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Saturday, November 24, 2007

LeBron Lifts Cavs to 111-108 Win Over Raptors

LeBron James had 37 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers improved to 7-6 by beating the Toronto Raptors 111-108. Daniel Gibson and Damon Jones each scored 17 points, shooting 4-8 and 5-9 respectively from three point range. Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 16 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. Chris Bosh led the Raptors with a career-high tying 41 points. Jason Kapono scored 17 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. Jose Calderon, who started at point guard in place of the injured T.J. Ford, tied his career-high with 13 assists.

James now has 13 career regular season triple doubles, including three in the first 13 games this season; the Cavs are 10-3 when he posts a triple double. Some players have what one might call "small" triple doubles (16-18 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) but James has been putting up some "big" triple doubles: 30-plus points and more than 10 in each of the other categories. In his last five games, he is averaging 39.0 ppg (.534 field goal shooting), 10.0 rpg and 9.4 apg. The only other player in NBA history who exceeded each of those numbers in a five game stretch is Oscar Robertson (40.0 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 10.4 apg from December 26-December 30, 1960). James has scored at least 34 points in each of his last five games, the second best such run in his career (he did this for nine straight games from March 22-April 8, 2006).

Cleveland's defense was horrible in the first quarter and Toronto raced to a 30-21 lead while shooting .579 from the field. Even the rare good defensive play by the Cavs turned out badly in the end; near the end of the quarter, James stole the ball and raced in for an uncontested shot but he took off too soon, was not able to complete a dunk and then he missed a double-clutch layup. It did not look like he did all that much in the first quarter but then a glance at the box score revealed that he had 12 points on 6-12 shooting; the missed layup and the fact that he only had one rebound and one assist made it "feel" like he was not playing well. He can score so easily in the paint that even if he takes and misses a few questionable shots he still ends up scoring a lot and shooting a good percentage.

The Cavaliers settled down a bit in the second quarter and used some hot shooting (.632) to cut the lead to 56-52 by halftime. James was well on his way to a triple double (16 points, five assists, four rebounds) but Ilgauskas appeared to have a chance at a triple double of more dubious value (eight points, nine rebounds--and five turnovers). Bosh already had 18 points, 16 of which he scored in the first quarter. A knee injury has hampered him early in the season and he was averaging just 16.8 ppg and 6.4 rpg prior to this game; his struggles are part of the reason that Toronto started the season slower than expected, so this breakout game for him is a good sign for the Raptors.

James had 10 points, four assists and three rebounds in the third quarter and the Cavs took their first lead of the game (73-72) after he made two free throws with 3:10 remaining. The Raptors had led for virtually the entire game prior to that but they would only enjoy two brief leads the rest of the way. After the first quarter, the Cavs did a very good job of spacing the floor with three point shooters. James would attack the defense off the dribble from the wing or the top of the key and either score or if the defense trapped him then he would pass to Gibson or Jones for an open three pointer. As Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said after the game, "We decided to go small, spread the floor and put shooters out there. When you do that with LeBron he's going to make plays; you just have to be ready to lock and load or catch and drive."

Many people are probably ready to simply hand the Eastern Conference championship to the Boston Celtics. The Cavaliers play the newly revamped Celtics for the first time this season on Tuesday but when I asked James his thoughts about that matchup his answer came straight from the Bill Belichick one game at a time school of thought: "Nah, it's too soon. When we play Boston then you can ask me that" (Cleveland visits Indiana on Sunday before returning home to play the Celtics).

This Cleveland team will not be an easy out come playoff time. They are playoff tested and as a group they rely on defense and rebounding, two constants that stand a team in good stead even on poor shooting nights. They outrebounded Toronto 47-28 and, while their defense was not great, they held Toronto to .429 field goal shooting in a tightly contested fourth quarter. That kind of effort, combined with the all around brilliance of James, is what wins playoff series, as the Cavaliers proved last season by upsetting Detroit and making the franchise's first appearance in the NBA Finals. As Coach Brown put it in his postgame standup, "The thing that I am excited about is that we have time. We don't need to be perfect on either side of the ball right now. We take this one day, one game at a time and--I've said this since I've been here--we use the regular season to get better. We do that, and if our offense continues to get better and our defense continues to get better with our focus on that end of the floor then by playoff time we'll be right where we need to be."

Notes From Courtside:

This game attracted a smaller media contingent than usual. Coach Brown got miked up for his pregame standup but then was informed that no one had any questions for him, so he returned to his office. Raptors Coach Sam Mitchell offered brief answers to some perfunctory questions. For instance, this is his reply to a question about what the Raptors have to do the rest of the season: "Play better."


Cavs assistant coach Chris Jent regularly works with reserve center Dwayne Jones prior to each game, dating back to last year (Jones' rookie season). Jent demonstrates various post moves and footwork techniques and then passes the ball to Jones so that he can practice them. Jones has shot 7-11 from the field (.636) and grabbed 27 rebounds in just 97 minutes of action this season but he received a Did Not Play-Coach's Decision versus Toronto, at least in part because Cleveland used a small lineup for extended stretches.


Toronto assistant coaches Alex English and Mike Evans--former teammates with the Denver Nuggets--took turns guarding Carlos Delfino during warmups as the young Argentinean worked on pullup jump shots and various moves to the hoop. Meanwhile, former Maryland standout Juan Dixon sank three pointers from various spots. Dixon, who is listed at 6-3, 165, looks stunningly small next to most of the other players (the average NBA player is approximately 6-7, 230).


As soon as the game ended, Quicken Loans Arena workers took down both baskets and removed the floor in preparation for tonight's American Hockey League game between Lake Erie and Manitoba.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:50 PM



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