I stood watching Mike D’Antoni’s pregame press conference and walked away before the game literally feeling sorry for the guy. About an hour later, I finally asked myself why it was I cared exactly? I suppose I don’t. But if I did care, I later decided, if I was related to the guy, delivered him newspapers as a kid, or had some remote rooting interesting in his team’s success, I’d feel bad for him as an NBA Coach because he doesn’t have anybody on his team like Anderson Varejao. Nobody even close. For all the high profile stardom that Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony combine to possess, even in today’s NBA, you can’t go out on given nights and fake heart, you can’t fake pride, you can’t fake that will and sheer desire to win, and you can’t fake the overwhelming belief in your teammates that elevates the play of everybody else around you.
Anderson Varejao was all those things the Knicks weren’t on Wednesday night, because he is all those things. He is all those things these Knicks can’t fake. All of the things that Carmelo Anthony wasn’t on Wednesday and hasn’t been this season, as he followed a 1-point game on Tuesday by shooting 5 for 14 in Cleveland, Anderson was. It was Anderson Varejao that listened as Melo bark at him all the way down the floor following the technical foul on Tyson Chandler late, and it was the same frizzy haired Brazilian who responded by dunking on Anthony two possessions later. The same guy we call Andy who finished with game high’s in rebounds (16), steals (4), and blocked shots (2), as indication of that pride, hustle, and overall toughness, to go along with his 10 points and 4 assists. Same guy who completely willed these Cavaliers to victory on Wednesday night because he believed in his teammates a thousand times more than those guys believed in D’Antoni’s Knicks.
I’m tempted to write that many words in about Anderson Varejao specifically right now too. He went out and grabbed 8 offensive rebounds on the game, a chance for 16 additional points, and the Cavaliers won by 10. He shot fifty percent from the field, and did his damage on both ends of the floor against a front-line that reads on paper Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carmelo Anthony. He made things difficult for all those guys at different stretches in the game too defensively, whether playing in a one-on-one situation, or being in the right position to help under the basket. It took Stoudemire 19 shots to score 19 points, Carmelo scored 15 points on 14 shots, and Chandler stayed at a manageable 11-point number as well. Which was maybe why, during his post-game presser (video below), D’Antoni had his eyes closed for approximately one minute dreaming about just how awesome it would be to coach Anderson Varejao. Or maybe that was a minute long blink, I still haven’t decided.
While it was Anderson Varejao who assumed that ultimate role of leading veteran to help the Cavaliers get back in the win column, I also have to give some credit to Antawn Jamison too. It’s only fair. It did take him 15 shots to get to 15 points, and on one hand I did kinda knock Stoudemire’s performance for that same thing, but regardless, a couple of the shots that Antawn did hit were big. His team won too, Stoudemire’s didn’t. Which is all these Cavaliers seem to ever do when New York shows up on the schedule. Omri Casspi seemed on his way to 20+ point performance too on Wednesday, as he was big in the opening the quarter with 9 points, and that’s another positive as well for this young team. He would’ve finished with more than the 13 points he did score too if he hadn’t been forced to the locker room with a cut that required stitches in his chin during the 3rd quarter. He returned to the bench, could’ve played, but by that time it was almost a route as the Cavaliers lead stayed around double digits for the rest of the fourth. Omri tweeted after the game that “it was a great team win” on Wednesday, and he was right about that.
Kyrie Irving didn’t shoot it particularly well, but he had a game high 7 assists. Ryan Hollins was a perfect 4-4 from the floor for 9 points, and he didn’t even need to grab one rebound for his 11 minutes of action to qualify as solid. I have some video below on Hollins, the lighting is kinda bad and it sort of looks like Ryan is in the shadows, but I decided that it was a feature that did well to add to his mystique and aura. Plus I had no idea how to fix that. Samardo Samuels came in and bulled his way through 18 minutes of toughness and physical up in your face defense as well on Wednesday, and he continued to be a consistent reason why the Knicks always lose to the Cavaliers. Samardo finished with 6 points and 6 rebounds in just under 18 minutes, and I’m glad to see him back in the rotation. Team’s need guys coming off their bench like Samardo, and he made an impact once again. As did Alonzo Gee, who finished with 8 while having his own dunk contest late as the Knicks limped off the floor, along with Daniel Gibson who hit a couple big shots to finish with 7.
Five paragraphs in is probably too late to credit the guy I spent all yesterday morning critiquing too by the way. Byron Scott’s defensive rotations were nearly perfect. The Cavaliers were closing out on those guys like Stoudemire and Melo everywhere they went, and Byron’s team was up into guys defensively all night, making things difficult for the Knicks with every step. As a team, the Cavaliers combined to hold a Mike D’Antoni offense *designed* to score 120 points to 81, but more importantly Byron’s team responded to his pregame message of locking in on defense.
I also thought it was cool when I noticed Byron Scott talking directly to Kyrie Irving, who nobody else really noticed standing across the hall from Byron’s press conference before the game, when Scott joked in response to a reporter’s question about turnovers that he “was going to make the Cavs run two suicides for every turnover tonight.” He was making direct eye contact with his young rookie when he said that, and Kyrie smiled while nodding his head to say he understood. He finished with only two turnovers as compared to those seven dimes in 30 minutes on Wednesday, and his team finished with 4 less turnovers than the Knicks did too. So while 18 TO’s isn’t perfect, it was still good enough to win.
Kris Humphries and the New Jersey Nets will be in town on Friday. The Cavaliers will look to beat them again and improve on their 7-10 record. More later.