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RCF Recap: Cavs buzz past Hornets

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  • The NBA schedule makers have drawn the ire of the Cavaliers organization of late, but they must be thanked for tonight. The Cavs welcomed in the NBA’s slump busters: the Charlotte Hornets. If there was ever a time the Cavs needed a home Charlotte game, it was tonight.
  • There’s no need to rehash last night but the Cavs were coming in a rough spot. They were on a three-game losing streak and got their manhood snatched in South Beach. If it was game 21, it may have not been as big as an issue. But it was game 71, and the playoffs inching are closer by the day, and so are the teams chasing the three seed.
  • So, the Cavs needed a get right game. Clear the bad energy and bring in the good. Too bad Ms. Cleo isn’t still around.
  • The ball and player movement were good early on. For as much flack as JB Bickerstaff gets, they do have some good half court sets. However, getting into them and going through them can often be sporadic throughout the game.
  • In a get back game, against one of the league’s best defenses, the starters were still a -1 in 13 minutes. They did post a 123 offensive rating, which is surprising given their spacing concerns. In limited time, the lineup has not been good.
  • Needless to say, the first quarter was a bit of a rough start. The Cavs were getting some quality looks but they just couldn’t convert. They were 9-24 from the field, and 2-14 from long distance. They were 0-2 on free throws to boot.
  • Here’s the one beef I had early with Darius Garland. As a point guard, you’re the captain of the ship. When the ship has gotten of course, it’s your job to course correct it. Sometimes, it can take too long, or it doesn’t happen. Case in point: The Cavs were 2-14 from 3P but 7-10 from the restricted area. There was a time where 8 of the Cavs 9 first quarter shots were missed threes. After a the fourth or fifth missed one, and the success they were having inside, don’t you think it should have been a time to course correct and try to get more paint touches? When we talk about the offensive lulls that occur too often, this was one of them.
  • Fortunately, the Hornets were not much better off. They too only managed 20 first quarter points. They matched the Cavs 37.5% from the field exactly.
  • The second unit is a bit lost offensively right now. If Sam Merrill isn’t hitting shots, they’ve had some tough minutes and don’t look like they know where to turn offensively. Ironically, the CRAIG!-LeVert-Merrill-Niang-Thompson lineup is a +40.7 net per 100 possessions in 74 possessions this year. So in the small sample size they’ve had, they’ve been dynamic.
  • At the 7-minute mark of the second quarter, the score was 25-24. Yes, the second quarter. Both teams thought 20 points was a high scoring first quarter so decided to slow things down further in the second.
  • The Cavs were 2-6 with two turnovers while the Hornets were 2-9 with one turnover in that first five minutes to start the second.
  • In the following three possessions, Marcus Morris Sr missed a mid-range shot, hit a three-point shot and then got ejected. Morris attempted to chuck the roller, being Nick Richards, but instead connected right in the throat. After review, it was ruled a flagrant foul two.
  • In the following seven minutes, the Cavs scored 24 points which was as many as they had the first 17 minutes. After going 2-16 to start from three-point range, the Cavs proceeded to go 6-7 from 3P and hit four straight threes. Tristan Thompson and Georges Niang said the basketball gods were looking down on them tonight, and they certainly gave them a little wink with this fourth quarter run.
  • The 30+ point second quarter was their first one in 12 quarters – that’s three games worth of quarters without doing so. That’s a slump.
  • Niang back to the bench helped spark their second quarter run. He was 3-3 from 3P. CRAIG! and Morris added in 5 to give the Cavs 14 bench points for the quarter.
  • Crazy but true: Tonight was the 26th straight game in which Niang’s final plus-minus mirrored the Cavs result. Niang finished a +19.
  • I said I got beef with Garland earlier in the recap, but I give Garland credit for tonight: The passes were much crisper, and the ball was moving much better. For instance, look at this. This looks like the Garland of old.
