This was epitomized by the scrappy play of Aussie fireplug Matthew Dellavedova. Starting in place of James, Dellavedova scored 14 points, drained four 3s, had four assists, and a steal posting a team high +7 plus/minus when he was on the court.
Coach David Blatt revisited a ploy he’s tried before on stretch 4s like the Pelicans' Ryan Anderson (look for it tonight too) – putting the smaller Delly on Durant. (Shawn Marion also did a fine job on KD.) Dellavedova’s quick enough to crowd Durant and a strong enough defensive player to generally stay with him on pick and rolls.
Unfortunately the Thunder switched to get Kyrie Irving onto Durant three of the final four possessions, each resulting in a score for Durant. For the night Durant was 4-4 when Irving was on him, and 2-10 when anyone else covered him.
It’s easy to harp on Irving’s defense because it’s his most glaring weakness. But sometimes it’s simply a matter of focus and awareness – something a young player naturally has to learn. Here Kyrie lays low on the pick giving Durant more than enough room to toast him in.
Here the Thunder drive and dish to the 3 point-line in transition. (We’ll talk about the Transition D in a moment.) Kyrie jogs back, not looking for his man and doesn’t read the situation until the ball is coming back to a wide-open, feet-set Anthony Morrow.
After making his first shot of the game, Kyrie proceeded to go 1-10 before hitting his last shot of the third quarter. It wasn’t even bad shots, or necessarily difficult shots, though Irving makes everything he does around the basket look easy. Here are six of those nine misses. (He finished 7-21 from the field for 20 pts, 6 assists.)
The team jumped out to a 26-18 lead in the first quarter, powered in part by seven Thunder turnovers. They’d only force four more the rest of the way. The Cavs led 36-27 after a Dellavedova 3 off a Kyrie fastbreak drive & dish with 8:11 left in the 3rd. The Thunder then made a 16-4 run. Six of those points game on transition plays of various level of defensibility.
They opened the third quarter well, and ran some nice pick and rolls and screens for Love with Dellavedova, and Irving and Varejao, as Love scored 8 of his 18 points in the first half of the third quarter. He had another basket taken away on an offensive foul call on Thompson. Meanwhile their defense got sloppier, including missed assignments like this one.
The Thunder finished an 18-5 run just before the end of the third quarter, all of the points either threes (3), layups/dunks (2) or free throws (5). Tristan Thompson’s five points were all the team could manage as Irving continued to suffer through his scoring drought.
Things didn’t improve to open the fourth either, as the Thunder hit their first three shots, including two triples to push the lead to 20. Here is where you Cavaliers showed heart. They could’ve just given up, but guess who wouldn’t?
Matthew Dellavedova hit two threes closing the lead to 14. Irving hit a driving layup and then with the lead back at 17 drew the sixth foul on the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka with 6:43 left, moments after Thompson had drawn his fifth.
Irving pressed him hard on a pick and roll and Ibaka brushed the crafty point gaurd too closely. The Thunder’s imposing defensive presence gone, the Cavs went on a 17-4 run in which everyone contributed: Varejao 5, Love 4, Kyrie 4, Delly 2, and Thompson 2, on this beautiful putback.
They showed it against the Knicks when they didn’t play a good game but hung tough, and they showed it putting away the Raptors on Tuesday. They may have lost but they showed a lot of grit.
We also discovered that Dellavedova – only in his second year out of St. Mary’s, where he was three time All-WAC and senior Academic All-American – has the kind of intangibles that can keep a team afloat through adversity. He played 34 minutes, and despite below average foot speed, his intensity buoyed the team through the rough spots.
We still haven’t found out how to get Kevin Love involved for the whole game. And James Jones’ slow, ineffectual defense (-17 plus/minus during his 14 minutes) was amplified by his goose egg on three shots. Mike Miller’s absence (concussion) is felt, though he did participate in shoot-around, so hopefully he’s close to returning.
The team could still use one more bench scorer, especially not one so ball dominant as Dion Waiters. Somebody with some size to match up against big guards, and some championship savvy. Oh, and they’d need to be a good three point shooter. This would be a good time to say a prayer for Jesus (Shuttlesworth)…
The Cavs get the New Orleans Pelicans tonight. Anthony Davis is a darkhorse candidate for MVP with an impressive line: 25 ppg, 10.6 rbd, 1.7 ast, 1.95 stl, 2.9 blk. They’re missing ever-injured shooting guard Eric Gordon, and they’re bench is among the worst in the league, but their starting five is very good. Particularly watch how they play Ryan Anderson, a deadly 3 point shooter, and swingman Tyreke Evans, who can get to the basket off the dribble.
I’ll be live tweeting during the contest at @CRS_1ne. Should be a good game even if LeBron doesn’t play. (They say he’s 50-50.) Kyrie’s expected to be a go.