It only took until the first week of December, with about one-fifth of the season already past, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have finally put together back-to-back wins for the first time all season. Both wins came in Cleveland, and the team will have to win in Atlanta tonight to keep the streak alive, which they may struggle with given they’ve only managed one win in ten road games. Still, these two wins came against impressive teams; the Bulls have teetered around .500 despite Derrick Rose‘s injury, and the Nuggets had won seven straight games before falling in Cleveland.
So what was they key to the Cavs’ success in these games? The answer is quite simple: the Cleveland Cavaliers frontcourt. Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao, and Tristan Thompson all had their best games of the season during the win streak. Coming into these two games, the Cavs’ biggest issue had been their lack of coherence on offense (although that’s not to say they have played stellar on defense, because they haven’t). But against the Bulls and Nuggets, the success of the frontcourt led to a more dynamic Cavaliers’ offense.
On Saturday against the Bulls, Bynum finally had his breakout performance. He scored a season high 20 points, played a season high 30 minutes, blocked five shots (another season high), and grabbed ten rebounds, marking the first time all year he reached double digit rebounds. After doubts of whether he’d ever be near the player he used to be, Bynum showed that he still has the explosiveness that made him a dominant force with the Los Angeles Lakers.
His per game stats right now seem pretty pedestrian: 7.9 points per game (PPG), 4.4 rebounds per game (RPG), and 1.4 blocks per game (BPG). However, his Per 36 Minutes stats are better and right around his career averages: 15.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.7 BPG. These stats are important, because they show that if Bynum can play even just 30 minutes, like he did against the Bulls, then the Cavs have a reliable offensive weapon to complement Kyrie Irving.
Bynum followed up his dominance against the Bulls with another solid output against the Nuggets. He posted 14 points and seven rebounds, but this time around, his fellow big men outshined him. Coming off the bench, Varejao dropped a season high 18 points, collected 13 rebounds, and blocked three shots. Thompson also had a monster game with 17 points and
84 21 rebounds. Neither of the two have been have been especially productive this year; Varejao has a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 17.33 and Thompson is below average at 14.13, so the Cavaliers will need these two to build on this game. Similar to Bynum, their success creates more opportunities for the Cavs offensively. Getting them the ball down on the post will free up shooters, and give Irving more freedom when running the offense.
The big men’s success created immediate impact for the Cavs’ guards. Against the Bulls, Dion Waiters went 8-10 from the field to contribute 20 points, while Irving scored a game high 23 points against the Nuggets on 45% shooting. The play of Bynum, Varejao, and Thompson will decide how the Cavaliers play the rest of the year. They won’t muster together a playoff run; they can’t rely on Irving to do it all and only shoot just over 40% from the field. These games could just be an anomaly, or they may actually indicate an improving offense. After such a rough start, any positive sign for the Cavs is worth cheering.