were content to let the Bucks hoist treys and hoist them they did; Milwaukee shot 26 threes and made just 7. Hubie Brown seemed to think that a lot of these were good looks but it looked to me like the Bucks weren’t comfortable shooting most of the time. The Cavs defense was solid throughout the night (even at the end, it was the offense that let them down) and the fact that Jenning didn’t kill ’em (they have trouble with quick guards) is a good sign.
For the most part, I liked what they got from the bench. Delonte had another strong showing, notching 12 points, 4 boards, 2 assists, a steal and a block. He attacked the rim, posted up the smaller Jennings (I love him on the block) and played his usual fantastic defense. Anderon Varejao was great; he had 6 points and 7 boards (including late offensive rebound that allowed the Cavs to run off more time) and gave the Cavs his usual energy and hustle. Jamario Moon and Boobie Gibson each only scored 2 points but only one had a bad game. I love Moon’s defense (he harrassed Michael Redd) and the way he runs the floor (though I’m worried that he keeps getting fouled mid-air). Meanwhile, Boobie shot 1-5, messed up a fast break by dribbling too much and gave them a line of 2 points, 1 assist and 1 foul in 13 minutes.
They all count the same in the end. Yes, the Cavs played poorly down the stretch but they’ve won four in a row and their 20 wins ties them for tops in the NBA (they’re behind 2 games in the loss column to Boston and 3 to the Lakers). This is good. I keep reminding myself of the adage that when there are two prospects with the same 40 time and one has perfect form while the other’s is terrible, you pick the one with the bad form (becuase you can fix it). Right now the Cavs have terrible form. They’re winning and keeping a good pace but they aren’t playing particularly well. They have a ways to go and this West Coast trip is going to be interesting to say the least.