The Cleveland Cavaliers regained a victorious footing on Friday night, cruising to a 105-94 win over a Washington Wizards team that played without Bradley Beal.
With the win, the Cavs pushed their record to 7-1. The Wizards jumped out to a 31-26 lead after one quarter but were held to just 63 points from there on out.
I’ve watched all of the games this season, but this is the first time I’ve offered some post-game musings.
Lots going on over the past month that demanded my attention, but I’m all Cavs from here on out.
Check out a few of takeaways below:
1. John Wall was scorching in the first half. He lit up the Cavs for 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting. A healthy amount of those makes were jump shots.
2. But it was a tale of two halves for Wall. He was held to just five points in the second half and didn’t do much else to help his team (three assists, two rebounds).
3. Kyrie Irving ended up having a superb game. But early on, while Wall was unconscious from the field, Irving seemed to be pressing just a bit at the offensive end. He dribbled himself into trouble a few times, and I could feel the “we need a traditional point guard” ghosts from seasons past itching to resurface.
4. But Irving righted the ship, finishing with 29 points, six assists and two rebounds. I’ve always been a supporter of Irving’s style of play and never felt that, because he isn’t a pass-first point guard, the Cavs suffered as a team. Winning a title last season pretty much vindicated the pro-Irving crowd.
5. For me, it will always be OK for Irving to look for his shot in any game situation. He’s an incredibly gifted shot maker, of course. But the more subtle justification for him to always be looking for points is that the Cavs are not really a system team. They have some offensive principles for sure –upping the pace at times, drive and kick for threes off high screen and rolls.
6. But as last summer’s finals showed, when push comes to shove, the Cavs rely on the individual greatness of each guy to score points. LeBron James does whatever is needed, JR Smith knocks down threes, Tristan Thompson eats up rebounds … and Irving gets you buckets. Why this is a bad thing simply because he is listed as a point guard, I’m done fighting.
7. Never was Irving’s scoring prowess more appreciated than mid-fourth quarter when the game tightened, James was kneed in the back at the offensive end, and I wrote down, “Cavs need KI to bring this home.” Not even a minute later, at the 6:30 mark, he trotted down and drilled a dagger three.
8. Some other positives: JR Smith found his stroke again, going 5-of-11 from deep and finishing with 17 points. Kevin Love was a monster on the boards — he grabbed 16 rebounds and chipped in a tough, if inefficient, 14 points. And then the afterthought, James, who quietly poured in 27 points, meted out 10 assists and snared five rebounds for good measure. Perhaps most notably, James was 3-4 from three point range, which is always great if only because it simply isn’t expected game in and game out.
9. One more final positive reaction — JR Smith may be the best defender on the team. He commits some boneheaded fouls every so often, but he has turned into a great defender on the ball, but off it as well. He communicates and simply works hard each possession. There’s simply no way to overstate what an incredible development this facet of Smith’s game turned out to be for the Cavs.
10. It can’t all be good so here is some rapid fire “areas of opportunity” I saw, though I’ll admit that the championship glow of last season still hasn’t really subsided, so I’m forcing myself to feign concern over these Cavs’ shortcomings:
a. Mike Dunleavy. Wasn’t a fan of this signing, mostly because of age and recent injury history. He’s done little to quell that uneasiness. Shot is a mess, slow footed on defense. It’s early, but he needs to show some on court value.
b. Turnovers. The Cavs had 15, which felt low. Many of them were not the result of Wizard defensive pressure but seemingly unforced. I don’t know. It’s November in Washington, so this doesn’t seem like a big deal.
c. Officiating. I really don’t want to harp on how bad the referees are this season. The righteous indignation shaded at the ref is shared by every fan base. But wow, there are always a handful of calls that are either phantom or flat-out wrong. Every game. Tonight was no different.
d. Iman Shumpert leading the break. It looks like Shump’s shot is in better form this year, and he’s still husting on defense and filling the lane every so often. But the sight of him dribbling down the court when the Cavs have numbers is cringe worthy. Which leads me to the final negative …
e. Backup point guard. I hope there is a plan to get a serviceable backup at some point. I won’t lament the loss of Matthew Dellavadova — it’s water under the bridge. But Irving will need to play off the ball at times with someone other than LeBron running point. I don’t think Shumpert is that guy.
11. Final thought. Markief Morris getting hit with a delay of game late in the fourth quarter is the perfect example of why I’m not sure I’d want him or his twin brother on my team. He slung a ball at Irving for no reason and cost his team a point. Then, shockingly, he complained about it. Guy has talent, but the antics and attitude seem to be a perpetual issue.
Follow Jeff Kasler on Twitter: @JKaslerHoops