It’s a new/old team for LeBron James, but he still faces the same problems he had recently against the San Antonio Spurs, which includes crucial late turnovers, trouble with being guarded by Kawhi Leonard and more as the Cleveland Cavaliers lose 92-90 to the San Antonio Spurs, riding a very strong game from Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw.
With the Spurs leading by two points and 8.4 seconds left on the clock after Manu Ginobili missed a free throw, James had an opportunity to try and tie or win the game, but as he made his way up the court, switching handles from right to left turned out badly for him, and the pressure from Ginobili resulted in a foolish turnover that enabled the Spurs to hang on to the ball for a few more seconds and win the game.
That wasn’t the only avoidable turnover for the Cavs in the final minutes. With the Spurs up by one points (88-87), a pick and roll attempt between James and Anderson Varejao went bad. A bad pass from Varejao forced James to try and tip the ball out of Leonard’s reach, resulting in the ball going out of bounds, and the Spurs punishing the Cavaliers on the next possession. In a game with both offenses struggling to find offensive rhythm, it was one or two more turnovers by the Cavs compared to the Spurs that decided the final result.
It was a solid game for Tim Duncan with 19 points, starting next to Boris Diaw who also had 19. Diaw finished with 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals, while Leonard did an excellent job on James again, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, adding four assists and four steals. He held James to 3-of-11 from the field when guarding him, including 0-for-3 from the field in the second half. James was forced to take shots from an average distance of 13.4 feet when guarded by Leonard, compared to 6.8 when others were guarding him.
Overall, it was a rough night for James and the Cavaliers shooting, hitting 44.6% of their shots. James finished with 15 points on 6-of-17 from the field, making up for it with 6 rebounds and 9 assists, as his ability to make things happen on the half court offense came through most of the time. The Cavaliers were limited to 17 points on transition, 7 points below their season average, and were contested in their jump shots 61% of the time compared to contesting just 16% of the Spurs’ jump shots.
Kyrie Irving had the ability to change things up a bit with 20 points and Anderson Varejao enjoyed a nice combination with James, scoring 20 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Kevin Love continues to struggle, and when the ball doesn’t move, his shot suffers more than anyone’s. He was only 4-of-12 from the field, grabbing 12 rebounds and adding five assists. Out of everyone on this Cavs team, Love has the most to improve on and find his space.
At 5-5, James speaking about the team needing time sounds about right, but one has to wonder if they’re not selling themselves short and giving themselves and easier time than they deserve. Maybe it says something about how much David Blatt has more to learn about being an NBA coach, as opposed to everything he has done in Europe over the previous two decades. This is an acceptable loss, but avoidable if the offense would have been a bit more fluid.
The Spurs seem to raise and lower their effort and intensity level accordingly. This wasn’t the flowing, close-to-perfect basketball we saw from them in the Finals five months ago. This was a gritty, maybe even more satisfying win, achieved mostly by defensive discipline and excellence. While the offense learns again to play in the same kind of deadliness, knowing they can come out of these kind of slow, physical battles victorious is a great way to move forward.