It felt like two teams that had followed the same path finally diverging, one headed towards the playoffs and the other headed towards fresh-tasting futility. It felt like star players meshing together into something resembling a top-flight basketball team. It felt like savvy play-design and well-timed timeouts (not sure if some of them came from the bench....but regardless....). It felt like the Cavs exerting their long-missing dominance. It felt like I was watching Dion Waiters with new eyes.
For instance, did you know that Dion Waiters isn't that good? Yeah, guys. He's not that good. You all probably knew that. But man, how weird. He was 4 of 14 from the field and he missed wide open three after wide open three.
And before someone jumps to his defense, let me say this: Waiters will be a fine player for someone someday. He may even average that vaunted 20 ppg at some point in his career. But he will do it for a crap team that can afford his crap shot selection. He could go to the Lakers tonight and score those points. It won't make him a good player and it sure as hell wouldn't make him a good fit for this Cleveland Cavaliers team.
That was one of the glaring takeaways from this game. JR Smith went 4 for 14, which suggests crap shot selection. But he took 12 of those shots from behind the arc. Waiters went 5 of 15 from the field but he took only 7 of those shots from behind the arc. Many of his shots came from one-on-ones against Kyrie Irving (which was an entertaining back and forth). But those are shots that are taken away from better, more qualified shooters. They're shots that also don't stretch a defense and provide space for Kevin Durant's slender frame to slither towards the hoop or for Russell Westbrook to Super Saiyan through the lane. Waiters' skill set is the same as many primary scorers in the NBA; he's adept at getting to the hoop, he's a creative passer, a surprising rebounder and sports a so-so mid-range and three point game. Which would be nice if he was as good as most primary scorers, but he's not.
And his game doesn't create space, it packs the paint. Which made him a miserable fit for Cleveland.
Enter, Mr. Pipe-Layer himself, JR Smith. Smith shoots too much. Smith shoots WAY too much. But he stretches the floor and has surprising, immediate chemistry with LeBron James. That's nothing to balk at.
LeBron James is finally energized. He dropped 12 points in the fourth quarter to neutralize any threat of a comeback. His defense was locked in. His passing was tight and on-point. He seems like a leader. And more than that, he has his mojo back. For months the guy looked like he didn't give a shit.
This teams looks good.