Cavaliers sprint, stumble, and recover to best Sixers behind the Cavalier veterans

We all knew the Cavaliers weren’t going to be able to match the intensity from that opening night victory over the Celtics each night during the season. That’s why tonight’s win is so crucial, the first win of the rest of the season. The Cavaliers sprinted out to a 23-6 advantage, started to give it back at the end of the half, gave the rest back in a hideous third quarter, and then picked themselves up with inspired performances from the two longest tenured Cavaliers, Anderson Varejao and Daniel “Booby” Gibson.

Cleveland Cavaliers beat Philadelphia 76ers, 123-116

Photo Credit: Wire Services / The Plain Dealer

In the early going, we saw what Byron Scott envisions with this offense. Multiple players scoring, constant movement, keeping the defense on their toes, and the wine and gold shooting high percentage shots. Ten players saw action in the first half and all of them scored. Most notably, we had a Joey Graham sighting in meaningful minutes, and he responded with a 10 point performance in 15 minutes. I’ve wondered why Graham hasn’t seen action in games with physical wings, because though I like Parker and Moon’s defense, Graham could be the most physical wing defender on the team. Also, I have not been impressed with the effort of Jawad Williams in the early part of this season. He’s one dimensional because he doesn’t defend, rebound, or pass well. Then, you have plays like tonight where he looks lost in the offense and was directly responsible for at least two fourth quarter turnovers. Count me in for more Graham and less Hot Wad moving forward.

Near the end of the first half, we saw what is going to give the Cavaliers problems all season. It seemed like the Cavaliers run their offense early, find success, get complacent, then start taking too many jumpers and turning the ball over with lazy passes. Before you knew it, the Cavalier lead, which had been double digits for nearly the entire half, was down to eight at the break. This was largely due to post entries that yielded points from Andre Iguodala, who left the game at the half with an Achilles’ injury, and Elton Brand, who looked like the Brand of five years ago with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

I just don’t know what the deal is with these third quarters! The Cavaliers looked like they were ready to pack it up and head to the nation’s capital about midway through the third. Second-year point Jrue Holiday put on a clinic against anyone the Cavaliers threw at him, and Elton Brand continued to pound away on the block. Just like that, the Cavaliers were down eight and headed for utter disaster. I’d have to say the most frustrating thing to me was not Holiday or Brand’s success, but Tony Battie (what is he, 40?) snatching offensive rebounds and hitting mid-range jumpers. Things just didn’t look good for the Cavs.

That is, until Booby Gibson stepped up to the plate in a huge way. Down 100-93, Gibson scored the next ten points for Cleveland as they took the lead at 103-102 with three and a half minutes left. Seventeen of Daniel’s 22 points came in the final quarter, and he mixed it up with a balance of outside shots, mid-range floaters, and hustle plays inside. The small backcourt with Sessions and Booby then Mo and Booby was successful late in the contest, despite their defensive disadvantages. Mo Gotti’s effort deserves consideration as well. He was the catalyst for the fast start, but his biggest play may have been his strip of Andres Nocioni that led to a transition hoop for Varejao with Mo assisting on the play.

Speaking of Andy, he had his best night of the year thus far. Posting a 23-point, 12-rebound effort, Varejao was everywhere on both ends when it looked like the rest of the team was a tad disinterested. The best play of the night hands down was Andy’s thunderous windmill reverse dunk out of the timeout on a beautifully executed play that extended the lead from one to three with 2:25 to play. Varejao was a stellar 10-for-10 from the field in tonight’s game, and that was with several jumpers mixed in. I was a little concerned with Andy’s lack of scoring thus far, but he showed tonight that his pesky, layup-laden game is still present.

Watching these first five games, it’s clear that there is a certain way the Cavaliers have to operate. That’s running their offense with constant movement, multiple scoring threats, gritty if not lockdown defense, and persistent effort. There’s nobody on this squad who is going to carry a team throughout an entire game. But, tonight as evidence, there are guys like Booby who can carry your team for an entire quarter. You may have nights where this team has four guys carry them through four different quarters. This team may be at its best when ten guys score, six guys score in double figures, and nobody has more than 18. That means the ball’s moving non-stop, and multiple guys are hitting their shots.

My final thought is that I know a lot of people dismiss GM Chris Grant’s comments about a winning culture being already established, but it has some validity. Guys like Gibson and Varejao only know about winning and winning as a Cavalier. Their pride and work ethic will not allow this team to sink into mediocrity without a fight. That’s why I see those guys along with Mo as the leaders of this team, potentially into the future as well. Was tonight perfect? Heck no, but it’s a win, and there’s plenty of good to take away from it.

The Cavaliers are right back at it tomorrow night against John Wall, Gilbert Arenas, and the Washington Wizards.

All for one. One for all.