CLEVELAND: Fifteen thoughts tonight, one for each rebound Tristan Thompson grabbed in the Cavs’ 114-111 overtime win over the dreadful Milwaukee Bucks…
1. I’ve written a couple of times now that Kyrie Irving is sensitive about his lengthy injury history. That was never more apparent than Friday night.
2. Irving quietly slipped in that his goal is to play in all 82 games this season. Of course, he has never come close to that in either of his first two seasons because of a litany of injuries. That number is always in the back of his head, he said, and motivated him to get in the car and drive to the arena when his body wanted nothing to do with an NBA game.
3. He wound up scoring 39 points in 43 minutes and smashed the Bucks again. Irving has now scored 228 points against the Bucks, easily the most points he has scored against any team in the league. His 28.5-point average against them is also the highest against any team.
3. My theory behind that is Brandon Jennings, the Bucks’ point guard the last couple of years. Jennings defends as well as an unlocked gate. Irving feasted on Jennings in the past, but now that he’s gone, Irving is still killing the Bucks.
4. Despite Irving’s terrific effort while battling a stomach bug, the Cavs don’t win this game without Tristan Thompson’s tip at the regulation buzzer. Irving drove the lane and flipped up the shot to tie it, but it rolled around the cylinder and out just as Thompson punched it back in.
5. “I knew it came off the rim,” Thompson said. “I was more nervous that I pushed a little bit too hard and caused it to come off the rim. I was lucky that the basketball gods were on my side.”
6. The Cavs were lucky, too. This is a team that continues to play to the level of its competition, even though Mike Brown disagreed with me before the game. Brown’s point was the Cavs wouldn’t have been blown out at Atlanta and San Antonio if they played up to that level, and while that’s true, there are a multitude of other examples to prove it.
7. The Cavs beat the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Clippers at home (back when the Timberwolves looked respectable) and they took the Blazers to the buzzer. They were close at Miami and they even played the Pacers well on the road early in the season before fading late.
8. But they lost to the Bucks and the Sixers. They’ve lost twice to Charlotte (although the Bobcats are surprising a lot of teams this season). And they probably should’ve lost this game tonight.
9. One of the problems recently has been rebounding, which is a bit surprising given guys like Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao. Thompson had 15 rebounds Friday and Varejao had 13, but the Bucks grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and turned them into 18 points.
10. This from a Bucks team that entered 28th in the league in rebounding and has only one player averaging more than 6.5 rebounds per game (John Henson, 7.9).
11. Brown said the biggest problem he’s seeing is everyone – both bigs and guards – stepping toward the rim when opponents’ shots go up. When they’re playing teams that shoot a lot of jumpers such as the Bucks (29 3-pointers attempted Friday), the missed shots lead to long caroms and the Cavs are out of position because they didn’t hold their ground on the shot.
12. Brown mentioned this after the game against the Blazers, but Portland is one of the best rebounding teams in the league. The Bucks are not. To have it happen again is cause for concern.
13. The Cavs’ bigs have been terrific this season, but struggled miserably on Friday. Andrew Bynum, Thompson and Varejao were a combined 9-for-32, although they did grab 35 rebounds.
14. Varejao’s bobblehead was given away tonight, but more importantly it was his 25th game this season. It matched the number of games he has played in each of the last two seasons. If he makes it the rest of 2013 healthy, he’ll really have something going. The Jan. 2 home game against Orlando will be the 32nd game of the season. He hasn’t played more than 31 games in any of the last three seasons.
15. That’s all I’ve got tonight. Talk to you tomorrow from Chicago.