OKLAHOMA CITY: Coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, Daniel Gibson is following it up with one of his best.
Gibson has rediscovered his shooting stroke after losing it over the course of the past three seasons. Gibson’s numbers have deteriorated for the past three years, culminating in last year’s career-worst 35 percent shooting effort from the floor. He made only 39 percent of his 3-pointers, which ranked as the second-lowest mark in his first six seasons.
Now Gibson is the lone bright spot on an otherwise bleak bench. While coach Byron Scott continues to mix and match reserves looking for some sort of production, he’s counting on Gibson to pull an even bigger load than usual.
“He’s doing everything he can,” Scott said. “He’s playing both ends of the floor. We’re trying to get him as many shots as possible because he seems to be the one guy right now that’s hot on that second unit.”
In three games since Tyler Zeller went down with a concussion and fractured cheekbone, Gibson has accounted for 57 percent of the bench’s scoring (47 of their 82 points).
Scott used Gibson alongside Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters in a three-guard set Sunday that left the Cavs small on defense against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Scott has enough faith in Gibson’s defensive abilities that it didn’t bother him.
Gibson also took some of Waiters’ minutes in the fourth quarter Sunday. Scott still wasn’t explaining Monday why he benched Waiters for the entire fourth quarter, but he did say Waiters will be back starting as usual today against the Brooklyn Nets.
For now, Scott is relying heavily on Gibson to carry the bulk of the scoring load while the rest of the bench sorts itself out.
Gibson still isn’t fully recovered from ankle surgery that ended last season prematurely, calling himself 90 to 95 percent of the way back. But he’s also motivated to play well because this is the final year on his contract. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and needs to show the Cavaliers and the rest of the league he can still be an effective bench scorer.
“I’m getting a lot more sure of being able to play [inside] the three,” Gibson said. “I’m getting back to the basket now. That makes me a lot more comfortable. That’s taken my game to another level where I can really play and not just depend on 3-point shots.”
Scott is considering tweaking his rotation again and getting Irving out of games sooner in the third quarter in order to allow him to return earlier in the fourth. Scott has typically played Irving the entire third quarter, which leaves the Cavs vulnerable through the start of the fourth.
They carried a seven-point lead into the start of the fourth quarter Friday against the Phoenix Suns, but the game was tied in less than 2½ minutes into the fourth with Irving on the bench.
Similarly, what was really a three-point game at the end of the third quarter Sunday became a six-point Thunder advantage when Russell Westbrook banked in a 31-foot heave at the buzzer.
Then Irving went to the bench to start the fourth and the Cavs’ deficit swelled to double figures within two minutes. Scott considered pulling Irving earlier Sunday, but let him play the entire quarter. By the time he got his star back into the game, the Cavs trailed by 11 with six minutes left.
If he alters his minutes plan, Scott would like to remove Irving with about two or three minutes left in the third, then reinsert him for the game’s final 10 minutes.
“It’s something I thought about [Sunday] and something I continue to think about,” he said. “I have to figure out a way to keep those guys on the floor, but I don’t want the second unit to think I’m losing faith in them, either. It’s trying to juggle both those things at the same time.”
Zeller continues to recover from his injuries and will not join the team in New York. The concussion is keeping Zeller out of the lineup more than the fractured cheekbone, a team source said.
Zeller cannot return to the court until he is cleared from the league’s concussion program. That has not happened yet.
After the game at Brooklyn, the Cavaliers don’t play again until a home game Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks. Scott said earlier on this trip that he was hopeful Zeller would be available when the Cavs returned home.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.