CLEVELAND: Final thoughts from a wild – and much needed – 127-125 double overtime win over the Sixers…
* Anthony Bennett left the arena Saturday with his right arm dangling and his jacket draped over his shoulder. It’s unclear if he reaggravated it during the game or if it was just too sore to slip through his jacket sleeve.
* Bennett played the final 3:50 of the third quarter, then didn’t play in the fourth quarter or overtime sessions, but that didn’t seem out of the ordinary because Mike Brown was sticking with his three guards, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson. With the team off Sunday, no update on Bennett (if there is one) will probably be provided until Monday in Chicago.
* Brown wouldn’t really admit this afterward, but this was a pretty big victory for a team that really needed it. A loss at home to the Sixers, given the sub-par performances in the previous two games and a difficult schedule next week with road games at Chicago and Minnesota, risked sending this team into an early tailspin. And when the Cavs trailed 87-78 with 10 minutes left in regulation, that freefall seemed imminent.
* Although he wouldn’t say it out loud, Brown’s actions demonstrated how important of a win this was. In a 58-minute game, only seven guys played more than 15 minutes.
* “I think it was a bit of a gut check for us,” Jarrett Jack said. “I think you have those throughout the course of the season. This is a long journey. It’s a roller coaster ride usually. I just thought we responded well. We’ve been hit with some adversity early with how we’ve been performing on the road and to come home in our home building, we had a performance we could be proud of.”
* In a game filled with so many big plays, I thought Jack had one of the most underrated yet critical defensive plays late in the second overtime. The Cavs led 121-120 when Kyrie Irving missed a short jumper, the Sixers grabbed the rebound and were trying to run in transition. With the opportunity to take the lead, Sixers center Spencer Hawes put his head down and started running down the court in a full sprint. Jack, ever the savvy veteran, saw Hawes wasn’t watching where he was running and stepped in front of him for a huge charge.
* “That’s an old vet trick,” Jack said. “I tend to get those big guys when they have a head full of steam running down the court. He can’t just run me over when I’m standing there.”
* Jack said he gets about 10-15 of those charge calls every season. He learned it watching Jason Kidd do it years ago and stole it from him. He used to get Andrew Bynum with it all the time, he said, when Bynum played for the Lakers.
* “Those big guys are lumbering down the lane, they’re doing what the coach probably yelled at them 20 times, ‘Run the floor!’” Jack said. “Then a little guy like me, I get in the way and mess up everything. I’m sure it kind of gets under their skin.”
* Speaking of charges, Irving stood in there and took a big one from Hawes midway through the second quarter. It’s one thing for Irving to exert energy defensively, but when the star player stands in the lane and draws a charge from a big man who outweighs him by more than 50 pounds, that’s ample proof Irving is buying into Brown’s defensive teachings.
* Irving has never really impressed me as the true leader of this team. I said last season I thought Tristan Thompson would emerge as a better leader than Irving, but nights like Saturday will change my mind. In a game we’ve already established the Cavs really needed to win, Irving was sensational: 39 points, a career-high 12 assists, five rebounds and only three turnovers in more than 48 minutes. Irving now has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6, but throw out his clunker game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (six assists, nine turnovers) and it soars to 4.2 –nearly the exact figure (4.3) Brown told him to strive for over the summer because it’s what Chris Paul averaged last season as the league’s best point guard.
* Irving is growing. He demonstrated that to me last week when he admitted he should’ve used the screen Brown had called for in that Timberwolves game, then he admitted after Saturday’s win he should’ve passed to Jack at the end of the first overtime instead of attempting that left-handed push shot. “Jack was wide open in the corner, I should’ve kicked it out to him,” Irving said. “You notice those plays after your mind is made up, but I have to watch it on film. He told me afterward he was wide open, I should’ve passed it to him.”
* It’s incredible how many close games the Cavs have been involved in already that came down to last-second shots. Five times in six games now, the Cavs needed a basket in the final minute of a one-possession game. Considering Irving had three cracks at it (at the end of regulation and each overtime session), really the Cavs have had seven such situations in six games.
* Irving felt like he had to do it all himself last season, so he’s probably not used to looking around the floor and seeing what else is out there (like Jack in the corner). He’s going to take 95 percent of the last-second shots, and maybe even a higher percentage than that, but it’s good he start building awareness for who else is around him and where they are.
* Dion Waiters has strung together three consecutive decent games in a row offensively and is starting to look comfortable in Brown’s system and alongside Irving. He still takes too many questionable shots, but he’s averaging 21 points in his last three games. Waiters and Irving have combined for at least 50 points in two of the last three games.
* Waiters was really attacking the rim last week against the Milwaukee Bucks, but fell back into some long, off-balance jump shots in the two games against the Sixers. Waiters said it’s all about how teams defend him.
* “People don’t understand, you can’t do that every game,” Waiters said, referring to attacking the basket. “Sometimes you need that one-bounce, two-bounce jumper. Some teams are better at taking that (attacking style) away from you than others.”
* He might be right, but a lot of guards have a hard time staying in front of Waiters when he makes up his mind to get to the basket.
* “I have to be patient,” Waiters said. “Beginning of the season with a new offense, everybody is finding their way. I have to be patient and believe it’s going to work. That’s what I’m trying to do, take the shots they give me but also still be aggressive.”
* Waiters and Irving have both struggled with their free throws this season (both began the night under 70 percent) and Waiters dropped to 59 percent on the season following his 3 of 6 night. “I’ve got to make my foul shots,” Waiters said, unsolicited. “G-- damn, I don’t mean to cuss, but for real. I’m just keeping it real.”
* Jack, giving his owner interviews, heard Waiters swear and cracked up.
* I didn’t ask Brown this, but if I had to guess, his favorite part of Waiters’ night was the four steals.
* I don’t care how young they are, Tristan Thompson played 48:29 and Irving played 48:15 on the second night of a back-to-back. Regardless of age, that’s awfully impressive, particularly considering how well both played. Irving played the entire fourth quarter and both overtime sessions without a break.
* This is just a guess, but I think you’re going to need a search warrant to find Earl Clark anytime soon. There could be a matchup soon where his length is useful, but the conversion of turning him from a 4 into a 3 isn’t going well. Brown said his 10-man rotation was only temporary, anyway, and what he and Alonzo Gee bring is too similar to keep them both. Yes, Clark is longer, but Gee is probably still a better overall defender .
* When the matchup is right, the Cavs can get around it by just playing Irving, Waiters and Jack together, as Brown did for most of the fourth quarter and overtime sessions. But more on that in Monday’s Beacon Journal and on Ohio.com. I’m tired.
* Last one: I asked Thompson if he was tired after playing so many minutes and he said no because he’s young. “That’s a question for Andy,” Thompson joked. Varejao was a member of the 40-minute club Saturday, too (42:46). So when Varejao came out of the shower, I shouted from across the locker room, “Hey Andy! You tired? Tristan says you’re old.” Thompson, who hadn’t yet left the locker room, interjected “Older. I said you’re older.” Varejao cracked up. When you play double overtime and win, everybody goes home happy.