Score: Grizzlies 110, Cavaliers 96
Games back: 3.5
What We Learned In The Loss To the Grizz: The Cavs need to learn how to close out games on the road.
With 4 minutes left in this game, the Cavaliers were only down by one point.
CATFISH ON THE TABLE AND GOSPEL IN THE AIR
(Joe Murphy, NBAE Getty Images)
Tristan Thompson has been scorching hot from the floor lately, and Kyrie Irving was coming off his first triple double Friday night. If the first thing you found out about Saturday’s game in Memphis was that Thompson and Irving combined for 19-29 from the floor and the second thing was that the Cavaliers scored 65 points in the first half you’d feel pretty good making a big wager that they pulled off their third win in a row.
The last game against the Grizzlies was a slobberknocker under the rim that the Cavaliers won in overtime after the Grizzlies learned how fearsome the Cavaliers are in extra frames this season. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph underperformed offensively, but the physical nature of the game was so brutal that Anderson Varejao hasn’t played a minute since. When that game finished regulation, the score was 79-79. And when that game was final, the Cavaliers won the second game of a six game win streak.
So 65 points in the first half seemed like a pretty good bet for the Cavaliers Saturday night and, frankly, the chemistry in the first half was as good as it’s been between the Cavs this season. Luol Deng, whose trademark was finding lanes and cutting to the basket as a Chicago Bull was finding lanes and cutting to the basket as a Cleveland Cavalier.
Tristan Thompson and Spencer Hawes looked to have combined for a fearsome inside/outside attack, with Thompson finding more open looks at the basket and playing within his game and Hawes patrolling the perimeter and finding shots inside as though he had been with the team for a full season or more. Thompson has been shooting 57.9% from the floor since the All Star break, and has been rebounding at a rate of almost 11 boards a game.
Some things just fall into place. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, that’s what happened in the second half of this game for the Grizzlies, as Zach Randolph erupted, scoring 13 points in the third quarter, mixing jump shots and turn around post moves in an offensive fury that the Cavs could not stop. These were shots that the Cavs were physically unable to stop. Meaning, the Cavs defenders were in position, had hands raised and pressure on Randolph, but shot after shot went in anyhow. He was incredible.
Despite this, the Cavs stayed in the game. They were still in position to win the game with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. That is, they were down by one point as the Grizzlies came back down the down the court and the Cavaliers moved into defensive position.
RANDOLPH APPEARED TO GET TALLER, FASTER AND MORE SKILLED IN THE SECOND HALF
(Joe Murphy NBAE Getty Images)
And that was the end, essentially. The Cavs had played the night before. They were still missing Varejao and Dion Waiters, and C.J. Miles. They needed the offensive firepower and defensive energy that this injured group of players can bring. It’s fair to speculate that the outcome of this game would have been different had the bench been extended to include them.
Moreover, it’s relatively horrifying that the Cavaliers could be close enough to making the playoffs that these injuries could prevent it from happening. There hasn’t been an official word on when any of this group will return yet, but based on a two week normal recovery for a knee hyperextension, at least Waiters should be back soon.
But this is it. They are 24-37 and there’s only 20 games left in the season. It seems impossible that after tomorrow’s game against the Spurs they’ll be down to 19, but it’s true. And the schedule for the remaining games, starting with the Spurs, will not be easy. But if they can play with the sense of purpose that they have, and add those missing players, the Cavs will be competing in them all the way to the end.
THE PRESENCE OF LEBRON JAMES AT ZYDRUNAS ILGAUSKAS JERSEY RETIREMENT SATURDAY
The retirement of Zydrunas Ilgauskas's number 11 jersey is Saturday. As part of the ceremony, and as Brendan Bowers reported yesterday here at Stepien Rules, Lebron James will likely be one of the many former Cavaliers present at the retirement ceremony.
Z is one of the greatest Cavalier centers in the history of the franchise. He's beloved by the fans, by the organization and by pretty much everyone who was a Cavaliers fan in the last 30 years. James is the exact opposite, one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports and by far the most polarizing in Cleveland sports history. In fact, there are many people who no longer consider James career or accomplishments as a Cavalier at all based on the way in which he flaunted his free agency options from 2007 until 2010, appeared to quit on the team in the concluding game of the 2009 season against the Orlando Magic and then quit completely in the infamous Game 5 against the Boston Celtics in 2010.
All of this goes without saying that James' Cavalier career is now best remembered for a one hour ESPN special in which he left the team rather than telling the Cavaliers openly or even in private so they could make plans for his departure. Also that he made numerous ridiculous comments in the media after the special, including about how he still hated people in Cleveland. No one will ever look like a hero after using Cleveland as a punching bag, and James' career as a Cavalier will always be soiled. Always.
So Saturday is a day to celebrate this Lithuanian who made Cleveland his home. Hopefully Cleveland will get the opportunity to enjoy and reflect on Ilgauskas's career and his life without being overshadowed by James. Hopefully James displays a humility he never did as a Cavalier and doesn't show his face to the media or to the crowd and pays his respects privately on what he should understand should be a day about someone else.
I hope this will happen, but I doubt it's even possible. James is the most solipsistic althete alive, with the one reliable constant though his Cleveland career being dissapointment.
So here's the new challenge for Lebron James, which he will inevitably also fail:
If you're going to come back to Cleveland, don't be yourself. Be someone we don't recognize who stays away from cameras and inevitable jeers from thousands of Clevelanders. Because the guy that we saw come here from Akron, the guy who quit, who had no respect for the city and its fans, that guy doesn't belong with Clevelanders celebrating the accomplishments of a great and beloved Cleveland athlete.
SPECIAL OFFER: TICKETS FOR STEPIEN RULES READERS TO Z NIGHT
Below is a special offer for StepienRules.com readers for tickets to Z Night against the New York Knicks on Saturday. The password you need to type in is “rules.” The Special Z Retirement Offer is Loudville seats for $11, and 2 100 level tickets for 111 dollars. These are extremely limited so buy some tickets before they sell out.