NEW YORK: Seventeen thoughts for 17 assists in the Cavs’ surprising 106-100 win over the Knicks on Sunday at Madison Square Garden…
1. One of the few things Mike Brown dislikes more than a small lineup is being reactive to what the opponent is doing. He swallowed hard and did both Sunday. It’s the only reason the Cavs left the Garden victorious.
2. Brown went small – really small – for the bulk of the fourth quarter as a reaction to the Knicks’ small lineup. The Knicks really hurt the Cavs with their small lineup in the first half and Brown feared it happening again. So with 8:48 to play and the Cavs down 90-85, Dion Waiters returned to the game and Tyler Zeller exited. Suddenly the Cavs had three guards (Waiters, Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova), a small forward (Alonzo Gee) and a center (Anderson Varejao). Luol Deng soon replaced Gee and the Cavs had their lineup that stunned the Knicks.
3. The Cavs pick-and-rolled the Knicks to death with Jack and Varejao. The Knicks’ defense was terrible everywhere, both on the perimeter (slow rotations) and in the pick and roll.
4. “When teams go small a lot of times, they go small to play pick and roll,” Brown said. “They have one or two guys who can go make plays. And Jack was the guy who made plays for us when we went small. That’s why it was effective. It’s no secret. Hey, he made plays for us.”
5. He certainly did. Jarrett Jack loves to play at Madison Square Garden. The two highest scoring games of his career came in this building. He scored 33 points as a member of the Pacers in 2009 and followed it up Sunday with 31 while adding 10 assists. In what has primarily been a disappointing season, Jack was sensational Sunday. He hit all the big shots and made all the right passes.
6. Funny side note: Mike Brown’s halftime chew out went long, so Jack didn’t have a chance to get any shots up before the start of the third quarter. Then he shot 10-for-13 in the second half (6-for-7 in the fourth quarter). Maybe he should bypass the halftime shooting every night.
7. Jack has scored at least 20 points only four times this season, but three of those have occurred in the last 13 games. Lately he has been more of the player the Cavs thought they were getting when they signed him to a four-year contract last summer.
8. Even though they haven’t officially been eliminated, the playoff dream has realistically died. But the Cavs are still fighting. I think that’s a credit to the veterans like Jack and Luol Deng, who hobbled through 33 minutes and chased Carmelo Anthony around the floor on a less-than-healthy ankle.
9. Brown tore into the players at halftime for a terrible first half. They had two assists in the first quarter and six at the half. Ball movement was stagnant, the defense was terrible and once again, the Cavs fell into an enormous 17-point hole in the second quarter. Against the Thunder and Rockets, they waited until it was too late to fight and dig out. Sunday against the Knicks, the difference was immediately evident at the start of the third quarter.
10. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took a timeout 44 seconds into the third quarter after Deng made a 3-pointer, Anthony missed a 3 and the Knicks were lazy getting back in transition, giving Waiters an easy layup. In less than a minute, the Knicks’ 15-point halftime deficit was down to 10.
11. “We should have won this game,” Anthony said. “We gave it away. They earned it.”
12. This was a crucial game for the Knicks, who could’ve cut their deficit for the final playoff spot to just two games. Motivation shouldn’t have been a problem, but they were terrible in the second half and the Cavs took advantage.
13. Remember what I said after the Warriors game? About how the Cavs simply outplayed the Warriors in the second half? I thought the opposite was true tonight. The Knicks were awful in the second half. They blew open layups, settled for too many jumpers, were terrible in pick and roll defense and left far too many shooters open around the perimeter. The Cavs were happy to take advantage.
14. “I think they ran a pick-and-roll a couple of times and saw that it was working, so they stuck with it,” Anthony said. “It was up to us to adjust to it. They picked us apart.”
15. Enough with the tanking talk. Enough with losing games at the end of the season to improve lottery odds. These are good wins for this team. Sooner or later, the Cavs have to learn how to win. It might be too late to matter this year, but within the last nine days they have now rallied on the road to beat a Warriors team headed to the playoffs and a Knicks team that is fighting for their playoff lives.
16. They also fought back against the Thunder and Rockets after falling in huge deficits. Given the roster limitations right now, that’s awfully impressive for a team that showed little effort for too much of this season.
17. In four games since returning to the starting lineup, Waiters is averaging 23.8 points. Teammates have been impressed with his improved attitude, his openness to take criticism and the growth he has showed lately. I’ll have more on Dion in a few hours. Raptors at home Tuesday. See you then.