Hope is a funny thing. Just when it starts to get ripped away, a single moment can bring it back. On Tuesday night, a loss to the Raptors seemed to steal all hope from Cleveland Cavaliers fans. Not only was it the third loss in a row for a team fighting just to get into the playoff conversation, it was also an exhausting night on the first half of a back-to-back. Luol Deng played 40 minutes. Kyrie Irving played over 45 minutes, while resting for less than one minute! That many minutes on the night before a road game in Oklahoma City?
Some may look at the above numbers and throw blame at Mike Brown for his minute distribution; but with the absences of Dion Waiters (hyperextended left knee) and C.J. Miles (sprained left ankle), Brown had few options left.
Wednesday night felt the same…hopeless. Although the Cavaliers kept it close all night, it always felt like OKC would eventually land a series of punches to knock Cleveland out. That is what we expect from championship caliber teams. Shockingly, it was the Cavaliers that won the slugfest, pouring in 42 points in the decisive fourth quarter.
Irving, once again, showed his superstar abilities. He picked apart the OKC defense, choosing perfectly when to attack the basket, when to shoot, and when to drop a beautiful pass. What made it all the more amazing was the ease with which he seemed to do it. Kyrie simply decided to take over the game…and no one was able to stop him.
Other than Kyrie, one player in particular stood out for Cleveland: Spencer Hawes. His stats don’t jump out at you: 19 points (on 18 shots), seven rebounds, one assist, and he was the only member of the Cavaliers who was a minus on the night. He didn’t provide as much secondary scoring as Jarrett Jack, or the rebounding and defense of Tristan Thompson, and yet he had a significant impact on the victory.
In 32 minutes of action, Cavs fans were able to see the impact that a passing big man can have on a game. The ball movement for the team as a whole was generally well done, with Spencer being a starting point for all of it. For this reason, Kyrie was able to play off ball more, which forced OKC into a variety of switches and doubles that generally wouldn’t have been there.
Couple all of this with the downfall of the Atlanta Hawks (losers in 10 of their last 11 and missing their starting frontcourt of Al Horford and Paul Millsap due to injury) and the Cavaliers actually feel relevant. If Kyrie can continue to play like a superstar, the rotation contributes, and the Cavs start to get healthy, then suddenly hope seems restored…at least after one night in Oklahoma City.