  • It spilled over into the team, as 18 of the 20 Cavs made field goals at half were assisted, and 41 of their 46 made field goals were assisted. That set a season record.
  • The NBA is a copycat league, and the Cavs are only going to see more pressure and more zone until they can beat it. Sure enough, the Hornets were periodically blitzing high pick-and-rolls and threw out some half court zone. After how well Miami’s pressure and zone worked, teams are going to use it until the Cavs prove they can beat it.
  • And right now, I’m not so sure they can. Especially the high pressure, and especially with Garland. The way you beat that high pressure is quick passes out of it. It allows you to play 4 on 3 more efficiently, so long as your roll man can make the right decision. Too often Garland tries to beat the pressure with the dribble which only plays into the defense and mitigates the Cavs advantage. It also allows the back line defense more time to rotate over to cover for the high pressure. If you pass out of the pressure quick enough, you can catch the defense in a bad spot rotating.
  • The Cavs are going to see plenty of this in the playoffs until they show they can beat it. Mobley and Allen are equally adept at being a roll-man playmaker. The question is can Garland get rid of it quick enough and can the Cavs shooters in the corners do enough damage to cause a change in defensive strategy. Thibs has historically dared those Cleveland role players to beat him, and Thibs has typically won.
  • Charlotte had 37 points at half time and shot 35.3% from the field. Part of me wants to credit the Cavs defense but the credit really goes to the Charlotte front office for clearing out this team at the trade deadline and filling the roster of castoffs. I’m sure Steve Clifford expected the second go round to go better than this.
  • If the second quarter was about the Cavs finding their range, the third quarter was about finding the paint. 10 of 12 FGM were 2P.
  • Mobley had five of those field goals, 11 third quarter points and eight straight at one point. There were like this that give you flashes of what he can be offensively. Not many bigs can take their guy off the dribble from the perimeter, initiate, take, and finish through contact, while maintain the footwork to do so. There were a few, aggressive moves by Mobley tonight that keep the hope of alive of what he can consistently reach one day.
  • Mobley also had a season-high eight assists which created 21 points. I’ll never stop saying the Cavs need to use Mobley and JA more as playmakers. It’s really their differentiating skill.
  • The Hornets were able to gain some ground in the third quarter with 29 third quarter points led by Brandon Miller. The Hornets may be devoid of talent but that is not the case with Miller. He really looks like the next upper echelon wing in the NBA once he finds his footing.
  • The Hornets were pushing to make it a game to start the fourth quarter only except like in years past, they didn’t have Terry Rozier to unleash their comeback – that already happened once this year.
  • The Hornets got it to 11 and it felt like it may be a tight game in the fourth but then the Cavs went on a 10-0 run to put any of those thoughts to rest. Merrill and Niang (one of his team high 5 3PM) put in threes and Garland got his game leading 10th assist in that span.
  • This put the Cavs up 19 points with five minutes left. The Hornets had 79 points; the Cavs were approaching 100. With this team and with the time left, the Hornets emptied their bench soon enough.
  • This was a fun way to end things.
  • CRAIG! had some of his best run in a while in the second half. He had a non-descript five-minute first half but had 7 points, 3 assists and was a +8 in nine second half minutes. Will this lead to a longer leash? We’ll see.
  • Caris LeVert with another stat line only Caris LeVert can achieve. 7 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 turnovers, 23 FG% and a +11.
  • Glad to see Isaac get his stroke back. It’s been tough sledding of late, but he was 3-7 from 3P tonight.
  • After not leading much of late, the Cavs led for 39+ minutes while the Hornets led for only 2. This game was never really in doubt as even with injuries, the Cavs are still no match for the Hornets.
  • With that said, this is the NBA, and anything can happen on any given night. Just like the Cavs were likely upset about being whipped by the Heat, the Hornets will likely feel the same way come Wednesday when the two teams meet again. The Cavs can’t expect a similar result and must be mentally tough to still play up their standards.
  • Up next: Wednesday in Charlotte for a 7:00PM (ET) game.

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