If there was one thing the Cleveland Cavaliers were waiting for to happen it was Kevin Love finally going out of his way and having a big game. In a 109-97 win over the injury-ravaged Indiana Pacers, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving took a backseat to the third angle of the Big Three’s shooting, while David Blatt was mostly impressed with his defense.
Love scored 28 points, including 16 coming in the first quarter on 9-of-13 from the field to go with 10 rebounds, one of three players on the Cavs to finish with a double double. Love did hit 2-of-3 from beyond the arc but played a lot closer to the rim, making things very difficult for David West who finished with five personal fouls. Love went to the line nine times, something that’s rarely happened to him this season, making eight of those shots.
Kyrie Irving followed Love’s lead but was a bit more dominant in the closing stages, scoring 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. LeBron James took something of a backseat approach while his two All-Star teammates did most of the work, finishing with 19 points and 7 assists in a calm performance from him, doing just what his team needed him to be. When they need him to stand around outside and orchestrate things, it usually means it’s going well.
The Pacers are actually quite surprising at 7-10, continuing to play tough, persistent and almost stubborn basketball despite all the injuries holding them back, including Roy Hibbert who has missed four games in a row. They managed to make some sort of comeback in the second quarter as the Cavaliers typically began squandering away a very good start, but without Hibbert it’s a lot easier spreading the Pacers’ defense out and wide, creating a lot of easy chances for points close to the rim.
The Cavaliers shot 52.6% from the field and finished with 48 points in the paint. They looked a bit looser and quicker, maybe due to the fact that Anderson Varejao wasn’t playing and Tristan Thompson got his first chance to start at center. Thompson finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, getting 39 minutes on the floor, more than in any other game he’s played in all season long. The Cavaliers might stick to that approach of letting him start instead of Varejao, something they contemplated before the season began.
It’s not a competition between the Cavaliers’ big three, but just like in his Miami days, if LeBron James can afford to not force himself offensively on the game and mostly leave the scoring up to other players while he uses his vision and passing ability to dictate things from a bit further back, it’s probably for the best. Obviously, he’s still the more talented of the three when it comes to scoring as well, but he’s also the best passer and facilitator of the bench.
Defensively, it was a good performance from the Cavaliers, limiting the Pacers to under 40% from the field and getting a lot of easy points through transition and half court offense. But it’s good to remember that their recent winning streak has been mostly about relaxing at home, not to mention playing against a torn up Pacers team. It’s nice to find the sliver lining in everything, but getting over excited about wins they should come across anyway could lead to some disappointments further along the way.