Naturally, David Blatt isn’t happy with his team’s defense, but the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by a triple double from LeBron James and big nights for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are finally building a winning streak, beating the New Orleans Pelicans 118-111 and possibly finding the rhythm and ability they were expected to play with when this whole ambitious project was put together.
James notched his 38th career triple double, finishing with 38 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He was helped out by Kyrie Irving with 32 points himself and Kevin Love scoring 22, finally going on a good shooting night with 7-of-13 from the field, including six 3-pointers. The Pelicans had Anthony Davis with 27 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks with his usual impressive stat line and also 32 points from Ryan Anderson off the bench. However, other key players like Eric Gordon and especially Tyreke Evans were sorely disappointing.
The Cavaliers entered the half behind by five points, but put on an incredible individual display in the second half, as the James-Irving-Love triangle combined to score 61 of the 67 points Cleveland had in the second half. They shot an impressive 19-of-29 from the field compared to 3-of-14 by the rest of the squad, 8-of-11 from beyond the arc and 15-of-18 from the line. They always say the key to winning is having the role players stand out, but when your top three guys combine to score 86 points, you can live with a weak night from the rest of the guys.
The Cavaliers are without Dion Waiters, not playing because of back problems. They’re playing with a huge lineup that has only one guard in it, Kyrie Irving. Shawn Marion and LeBron James are two small forwards who can play as power forwards as well, Kevin Love is a power forward that can play as center and Verjao is a center. It’s possibly to play around that by putting Tristan Thompson in the lineup or use Mike Miller as a shooting guard, but without Waiters, the Cavaliers hardly have anyone respectable to fill in the backcourt off the bench.
All the talk of struggling to move the ball and find open shots has disappeared. James was at his point-forward best and Irving, despite a few dazzling one-on-ones in the face of Jrue Holiday to get the home fans going, finished with nine assists as well, as the Cavaliers are back at .500 following two consecutive wins. They did well to keep the ball, turning it over only nine times. Blatt might not have been happy with his team’s defense, but the Pelicans, with Davis and Asik beneath the basket, where terrible when it came to protecting the rim or covering the long range option.
Of James’ 38 triple doubles, 19 have come with him scoring more than 30 points. No one else is even remotely close, with 8 other players have two such triple doubles during the time-spanI since James began his NBA career in 2003. It was James’ first triple double since March of last season in a win over Detroit. LeBron’s teams have won the last five games in which he has achieved a triple double, and overall his teams have gone 29-9 when James does so much on the floor.
Are these the ‘real’ Cavaliers? Hard to say. It’s more likely that we are going to see more and more of this trio looking unstoppable, combined with nights of frustrating offense and defense, especially when playing on the road. If anyone is expecting this kind of output each night they’re in for a surprise. Both James and Blatt don’t want this to be the reality all the time. It’s nice when it happens, but it’d be nicer if they didn’t have to rely on the stars doing so much each and every time.