DETROIT: Fourteen thoughts for 14 fourth-quarter points from Tristan Thompson in Wednesday’s 93-89 come-from-behind win against the Detroit Pistons in the final game before the All-Star break…
1. In the days after my story from Houston posted last week, when players were complaining about each other, complaining about Mike Brown and his coaching staff and complaining about everything to do with the Cavaliers, one team executive told me, “now that all the bulls--- is out of the way, we can get back to playing basketball.”
2. The locker room was toxic. I joked with ESPN’s Marc Stein in Dallas that he needed a Hazmat suit before entering. For the first time in their careers, guys like Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters were expected to win in the NBA and they were buckling under the burden of winning. They needed some sort of pressure release and got it in the form of those few days of explosive stories, followed by the firing of General Manager Chris Grant.
3. Mike Brown has said repeatedly the firing shouldn’t have impacted the play on the floor because Grant never played a game for the Cavs and he’s right. I didn’t agree with Grant’s firing then and I still don’t, but it symbolized someone opening the valve and letting all the fumes out. The feeling in that locker room now, compared to just a couple of weeks ago, is noticeable.
4. “There’s a lot more smiling, it’s a lot more fun,” Kyrie Irving said. “There’s been a burden let go from all of us.”
5. This is the first time since March 8-24, 2010 the Cavs have won at least four in a row. It’s the first time it has ever happened for Irving, Tristan Thompson (both in their third season) and all of the youngsters on this team.
6. Tristan Thompson and Irving were terrific Wednesday, particularly in the fourth quarter. The two combined for 25 of the Cavs’ 34 fourth-quarter points, while Thompson had seven rebounds in the fourth and Irving had all four of his assists then.
7. In these two games without Anderson Varejao, against two teams (Sacramento and Detroit) with tremendous post players, Thompson averaged 20.5 points and 14 rebounds. And he did it against guys who have given him problems in the past. The Kings’ Jason Thompson had 16 rebounds last month in that embarrassing 44-point loss. Greg Monroe always seems to give the Cavs problems. Thompson dominated both the last two nights.
8. When Irving hit that dagger 3-pointer in the game’s final minute, cameras caught Dion Waiters doing some sort of high-step dance while C.J. Miles joined in with some ridiculous hip shake dance. Irving was shown the videos after he got in the locker room following the game. “Just a couple dance moves we’ve got to work on as a team going forward,” he said. “We’ve got to get some practice in. Practice makes perfect when it comes to dancing, too.”
9. The Cavs allowed 28 points to the Pistons in the first quarter, then allowed 29 over the next 18-plus minutes. They allowed just 38 in the second half.
10. “I feel like we’re definitely buying into the system,” Irving said. “Coach Brown’s system does work. It just takes effort and being in the right spot. That’s all.”
11. The Cavs had a terrible start tonight and Brown played just about everybody. He joked the only one who didn’t get in was Sergey Karasev and that’s only because he forgot Karasev was recalled from Canton and back on the team, otherwise he’d have tried him, too. Nothing was working, but during a timeout, after Brown huddled with his assistants, he began to approach the Cavs’ huddle when he saw Luol Deng and Jarrett Jack taking command. Brown knew their voices would impact the rest of the team more than his, so he stood back and waited for them to finish before adding a few things and returning to the floor. That’s the type of veteran leadership this team desperately needs more consistently in the second half.
12. I’ll have more on the Cavs’ turbulent first half of the season in Friday’s Beacon Journal. But I’ll leave you with this: The Cavs enter the All-Star break just three games out of the final playoff spot in the East. They’re also the hottest team in the conference, thanks to this four-game winning streak. The only team with a longer winning streak entering the break is Houston (seven).
13. Final thought from Irving on a team that looks like it’s finally figuring out how to play together: “Everyone in this locker room is going to play for one another. Good, bad, ugly, if anybody has a bad game, good game, we’re going to support each other through it. That’s what it’s going to take to be a great team is playing through it no matter what goes on out there.”
14. I fly to New Orleans Friday morning for All-Star weekend. I’ll see you there.