WASHINGTON: Seventeen thoughts, one for each victory this season, following a 115-113 win over the Washington Wizards Friday at Verizon Center…
1. Something struck me as soon as I walked into the Cavs’ locker room tonight after the game. Guys were laughing, joking and smiling with each other. For the past couple of weeks, it has been mostly scowls. “Winning cures all,” Luol Deng said. But that’s not entirely accurate. It couldn’t cure the stomach flu he battled all day and prevented him from playing.
2. I have no idea if the firing of Chris Grant had an impact on this game. The guys certainly seemed to be locked in. They played harder, defended, and played with energy all night – the first time that has happened in weeks. Dion Waiters thought the firing had an impact, Mike Brown said no. I’d tend to lean toward Brown’s side, but who knows for sure?
3. I’m already on record: I disagree with the firing. I think Dan Gilbert buckled to fan pressure, which is one of the worst things an owner can do is listen to the fan base in a situation like this. I know everyone reading this disagrees and that’s fine. I understand how terrible it is to write checks for season tickets to watch a product like what the Cavs have produced the past couple weeks. But firing Grant at midseason solves none of that.
4. Gilbert said he liked this roster and “we have what we need” to win. He said, “We’re going to see Mike Brown succeed this year. I think he will be able to do good things in the next 30 games or so.”
5. If that’s all true, and you believe this team will still do “good things,” then why fire the man who built this roster you like and hired the coach you believe in? And why do it two weeks before the trade deadline, particularly since Grant’s biggest strength was in his trades? He never lost a trade as GM of the Cavs.
6. The organization was blindsided by the firing, according to team sources. No one saw it coming and most of the team’s staff learned of the firing on Twitter. As I wrote earlier, two sources said a number of players were in tears Thursday as they said goodbye to Grant for the final time.
7. Regardless of the reasons, the Cavs played Friday like they cared. Kyrie Irving was terrific, as was Dion Waiters. Irving had 10 assists in the first half, the first Cavs player to do that since Ramon Sessions on Feb. 10, 2012. Waiters had a lot of great looks tonight, shot 11-for-18 and scored 24 points. It’s no secret Waiters and Irving have struggled playing together and both have rarely played well on the same night.
8. In mid-December, I looked up Waiters’ stats when Irving plays well and vice versa. At the time, Waiters had scored at least 25 points in six career games (I know he missed that cutoff by one point tonight, but it’s close enough).
9. Irving played in four of those six games and averaged 14 points while shooting 30 percent. Admittedly it’s a small sample size, but you get the idea. Tonight Irving had 23 points and 12 assists and could’ve had more if a minor ankle issue didn’t sideline him for part of the third quarter. Brown said Irving played a “phenomenal game.”
10. “He helped make his teammates better tonight,” Brown made a point of saying, and that’s important, because that hasn’t been true on many nights this season.
11. Funny moment afterwards in the locker room with Waiters, who had an exposed cut on his knee. The Cavs’ training staff poured peroxide on the knee while Waiters grimaced, moaned and flinched. One of the guys on staff just shook his head. “It’s not like we’re amputating it,” he said.
12. The Wizards are battling effort issues much like the Cavs. They’ve managed to beat the Thunder, Blazers, Warriors and Heat this season and they should’ve beaten the Spurs the other night. But they’ve lost at home to the Pistons, Bucks, Celtics and now the Cavs twice, which had Wizards coach Randy Wittman fuming after the game. “Lack of desire,” Wittman said. “We just think sometimes we can just show up, ‘Maybe tonight we be an easier night and I don’t have to exert as much energy tonight.’ … We wait until the last four minutes to fly around and try and decide to play defense. For 44 minutes, we didn’t give an effort and that’s what is disappointing.”
13. Sound familiar?
14. One of tonight’s unsung heroes was Alonzo Gee, who was terrific in 27 minutes. He had 11 points, seven rebounds, defended well (as always) and made a 3-pointer. He only got to play so much because Deng missed the game with the flu, but his athleticism and energy were terrific. “I thought he was instrumental in terms of bringing it for us and helping us execute, especially defensively as the game went along,” Brown said.
15. Gee is sporting a new beard, but he’s not shaving it now. “Everybody seems to like it,” he said. “I might keep it for a while. If we keep getting wins, I might keep it.”
16. Anthony Bennett’s final line: eight points, six rebounds, 3-for-4 shooting in 21 minutes. Over his last six games (spanning 11 days), he’s averaging nine points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 turnovers and shooting 41 percent. Not terrific numbers, but it’s a start. His plus-13 tonight was the highest on the team and his plus/minus the last two games is plus-20.
17. David Griffin traveled with the team to Washington and is tentatively scheduled to address the media prior to Sunday’s home game against the Memphis Grizzlies. It will be his first appearance as the acting GM. Talk to you then.