In the last game of their 5 game Western Conference road swing the Cleveland Cavaliers took on the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets entered the game with a 20-18 record, out of the playoff seeding in the West but would be good enough for 3rd in the East. The Nuggets were coming off winning 6 of their last 7 while the Cavs were coming off a tough defeat to the Portland Trailblazers. The Cavaliers dominated the second quarter, and while the Nuggets had spurts, including a number of times cutting the Cavs lead to 3, the Cavaliers were able to hold off this solid, streaking Western Conference team. A few takeaways:
The Cavaliers have been a guard oriented team since the arrival of Kyrie Irving. Friday night was a good example of this. The foursome of Irving, CJ Miles, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack combined to score 64 of the Cavs 117 points. This group also combined for a +/- ratio of +30 with only Jack putting up a negative at -1. Irving paced the group with 6 of their 11 assists, getting his teammates involved while scoring a team high 23. The 4Guard, trying something out there, also combined for 12 rebounds, key from the guard spots.
Thompson was humming along with a perfect shooting night through the first half. He finished 8-9 from the floor, 4-6 from the free throw line and added 10 rebounds. While Thompson may never be an overwhelming inside player, his development as a all around player continues to be impressive. He will have up and down games with his shot, and his confidence, but that is natural with the big switch in shooting hands.
Varejao took 5 shots on the night yet still greatly impacted the game. Andy looked to get his teammates involved while also, as always, hustled for every loose ball and rebound. He ended up with 16 rebounds but also had 7 assists. His high post passing allows the guards to play off of him and spaces the floor for drives. It also encourages teammates to move knowing he will look for them and not his own shot.
Late Game Execution
In the last 6 minutes or so, except for 1 Thompson shot, only 3 players attempted shots in the flow of the offense: Irving, Varejao and Luol Deng. The team seemed to have a plan offensively to close out the game which led to shots in rhythm for the 2 most veteran players and the teams best offensive threat, Irving. The closing 5 included Thompson and CJ Miles but those 2 were content with setting screens (Thompson) and spreading the floor with the threat of 3 point shooting (Miles). Playing together as a team has not been this teams’ strong suit, but last night’s late game execution was fun to watch.
Deng’s impact in the box score has been obvious (18 points including 6-7 from the free throw line last night) but its his leadership and floor presence that has brought the team together. This was never more obvious then coming out of a timeout with about 40 seconds left Deng gathered his teammates to himself to go over their plan and make sure they were together. Deng is a known winner. He is starting to lead the team with his actions as well as his words. Something sorely lacking in the young squad.
In the thin Denver air the Cavs seemed to be in good shape. Even the Cavaliers broadcast team noted how Deng, Thompson and Varejao never seem to get tired or to suck air. Instead their conditioning can seem intimidating to the other team, “Do they ever stop? Ever get tired?” Conditioning is often a issue of will and desire. Those 3 players lead by example in this regard and give the Cavs the ability to play big minutes to their starting 3, 4 and 5 men.
Winning Road Trip
This was the Cavs first winning road trip in 4 years. To go 3-2 with some tough games is impressive. To be competitive with the Trailblazers in their building, especially after getting trounced by the not so great Sacramento Kings showed development. The Cavs how now won 4 of 6 and are coming together as a team following the Deng trade.
The Cavaliers are now only a game and a half out of the last spot in the East. While the East is weak this year, the goal from the start has been to make the playoffs and the Cavs are trending in the right direction. The Cavs still have many assets to possibly add to the team or can sit tight as the team acclimates to Deng and see how far they can go together as a team.
Dion Waiters’ dunk attempt was blocked with 2 hands. Click here to see the amazing GIF.