It's time to get serious about Timofey Mozgov. He was the hero we needed last night. Not the one we wanted. But the one we deserved.
For those who missed the Bulls vs. Cavs game from last night, Cleveland won in a blowout, securing their third straight victory. The final tally was 108-94 but for long stretches the Cavs led by more than 20 points.
A big chunk of their success can be credited to their recent acquisitions and a renewed energy level from Mr. LeBron James.
And there is certainly credit to be doled out here, but let's start with the important one:
the Father, the Son, the Holy fucking Ghost, Timofey MozGod.
Last night's final stat line for the MozGod: 15 points, 15 rebounds, 1 steal, 2 blocks.
But his presence was more than that.
MozGod is a solid seven footer. There's no questioning his size. When he puts his hands straight up, he's a human wall. When he took his physical with the Cavaliers they had to remove ceiling tiles so that he wouldn't destroy things with his dome. (Pic from Alexander Chernykh @chernykh)
But that size hasn't always translated to success. In his previous two seasons, MozGod averaged 9.4 ppg and 8.7 ppg while playing 21.6 mpg and 25.7 mpg, respectively. He averaged 6.4 and 8.0 rebounds per game during those seasons. He's averaging 1.2 blocks per game for his career.
Those are good, not great numbers. It's the reason that several notable writers have said, "If Timofey Mozgov (SIC---should be MozGod) is the answer to your team's problems, you're not winning a championship."
But I think last night, and this current streak of games, shows why the Cavaliers could be contenders. (Notably, I did not write "shows why they ARE contenders.") The offense can outscore any team and the defense can be good enough to win. It can even be good enough to win running away. And for that to keep being true, MozGod will need to keep answering prayers.
While he only recorded two blocks in last night's game, his defensive presence was indelible. Take a look at some of his matchup's shooting lines.
Pau Gasol was 4 of 14 for 11 points. He also had 11 rebounds.
Taj Gibson (who was mostly guarded by Love) was 4 of 10 for 10 points.
Derrick Rose was 5 of 14 for 18 points and did not finish particularly well around the rim. He got 9 of those points from behind the 3-point line.
The Bulls as a team shot 37.5 percent on the night and 50 percent from behind the arc.
MozGod owned them in several ways. He discouraged drives to the hoop with blocks, size and his willingness to deliver the occasional hard foul. At one point, you could feel Aaron Brooks trying to will the Bulls back into the game. He had been blocked by MozGod, recovered and drained a 3 in the corner. This was a man unafraid to shoot and unafraid of the Mad Russian Lord. But later in the game, Brooks took his bravado and tried to close the deficit. He drove recklessly to the hole and MozGod fouled the living shit out of him. The ESPN commentator remarked, "Brooks will remember that the next time he thinks about attacking the hoop."
And he will. That's the point. MozGod isn't just a great defender. He's an intimidation factor. The Cavs need that.
He's also a surprisingly rangy shooter.
MozGod mostly excels as the flasher on pick-and-pops. At one point, the Cavs ran a double screen for Kyrie Irving. MozGod and Tristan Thompson formed a two-man wall on Irving's right side, at the top of the arc. Irving went past the screen and Thompson crashed towards the rim and MozGod popped above the free throw line. It gave Irving two options for the pass and gave him space for the jumper. MozGod was the open option and Irving fed him. MozGod drained a wide-open 15-footer. It was a well-designed, multifaceted play.
He's not great crashing the rim. He's just a half-step too slow to do anything other than draw defenders away from the ball-handler. Which is why Thompson continues to be the better pick-and-roll option. MozGod excels at pick-and-pop. Instead of making it obvious to the defense which option is being run, Blatt sent both men to Irving. It was cheeky. I wouldn't mind seeing it more.
MozGod has also been absorbing rebounds. Last night, the Cavs finally realized their potential as a great rebounding team. They smashed Chicago on the boards, 54-40. And most of the starters sat the final 3 or 4 minutes. Mostly that was a result of team desire. Part of that accomplishment came because MozGod boxed out and snagged boards as needed.
The Cavs need(ed) to be tougher and need to be more aggressive. MozGod helps with that.
Now, the question will be what Iman Shumpert the First can bring to the table (besides, glorious, glorious hair).