Happy St. Patrick's Day!
The Cleveland Cavaliers can't have a stroke of good luck. The best player to every put on a Cavaliers jersey is now playing in Miami, with an additional MVP award or two and a Finals trophy that eluded him during his seven-year tenure in his home state. The former #1 pick dragged the team past the Pistons and to the Finals in 2007, but the organization couldn't give him adequate help for a championship. When the Spurs swept the Cavs, they did it by focusing their defense on LeBron, essentially leaving his supporting players to up their game in order to win. Unfortunately for them, they couldn't do it, losing games emphatically in San Antonio and only just falling by a total of 4 points in games 3 and 4. LeBron averaged 22 points per game, only 2 points under his season average, but what really stands out is that the Spurs limited him to 35.6%, shooting, 12% below his season average (47.6%). Even his 3pt percentage dipped to 20% from 32% in the regular season. The Spurs won that game through defense, clamping down on LeBron and forcing his teammates to beat them, which did not happen. Only two other Cavs averaged more than double digits in the series, Drew Gooden (12.8) and Daniel Gibson (10.8), which wasn't enough to counter the Spurs' Big Three, who averaged 60.6 combined per game, in addition to great defense. Tony had a great series, winning MVP honors due to his ability to drive to the lane and score at will. He averaged nearly 25 points per game on 57% FG% and 57 3pt%. That's not a typo. (His FT shooting was 53%, which is funny just because that's not how shooting percentages are supposed to work, unless you're Shaq.) Even though I think Manu should have gotten the Finals MVP in 2005, Tony definitely deserved this one, and has only gotten better since.
Back to the Cavs: after losing LeBron, they fell from a record of 61-21, to 19-63 the next season, achieving the longest losing streak in NBA history, at 26. They also set a franchise record for 26 consecutive losses on the road. This team was…bad. They were fortunate enough to get the #1 pick in the draft that coming year, selecting Kyrie Irving, superstar in the making, who would launch the team back to semi-relevance. Unfortunately for Cleveland, he's got a bit of the injury bug, and has hurt himself a few times in the past years, missing a good amount of time in his lone season at Duke, breaking his hand in his rookie season, injuring his index finger and breaking a bone in his face this season. He just recently suffered a shoulder sprain, and is going to be out for a couple of weeks. This kid is one of the bona-fide superstars in the league (on the offensive side at least), and I hope he can get over these injuries pretty quickly. We've all felt terrible when a talent (Manu) has to sit on the sidelines, and I bet the Cavaliers want him back on the court soon.
What's worse about Kyrie Irving getting hurt at this point in the season is that his team was finally starting to show its potential. With a pretty talented young core in first round picks Irving, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson, they've made some noise since the All-Star Break, going .500 over twelve games coming into their game against San Antonio. They were never going to make the playoffs, but they could've ended the season on a high note. Maybe it's better for them to tank a bit and get a high draft pick for next year. Due to the LeBron James trade, they've also got Miami's 2013 first round pick. With so much youth on the team, they might look to trade some of the picks for players, but who knows what'll happen at this point. Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller were becoming a good one-two punch in the front court, with Zeller relieving Thompson from the bench, therefore not losing any size inside. They've also added players like Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights this year, giving them lots of depth in key positions. If Kyrie Irving comes back and the Cavs add another good-to-great player, they'll be back in playoff contention in no time.
Quote of the Game
"Talking about our guys of the future."
Sean on Kawhi and Danny leading the fast break on their own. Brought a tear to my eye, both because I can’t see the Spurs without the Big Three, but I know they’ll be in good hands with the likes of Kawhi and Danny (and maybe Tiago).
Quick Game Hash
Timmy followed up his performance against Dallas with an equally impressive one, scoring 30 points, grabbing 12 rebounds, dishing out 4 assists and rejecting 5 shots. What a stat line. With TP out, Manu and Timmy have to take more of the scoring responsibility themselves, especially Timmeh, who had the advantage down low against young-uns Thompson and Zeller. He scored 13 points and grabbed half of his rebounds in the first quarter, lifting the team when they most needed him. He even had a JaVale McGee like rejection this game, swatting the ball into the stands and eliciting roars from the crowd. After his great game against the Mavericks, Duncan said it was the first game he had played in a while that was pain-free, and it showed. If this is what Timmy is throwing down now that he's feeling better, the Spurs will be tough to take out.
