What a difference two weeks make. Out goes David Blatt and his molasses-slow offense, and Tyronn Lue shifts over one seat and turns the dogs loose. It was apparent from the outset that the Cavs wanted to use this game as a measuring stick, and the disparity in effort between the two teams was not hard to discern.
I'm not sure how many times the phrase "Without Tim Duncan" or some variation was spoken by Mike Breen, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy during the Cleveland Cavalier's 117-103 demolition of the Spurs, but it could not have equaled the amount of uncontested shots the Spurs gave the Cavs at the rim... or beyond the arc... or from mid-range. Tim Duncan, or the absence of said GOAT PUFF, was not the problem tonight, nor would he have been the solution. Yes, there were many times when the communication on the defensive end was non-existent and yes, Timmy is the signal-caller on that end, the very large straw that stirs that very stingy drink. But the Spurs were getting smoked in transition all game long, and giving up easy looks all over the floor time and time again.
It started off innocuously enough. The Spurs opened up an early 4-1 lead, all courtesy of David West - a tough paint bucket against Kevin Love, followed by a technical foul for arguing the non-call, then assisting on a nice Kawhi Leonard dunk. Then the ball began to roll down hill as the Cavaliers went on a 9-0 run and gain a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game. Kevin Love went absolutely bonkers, scoring 14 points on an array of wide open jump shots, and it did not help that LaMarcus Aldridge picked up three fouls in the first quarter, and did not return for the rest of the first half. The Cavs finished the first quarter up 37-30, with the 37 points allowed the most that the Spurs have given up in any quarter all season long - which seems incredible considering that they are less than one week removed from acting as sacrificial lambs for the Golden State Warriors.
Pop started mixing-and-matching lineups in an attempt to find any group that could provide a spark to begin the second quarter. He inserted Kyle Anderson and Boban Marjanovic early, and then got Jonathon Simmons into the game alongside Tony Parker and Kawhi, a five-man lineup that had not seen the floor together all season long. They actually held their own over a four minute stretch, cutting into the lead ever so slightly before the starters were slowly inserted back into the game. But the starters could never gain any traction as the deficit hovered around double-digits for the remainder of the half before a 10-3 run to close the final three minutes of the second quarter expanded the Cavs lead to 66-49. The 66 points scored by Cleveland were tied for the most points they have scored in any half all season long.
The Spurs came out in the third quarter with a little bit of fire and an 8-0 run to cut the Cavs' lead to single-digits, and even disconcerted some long-time Spurs' fans by throwing in some zone defense, but nothing the Spurs could do would stop the Cavs on this evening. That would be the closest they would get for the remainder of the game as LeBron James scored 16 of his game-high 29 points in the third to make it 92-76.
The fourth quarter was of no consequence, as the writing was already on the wall for this one. The Spurs could never make a game out of it, and even if they wanted to (which by this point, it was pretty clear that they didn't), Kyrie Irving decided to use the final frame to take his turn against the Spurs defense, and Matthew Dellavedova made some really annoying threes because that's what he does. When the dust finally settled on the corpse of this game, the Spurs walked out with a well-deserved 117-103 defeat.
- No "Three Stars" tonight, because no one deserves it.
- Jonathon Simmons and Kyle Anderson were probably the only bright spots for the Spurs in this game, and that is not a good place for the Spurs to be. But in all seriousness, Simmons continues to grow on both ends of the floor, and showed tenacity on the defensive end against Irving and James, and toughness on offense completing a handful of physical drives to the rim with deft (and sometimes off-handed) lay-ins. He also did this:
- Kyle Anderson had a tidy 10 point, 3 rebound, and 3 assist game (with a steal and a block for good measure) and is beginning to display some of the offensive traits that he was known for in college on a consistent basis. If he can only find some consistency on the defensive end, then he's on his way. He's still slow, though.
- Yeah, this seems about right:
- Has anyone noticed that to be a championship contender in this league, there is a prerequisite to employ an Australasian? The Cavs have Dellavedova (Australia), the Spurs have Patty Mills (Australia), the Warriors have Andrew Bogut (Australia), and the Thunder have Steven Adams (New Zealand). Things that make your mind wander during frustrating and unentertaining basketball games...
The Spurs fly back home to the friendly confines of the AT&T Center to put their 34-game home winning streak on the line Monday night against the Orlando Magic. Let's all wash this one away and think happy thoughts.