Two games into new era, Cavaliers suddenly looking capable
Feb 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2), shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) and center Anderson Varejao react in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Quicken Loans Arena.
CLEVELAND — Random stuff following the Cavaliers’ 91-83 overtime win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday:
— It may not seem like a resounding victory, and the Grizzlies may have been shorthanded without their starting backcourt of Mike Conley and Tony Allen. But as we all know by now, facing shorthanded opponents at The Q has meant little for the Cavs this season. Besides that, Memphis big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol can win games all by themselves, and no matter who’s on the floor, coach Dave Joerger has the Griz always playing hard.
— Not often do you have to make excuses for a team after a win, but hey, that’s the Cavs (18-33) this year. Either way, the bottom line is they’ve won two in a row. After losing eight of nine (and six straight), that just feels good.
— OK, let’s go ahead and say what sounds like an indictment, but really is not: The Cavs are 2-0 since David Griffin replaced Chris Grant as general manager. But as coach Mike Brown has said repeatedly, the GM doesn’t suit up or pace the sidelines or draw up plays. So neither Grant nor Griffin nor even owner Dan Gilbert impact what takes place on the floor during the action. All the GM can do is watch and pray for those 48 minutes like the rest of us.
— Obviously, the GM molds the roster. He drafts the prospects, he pulls off the trades, he dives into free agency. If he fails to get the right mix, not even the wizardry of Harry Potter can save the Cavs. But as difficult as it can be to fire a dedicated guy such as Grant, something about a change in the front office can help a team. It’s only been two games, but the Cavs seem to be a little more energetic, a little more mature, a little more united. Not a ton on any of those things, but a little.
— I wrote a separate column about Griffin, which you can find here. So I’m not going into too much detail. Just know Griffin has already met with the team at least twice — once last week, once during Sunday’s shootaround before the game. His message last week was fairly clear, and it supposedly wasn’t real charming. Again, it’s two games, and neither has been perfect. But Griffin isn’t looking for perfection. He wants effort, and based on his early tenure, he’ll be doggoned if he doesn’t get it.
— Griffin on his expectations: "I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes. I want guys to accept making one and then move on."
— OK, now to the actual players. Kyrie Irving is starting in the All-Star game. You don’t need me to tell you he can be great. But the last two games, he’s been remarkable. Mostly, Irving and Dion Waiters have played as well together in the previous two games as any time during their nearly two seasons together. Irving even referred to Waiters as "a good friend."
— Here’s what Irving said: "Having one of your good friends out there, we can play off one another. He’s got so much talent."
— Kyrie scored 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Waiters struggled early, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-21. Of course, he also had a monster dunk in traffic that basically put the game away. In the win over the Wizards, Waiters scored a team-high 24. Irving finished with 23. Dion said it’s important for the two of them to play off each other. Kyrie called them pals. Based on the past two games, you have no choice but to believe them.
— Interestingly, according to Brown, the play on which Waiters dunked was actually drawn up for Irving. Waiters saw the opening, though, and made the play. "Dion’s dunk toward the end of OT was huge," Brown said. "He recognized where he had an advantage and took it to the hole the right way."
— All this talk about Griffin and Irving and Waiters is great, but we can’t forget about Anderson Varejao. Goodness gracious, the man was huge. He only scored four points, but he grabbed 14 rebounds and did a defensive number on both Randolph and Gasol. "(Varejao) was the difference in the ball game tonight," Brown said.
— So what’s it all mean? Well, it means the Cavs haven’t really proved anything yet. Other than, of course, they can win when they hustle. But we’ve known that all along. Can they do it consistently? We’re about to find out. The best news is they had 33 games left after Grant got fired to try to make this work. It may not have anything to do with Grant, but they’re 2-0 with 31 to go.
— Finally, Waiters said some telling stuff on the meeting prior to the Cavs’ win over the Wizards on Friday. He spoke about it after Sunday’s game. "I think (the meeting) was great for us. Sad to say (Grant) lost his job, but I think it woke up a lot of people. Me, I felt half of that was my fault, how we played. We just didn’t come out right as a unit. I think it cost the man his job. If we had been playing the way we have the last two games, he’d probably still be here. We can’t dwell on the past, we’ve got to continue to play the way we’ve been playing and keep it up."