Dribbles: Cavs playoff-bound, and wins like this keep them sharp
CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ scrappy 95-92 win over the visiting Indiana Pacers on Friday:
1. These are the types of games the Cavs will experience in the postseason. And yes, the postseason is official, as the Cavs clinched their first playoff berth since 2010 with the victory.
2. But the Pacers turn every evening into the type of night you wouldn’t want your children to watch. It’s ugly, gritty, physical basketball. It’s playoff basketball. The Pacers are a veteran team, a scary team that could make you lose sleep in the first round. That’s especially the case if Paul George returns from a broken leg before the playoffs, as expected.
3. George, in fact, could be back as soon as next week.
4. So this was not the type of game the Cavs prefer. But it’s the type of game they needed. As Cavs coach David Blatt said, "The game was more their kind of game than our kind of game. It was to our credit that we won a game that was not our style."
5. That’s exactly it– and why you have to like the Cavs’ chances once the playoffs finally get here. They have won foot-races where both teams score in the 120s, they have won knock-down-and-drag-em-out rugby matches, they have won with teamwork and with great individual performances. But no matter what you call it, since starting 19-20, the Cavs have won and won a lot.
6. There’s a possibility the Cavs could finish with the No. 2 seed. There’s a possibility the Pacers could finish with the seventh seed. There’s a possibility the teams could meet in the first round. But that’s just fine with the Cavs.
7. It’s true. The Cavs would almost prefer to play a veteran team like the Pacers or Miami Heat in the first round, as opposed to younger possibilities like the Boston Celtics or Milwaukee Bucks. "It keeps you sharp," said one team official.
8. Blatt smiled when asked about clinching a playoff spot: "We’re not gonna get any roses for it, but it’s nice. By the way that was the first goal when I signed on. Before we got all the guys."
9. As for the actual game, a lot of big things happened. LeBron James shook off a cold to score 11 straight fourth-quarter points on his way to a game-high 29 (on 13-of-26 shooting). Or how about Matthew Dellavedova, who came off the bench to score 11 points, including 3-of-4 shooting on 3-pointers?
10. Blatt said Dellavedova was in the gym shooting Friday at 9 a.m. "Not just shooting — working," Blatt said. "Every good thing that happens to that guy he deserves. … It’s just a great story of the way he worked his way into what he is. He’s just ready. He gives you what he has."
11. As for James, he was sent home from a Cavs event Thursday after feeling sick. It didn’t show Friday. "LeBron does a lot of great things," Blatt said. "We know that. And one of those things is he comes to play. He’s pretty smart about the way he does things, but for the most part, I thought he laid it out. You could certainly see and feel his presence when we needed him."
12. Of course, the play of the night was made by reserve guard Iman Shumpert. Of all the "new guys," he’s probably talked about least. But it was Shumpert who corralled a missed 3-pointer by James with the Cavs up just one and time running out. Shumpert chased down the rebound and kept it from going out of bounds. He then immediately passed it to J.R. Smith who was fouled with one second left. Smith did his part by making both free throws.
13. So thanks to Shumpert, instead of the Pacers getting it back with 5 seconds to go and just down a point, they got it back down three with just one second left. They never got a good look.
14. Shumpert scored just one point, but as Blatt said: "The work he does in the grey areas is so important. I thought he really impacted the game."
15. Timofey Mozgov had another strong showing with 12 points and eight rebounds, while J.R. Smith and Kevin Love scored 11 apiece. Love also grabbed 11 boards.
16. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving scored 13, but shot an uncharacteristic 4-of-16 from the floor.
17. Blatt described Irving’s night this way: "It wasn’t Ky’s best game. He’s a human being. He can have an off night. On any given night, we may not get great production from Ky, LeBron or Kevin, and we have to make up for it. I thought we did that."
18. So make it 15 straight home wins for the Cavs (45-26), who are now 26-6 since Jan. 15. That’s pretty doggone remarkable.
19. As for the Pacers, well, again, they play playoff basketball all season. It’s a physical brand of basketball and they especially love to beat on Love via big men David West, Luis Scola and Roy Hibbert. The referees allow it just because it’s Pacers’ style. It’s accepted, as opposed to punished. "They’re physical, and they play tough, good D," said Dellavedova, who admitted afterward he got kicked where it counts.
20. Despite the loss, the Pacers (30-38) are still very much in the race for the seventh seed. And if Paul George can come back even two-thirds of the player he was before — well, you just never know.
21. Pacers coach Frank Vogel wasn’t happy, but he sure seemed OK with the fact the Pacers came to Cleveland forced the Cavs to play their style. "I liked the way we played," Vogel said. "I liked the way we guarded. I liked the way we shared the basketball and I liked our competitive spirit. We just got undone by a great performance from the best player in the game."
22. George Hill scored 24 to lead the Pacers and Hibbert added 20. Those two, especially Hibbert, are fairly inconsistent. But they sure get up for LeBron and the Cavs.