Unlike the game against Toronto where the team started fast and lost focus, the Cavs began slowly before putting it in gear. In the first few minutes there were still shocking lapses in defense.
Love and James sat for the first five minutes of the second quarter and the much derided bench not only held the lead but pushed it to 14 by the time they re-entered the game. Everyone contributed, but Thompson in particular shined with 4 rebounds, a block and a basket in that stretch. Kyrie, who had a quiet 12 points for the game, scored 5 during this stretch. The team’s big men hedged the pick and roll hard and managed to get back to their men.
“Everybody was helping everybody out today,” said Anderson Varejao after the game. “I knew that when I had to show on the side somebody was going to help me on the back.”
Even when Varejao wasn’t in, Thompson and Love handled the pick and roll well.
They continued to play well even with the lead. They only shot 51% in the first half, but held the Magic to 33%. They had 15 assists on 22 baskets and even LeBron was a recipient of the crisp passing and sharing mood.
As the Cavs kept the pressure on the Magic – who were without (arguably) their second-best player, forward Tobias Harris – Orlando wilted before several fast break dunks. A couple of these were fueled by LeBron’s defense, as he looked anything but inattentive after taking heat the last few days.
But the biggest revelation of the evening wasn’t the victory. We knew the Cavs could play well when focused. Irving did look a lot better on the pick and roll and the big men hedged on Magic guards well, giving the Cavs time to race back. A relatively large amount of credit goes to Will Cherry. The rookie free agent guard played in the D league last year after a four-year career at Montana.
He brought great energy, was able to run the point, and also really fought over the picks and stuck to his man in a way Cavs guards have only done inconsistently. Without prompting, Coach Blatt singled him out in the post-game conference, and Cherry got the post-game on-court interview. Nonetheless, we were the only reporter looking to speak to him after the game, as everyone crowded around Kevin Love’s locker and pushed us back a little.
“Just energy intensity and toughness on the defensive end, getting up in the opposing point guard and make him work a little bit and run that shot clock down,” Cherry said. “In our losses, our bench has been a big factor. We’ve been a letdown for our starters; we haven’t been picking them up. So I think that’s where a lot of madness comes – when we don’t pick those guys up and they have to come back and pick up our scraps. That’s what it’s been that’s where we come in, and keep the energy high. Tonight it worked for us.”
His contribution may seem small – just five points, four assists, a steal and his first NBA face when he stuffed Orlando Magic rookie Elfrid Payton – but it came at a time when the bench's contribution has been called out. It helped provide a bridge between the first and second unit, and allowed Irving and Waiters to play off-the-ball much of the night. (Just about the entire starting squad sat the fourth quarter.)
“The block, I seen that coming the whole way, and when he spun… [Smiles.] It was a good block. I anticipated that one,” said Cherry. “I think for me coming off the bench, that’s the way to get me going. If I press up and get into the opposing guards, it’s like I’m in a Cool Ride. Once I do that, it gets my energy level going and that was a big factor in me hitting that three LeBron passed to me. The energy level was up and I got myself into the game.”
Cherry played 20 minutes – as much as Dion Waiters – and almost three times the 7 minutes he’d logged so far this season. Injured backup guard Matthew Dellevadova better watch out, because he has a new competitor for spark-plug love.
“I’m just trying to go out there and wreak havoc in all cylinders of the game,” he said. “That’s what I do.”
Author's note: I'll be live tweeting during the games going forward at @CRS_1ne. You may not know from all this basketball nerdiness, but I'm a longtime music writer and onetime music editor at Scene. My handle, if you were curious, is a nod to The Teacher, KRS-One, aka Kris Parker. Where his moniker stood for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, I have always substituted Compassion, because sometimes people don’t need science, they need love. But for this season, I’m changing it to Cleveland Reigns Supreme. Also tune into WRUW 91.1 every Monday at 10:45 a.m. to hear me break down the Cavs with Defend Cleveland's Michael James.