CLEVELAND: Twenty-four thoughts for 24 points from Kawhi Leonard in the Cavs’ 117-103 win Saturday against the San Antonio Spurs…
1. It took Tyronn Lue one week to make Kevin Love feel more comfortable in this offense than he did in 18 months under David Blatt. It won’t always look this pretty, and it won’t always come this easy, but Love has played some of his best basketball (at least offensively) for the Cavs since the coaching change.
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2. Love is averaging 23.7 points in his last three games. His 71 total points in the Cavs’ last three victories is his second-highest total when the Big Three play together behind only a three-game stretch early last season in wins against the Wizards, Pacers and Bucks.
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3. “There are a lot of levels to this,” Love said Saturday. “I think it can get even better.”
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4. Making Love comfortable in this system was never a priority to Blatt, who often grew defensive whenever questions about Love’s role surfaced. Love talked with coaches last summer about installing some of the elbow sets he thrived in during his Minnesota days, but those conversations never gained much traction until Lue took over.
5. Truth is, the Cavs have spent plenty of time recently working on Love’s elbow actions, but it hasn’t translated to games yet. Whenever he’s there in games he is still freelancing. When he gets more comfortable there with this personnel and they gain a little familiarity for one another, that’s when the other levels he was referencing will begin to show.
6. I’ve written repeatedly that the Cavs were hopeful the coaching change would make Kyrie Irving and Love more comfortable in this system. That appears to be happening. Irving scored 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. Eight of those came within the first six minutes while James was on the bench resting.
7. The Cavs’ Big Three has scored at least 20 points in each of the last two games. Prior to Friday at Detroit, they hadn’t done it all season.
8. “We’re pretty devastating when we’re playing downhill, especially with those two guys handling the ball so much,” Love said. “I think we did a good job of that tonight, played with pace, got good shots and on the defensive end we got stops when we needed them.”
9. Not all games in an 82-game season are alike and this was a significant victory. The Cavs were 0-3 against the Warriors and Spurs prior to this and 1-6 against the two best teams in the West and their two closest competitors in the East (Bulls and Raptors). Just like January losses to the Warriors and Spurs doesn’t guarantee June losses to them, neither does this victory guarantee anything in June. But it’s at least a small confidence builder for a team undergoing a major identity overhaul at the midpoint of the season.
10. The Spurs were without Tim Duncan and played the entire second quarter without LaMarcus Aldridge, either. That makes a big difference. James said following the loss at San Antonio a couple weeks ago that Kawhi Leonard gets all the praise in the Spurs’ defensive system, but Duncan roaming behind him makes a big difference in the way Leonard can defend.
11. James scored 29 points and passed for seven assists Saturday. He played facilitator again early, just as he did Friday. Love took seven shots in the first quarter (and scored 14 points) and Irving took five shots. James had only three. James still only had six shots at the half before making his presence felt in the second half.
12. The Spurs came out in a zone defense to start the third quarter, perhaps because Gregg Popovich was so aggravated with the defensive effort in the first half. “When you’re on the road you can't turn it over and we turned it over a couple of times and got them going,” Popovich said. "Combine that with some really poor communication defensively and they jumped out on us in the first half. The defense really let us down in that regard.”
13. The Cavs counteracted the Spurs’ zone with pick-and-roll actions. Lue said the Cavs haven’t had much time to practice their zone offense, but likes his odds with Irving and James running pick-and-rolls since it basically turns the zone into man defense.
14. The Cavs switched their defensive coverages from the last time they played the Spurs. It’s unclear whether that was Lue’s idea or Mike Longabardi’s, the Cavs’ new defensive coordinator. Lue was previously in charge of the defense, but James said Saturday Longabardi is making the calls now.
15. The Cavs went back to a “hard show” defense on pick-and-roll coverages concerning Tony Parker, Lue said, which forces the big to get out farther on the ball handler and then retreat to his man. Parker hurt the Cavs for 24 points a couple weeks ago, mainly on dribble penetration. They limited him to 13 points Saturday.
16. The Cavs’ defense is still giving up a high percentage of shots to opponents. The Spurs shot 49 percent Saturday, but Lue downplayed the significance. A number of coaches still use defensive field-goal percentage to gauge the defense and a board ranking teams by that still hangs in the Cavs locker room. But Lue looks more at the 3-point percentage of opponents.
17. To that end, the Spurs shot 33 percent (6 of 18) and teams are shooting 34 percent from the 3-point line under Lue. That hasn’t changed. Opponents also shot 34 percent against the Cavs under Blatt. Lue is willing to live with teams taking pull-up jumpers if it means they’re not shooting 3s.
18. “Nowadays in this game the 3s hurt you, so we want to limit guys’ 3s,” he said. “And then we’ll live with the 2s with our rim protector, Timo, Tristan, those guys under the basket.”
19. James began the game wearing the wrong style shorts. The color was right, but the Cavs were in their throwback ‘70s that included paneling down the side of the legs. James’ shorts were the regular gold colored shorts.
20. Fans and reporters noticed right away, but James and Lue never did. It wasn’t until assistant equipment manager Mike Templin approached him during the first quarter did James realize the error. He just put on whatever shorts the team laid out for him at his locker prior to the game.
21. “Mike came and said, ‘I need your shorts.’ I was like, ‘What?’” James said. “And I realized when I looked at the side panels they wasn’t matching the jersey.”
22. Lue didn’t even know it until a reporter mentioned it to him after the game. Apparently he had better things to worry about like trying to beat the Spurs..
23. “He had on the wrong color shorts?” Lue asked. “I didn’t even see it. I didn’t even know it.”
24. This win should cool some of the venom toward the Cavs following the coaching change. This wasn’t an easy back-to-back. The Cavs already lost once at Detroit this season in overtime and the Spurs had won the last five games at the Q. Count these as two quality victories as they head out on a brief road trip this week. The first stop is Indiana, a place Irving has never won and where the Cavs have lost their last 10. Talk to you Monday from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.