Score: Cavaliers 99, Jazz 79
Games Out: 3.5
What We Learned In The Win Over the Jazz: The Cavs Playoff Hopes Just Might Be Realistic
It's been a crazy season, but they still might be able to pull it off.
IRVING DID EVERYTHING LAST NIGHT. I MEAN EVERYTHING.
(Layne Murdoch NBAE/Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving had his first triple double of his career last night, one fuled by sharp passing that got his teammates involved early, shooting that kept them ahead during a critical period in the final quarter, and a surprising rebouding effort that was part of the Cavaliers domination of the boards throughout the game.
It is a candidate for the greatest game of Irving's young career and it came in a game where the Cavs were desperately shorthanded, with Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles still out. But more than that, this win kept the Cavaliers closer to the playoff's on March 1st than they have been since 2010. While they face a difficult schedule in March, the Cavaliers are right there, just 3.5 games behind the 8th seed Atlanta Hawks. The Atlanta Hawks have struggled, winning just one of their last ten games, and presenting the Cavs with an opportunity.
As crazy as it seems, there's real reasons for optimism. Last night was one of the first games that seemed as though Luol Deng, who came to Cleveland on January 7th, really seemed to be fitting into the offense on the court, finding passes on cuts and slicing to the basket, rotating off the ball, and making defensive plays. Deng isn't flashy, he's not doing it with highlight reel dunks or behind the back passes and his effort doesn't show up in stats, but he's smart and he's got a seven foot long wingspan that he knows how to use effecively on a basketball court.
Likewise, Spencer Hawes has done more for the Cavaliers in about a week than Andrew Bynum did in the 24 games he played for the team. Hawes has done exactly what the Cavaliers expected on offense, making 47.4% of his three point attempts in a Cavalier uniform. What Hawes brought last night as a starting center, making 6 of 12 attempts from the floor and 1 of 2 attempts from three, is amplified many times over when he captures 16 rebounds and plays defense within the Cavaliers system.
The Jazz aren't a particularly good team. In fact, they may be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. But the Cavaliers were shorthanded. Dion Waiters remained sidelined since dunking so hard he hyperextended his left knee against the Sixers two weeks ago. Anderson Varejao has been out since being banged around inside by the Memphis Grizzlies three weeks ago. C.J. Miles has a sprained left ankle. Even rookie Anthony Bennett was out with soreness in his left knee.
Still, even without Varejao, one of the greatest rebouders in Cavaliers history, the Cavaliers dominated the Jazz in rebouding 56 rebounds to 31 behind Irving, Hawes, and Tristan Thompson, who's penchant for double doubles has resulted in 30 this season and been another true marker of Cavalier progress. In addition, even without Waiters, the Cavaliers best scorer of the bench, the reserves managed 26 points in beating the Jazz.
And it is in this subterfuge, with constantly moving parts and an uncertain gravity to expectations, where Kyrie Irving, playing more minutes than ever, and the Mike Brown defensive principles won two games in a row, backed by exactly the right blend of consistency from Deng, shooting and suprising rebouding and defense from Hawes. This is where Kyrie Irving can help the Cavaliers become an improbable playoff team.
If he does it, his effort will be bolstered by the return of Dion Waiters, who again looked good warming up before the game against the Jazz, but also did not make the road trip to Memphis for tonight's contest. He will benefit from the offensive firepower of C.J. Miles outside shooting.
But most of all, he will go to a place he has never been before. Partly due to a lockout that delayed his rookie season and partly due to injuries, Irving has never played more than 59 games in a NBA season. The game agains the Jazz this season was Irving's 57th of the year. He will play his 58th game tonight and then his 59th game Wednesday at home against the San Antonio Spurs.
And beyond that… well Kyrie Irving has never been beyond that. But last night he looked like he can and will.
IRRESPONSIBLE PEOPLE ARE ENCOURAGING OTHER PEOPLE TO RUN ON THE COURT IN CLEVELAND
DON'T LET THIS BE YOU
Local and national media made an individual who ran onto the court last season into a celebrity. Now, they shouldn't be allowed to distance themselves from the fact that it's become an ongoing problem, and now someone has been hurt.
As Irving was headed for his first triple double and for the Cavs, he was met just at the top of the key by a fan, who sprinted out to Irving, appeared to reach out to shake hands or hold Irving hands, said something to Irving, and was promptly tackled by a Cleveland Police Officer followed by a Quicken Loans Arena security person.
According to one report, this fan knocked down an older woman who was disabled and who was working for the Arena as a food service worker. The woman who was knocked down, according to one report, was hospitalized.
This is the third time someone has run out onto the court at a Cavaliers game within the last year. The first time was in March of 2013, when a fan wearing a "We Miss You" shirt to a Miami Heat game ran onto the court to talk to former Cavalier Lebron James.
That fan of Lebron James was immediately identified by local and national media. The story of his rabid fandom of James became a national sensation. An offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns immediately offered and reportedly did pay his fine for tresspassing onto the court during the game.
Reportedly, James himself called the fan "brave" to the media and began following the fan on Twitter. Some reports stated that James invited him to the Heat's championship party after the 2013 NBA Finals. It wasn't only local media that made this fan a celebrity, it was ESPN itself, who ran a full page peice in ESPN Magazine on him, including an over the top picture of the fan with his arms raised, celebrating the Miami Heat's success.
CLEVELAND FANS ARE AWESOME AND SHOULDN'T BE REPRESENTED BY RUBES.
(David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)
This continued into this season. Before a Cavaliers game against the Heat this season, a group of fans who supported James outside the Arena before the game included and were in part led by the same fan who had run onto the court. Sure enough, a local reporter for a popular media outlet writing an article about the group lent even more publicity to the fan that had run onto the court, referring to him by name and calling the decision to run onto the court "brazen".
No one who participated in the publicity that this fan running onto the court should be immune from criticism for not just condoning but encouraging it to happen again, twice now. It doesn't erase the problem to simply call the guy who ran out there last night an idiot. It doesn't erase the problem to put the blame on arena personel, who can only do so much short of putting up a cage around the court.
It's hard to say how this ends, and it's nice to see that the reactions to the last two fans who ran out onto the court in Cleveland, which seemed a lot less celebratory than the one in March 2013. But if you want to know, really want to know why this is happening, well the real answer might not be so comfortable to consider.