The Cleveland Cavaliers, with two full days of rest of in their legs, beat a Clipper team playing on the second night of a back-to-back.
What's that? Come again? I had that backwards? Then why did the Clippers look like the tired team?
The Cavs, having presumably flown into Cleveland from Brooklyn and a different time zone sometime in the wee hours of the night, outclassed the Clippers for most of the final three quarters, winning 115-102. I don't know when the Clippers flew in, but I would hope that it was earlier than their hosts, seeing as their last game was on Monday.
To be fair, there were moments during this game when the score indicated that the Clippers were closer to the Cavs than their actual play did. The lion's share of credit for those occurrences should go to Chris Paul, who had a superstar game. He scared Cleveland Head Coach David Blatt into some twisting rotation machinations to keep Kyrie Irving away from the nightmare duty of guarding an inspired Paul. Paul scored 30 points and added 9 assists and 3 steals.
Overall, though, the Clippers had few answers for an unselfish and multifaceted Cavalier attack. Do you like offensive diversity? LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Irving scored 22, 22, and 21 points, respectively. Kevin Love added 18 and 16 rebounds. LeBron worked to involve his teammates from the start, dishing 12 assists without a turnover, with a few more uncounted hockey assists to boot. It would have been educational to watch Luc Richard Mbah a Moute work against LeBron one-on-one, but the Cavs' star rarely gave the Clipper stopper an opportunity, looking to facilitate more often than score.
It was the opposite of the Clippers' offensive approach, which sorely missed Blake Griffin's added playmaking. Paul shined, but asking a 6-foot guard to carry the entire playmaking load while checking one of the league's most explosive scorers at the other end is asking too much. It's especially asking too much against a stout and swarming defense that was reminiscent of the one that ground its way to the Finals last season. Paul Pierce and Mbah a Moute are savvy cutters, but too many possessions fizzled as the Cavs were able to focus their defensive efforts solely on the Clipper backcourt.
JJ Redick did his best to keep the offense moving, but cooled from supernova to ordinary star, and actually had the occasional shot altered by a J.R. Smith that played admirable and uncharacteristic defense. Redick scored 17 but converted only 2 of his 6 three-point attempts.
Jamal Crawford was effective in 27 minutes, scoring 16 on 67% shooting, and was a major reason why the Clippers' starter-to-bench point differential wasn't as pronounced as usual. Four Clipper starters finished minus double-digits for the game, while three reserves (although we really shouldn't count C.J. Wilcox in his 3 garbage-time minutes), including Lance Stephenson in a surprising and encouraging fourth quarter appearance, finished in the black.
Cleveland was just too much for the Clippers on this night. The Cavs converted 46.4% of their three-pointers, assisted on 29 of their 42 field goals, and tallied 14 offensive boards and 42 points in the paint. After a slow start, they sharpened up and overwhelmed a Clipper team that now has to up its execution to keep pace with a stiffening schedule.
Both teams entered the game with questions about how they could match up against the rest of the league's best. For tonight, at least, it was the Cavaliers who provided the more confident answers.
- The Clippers rallied in both the third and fourth quarters, but each rally was snuffed out by David Blatt's judicious use of the hack-a-DJ. DeAndre made just 6 of 15 free throw attempts. The third quarter hacking, coming with around 3 minutes remaining, was particularly helpful. With no actual offense to run, Doc pulled Chris Paul to get some extra rest. Blatt countered by putting Kyrie back in the game, knowing that the young point guard could concentrate solely on offense. Doc tried to substitute Cole Aldrich for DeAndre, but couldn't get a clock stoppage and opted not to use one of his remaining timeouts. During this stretch, the Cavs stretched their lead from 10 to 16.
- Chris Paul hit DeAndre for an alley-oop slam on the opening possession, and Timofey Mozgov seemed to learn his lesson. He used his size and some smart positioning to prevent several later lob attempts.
- Doghouse watch: Josh Smith was the only active Clipper not to play tonight.