Two other Spurs had double doubles, with Kawhi Leonard posting 24 points (two shy from his season/career high) and a game-high 13 rebounds, and Manu keeping his distribution center open, dishing 10 assists and scoring 14 points. The Spurs dominated the glass and notched more assists, but their turnovers (18) allowed the Cavs to stay in the game, as they had 29 points off those costly TOs. The Cavs bench destroyed our bench, with every single player in the Cavs posting a positive plus/minus and every Spurs bench player posting a negative one, save Manu. This allowed them to keep the game close, but Timmeh saved the team, prompting Coach Pop to say, "Tim saved our ass. He obviously carried the whole night for us. He was great. It shouldn't have to be that way." After Pop's ejection in the second quarter, Assistant Coach Budenholzer took over, which has happened a few times this season when Pop was feeling under with the flu. A capable coach, he didn't let the game get out of hand, and the Spurs pulled out the win.
My Game Boss
No explanation needed, other than Timmy recorded 5 blocks in a game again. Classic boring Spurs. Also, Tim is the only player to have two games with at least 30 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks this season. Al Horford is the only other player with one.
My Game Runt
He wasn't terrible, but he hoisted up a few bad shots while his team was still in the game. Taking those shots and knowing when not to take them separates teams like the Cavs from the Spurs.
This Thing Was Over When…
Kawhi hit a three that allowed the Spurs to take the lead once and for all with less than five to go in the fourth quarter. The game was tight the entire fourth quarter prior to that shot, but that three pointer broke the camel's back, and the Cavs never got within less than four points afterwards. This shot came out of a Cavs triple team on Timmeh, who was able to pass the ball to Nando, who then got it to Kawhi. Great teamwork and unselfishness by Tim, who got the hockey assist.
Numbers of Note
- 3 - Games with 5 or more blocks for Tim this month
- 10 - Games with 5 or more blocks that Tim has had this season
- 6 - Spurs dunks, distributed amongst five players, Timmy, Kawhi, Danny, Manu and Boris Diaw (!)
- 43 - Rebounds by the Spurs. They had a 14 rebound advantage against the Cavs. Credit goes to Timmy and Kawhi, who nearly out rebounded the Cavs themselves, combining for 25 boards.
- -8 - Turnover differential for the Spurs. Without TP at the helm, the team is a little more careless with the ball.
- 10 - Assist differential for the Spurs, topping the 30 assist mark for the second game in a row. Although the turnovers are a bit worrisome, it's good that the players are still sharing the ball.
- 7 - Spurs with more than 2 assists. Four players had more than 4, with Manu at the top, with 10.
- 32 - Defensive rebounds by the Spurs. They had more of this variety than the Cavaliers had overall.
- 67 - Games that Tiago Splitter has played this season, the only Spur to appear in every game.
Odds & Ends
- Another lefty dunk by Kawhi! He's making this a habit, and it's infection the rest of the team.
- Manu dunked! That's the Manu we remember. Timmy threw it down. Danny had one of a fast break and Boris drove down the lane and somehow dunked it with two hands. He's been showing more confidence as of recently, which is essential for the team's success.
- The 4th quarter was all about dunking for the Spurs, as 4 of their dunks came in this frame. Each one was assisted by another player.
- The Cavaliers haven't beat the Spurs since LeBron left the team. Even so, they've put up fights in the two games this season, losing by a combined 7 points. Kawhi has been key in both of those games, hitting the three point winner at Cleveland and getting a double-double in San Antonio.
- For anyone who watched the game, Sean Eliott does a very good job of explaining plays. For example, late in the 4th, the Spurs were looking for an easy basket to create some distance. They were up by 4, when Manu takes the ball up the left side of the court. Timmy blocks off his man (Speights, if my memory serves) from the baseline, leaving it all for Timmy. Sean called this the Karl Malone Screen, where he blocks the player with his back, gets the pass from the guard on the corner and drives it home to the hoop. It definitely looked like a Karl Malone play.
- The Spurs couldn't stop Shaun Livingston late in the game. He scored 8 of Cleveland's last 10 points, all coming with under 3 minutes to go.
- The Spurs' play against the Cavs press in the last minute was a beauty to behold. A few passes here and there, and Kawhi ends up with a free dunk that puts the game away.
Going into the Next Game, the Spurs need to…
…Get ready for a nasty stretch of games. After three games against sub .500 teams, they will face 7 straight against teams over .500. Golden State, Utah, at Houston, Denver, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and at Memphis. The first three games will be tough but winnable, with the last four showing great challenges, as each team can be considered elite or at least a dark horse contender in the playoffs. I hope Tony comes back in time for the games against Miami and Memphis, as those two teams will likely be tough outs in the playoffs.
edit: the previous version of this piece stated that Tony Parker's birthday was today. It is actually on May 17th.