Early energy for 48 minutes. That's what it said in blue dry erase marker ink on the Cavaliers white board prior to tip-off with the defending World Champions last night. All of the other offensive sets, game notes, and match-ups were written in black.
Coming off a series of games where the Cavaliers waited until the fourth quarter to wake up and play with the energy needed to beat a quality NBA opponent, this would be critical to having even a chance against Dirk and the visiting Dallas Mavericks. Thus the blue ink. A message that Anderson Varejao not only received, but basically smacked each one of his Cavs teammates in the head with by way of two thunderous dunks to open the game.
After the second one, which made it 4-0 Cavs, he looked over at his team's bench pumping his Wild Thing arms, and Quicken Loans Arena went crazy. He finished the game with 17 points and 17 rebounds, a Kevin Love-type statline that's becoming routine for Andy over the last few weeks, and after the game I asked him about that start.
He was right in that the game wasn't won there, but it did go a long way to helping his Cavs hang around in the first half. They went into the locker room down 8 (51-43), kinda looked like maybe it could get out of hand from there, but the Cavaliers then responded with their best third quarter of the season. Collectively.
Mychel Thompson (6pts, 2 assits) hit two big threes, Omri Casspi (9 pts, 4 steals) hit a monster three to take the lead, Alonzo Gee (12 pts, 4 rebs) continued his punishment of NBA rims with a couple dunk contest worthy baskets, Jamison (19 pts, 9 rebs) hit a couple shots he invented especially for last night's game, Andy continued to dominate the Dallas frontline, and Kyrie Irving was simply Kyrie Irving (20 pts, 7 assits, 4 rebs).
The Cavaliers rolled into the fourth quarter up 6, and Kyrie Irving closed things out in dominating superstar type fashion from there (91-88), that recap-ish type words can't really do any sort of justice for. Just watch the fourth quarter again yourself, is pretty much all I can say about it.
What I can say, and am about to say here, isn't any sort of homer commentary either: In my opinion, there might only be three point guards in the entire League you'd take over Kyrie Irving right now to win a game. Maybe even only two. Seriously.
Not to rebuild a franchise around, not for the future, not in two years, to go out and win a game tomorrow. I really think there might only be three other point guards who you'd take over Irving at most. Chris Paul and Derrick Rose are two. I'm not even totally convinced there is a third right now, but feel free to pick between Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, and whoever else if you want. I'll take my chances with Kyrie Irving, twenty-four games into his NBA career, at nineteen years old. He's a superstar.
After the game, I asked Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle about the way Irving closed things out, on two straight lay-ups that everybody in the entire NBA universe knew were coming but nobody could stop, and that soundbyte is below:
Kyrie Irving might end up on the All Star team this season too. There's really no fan thing, hype, or buzz about his game that is in anyway gimmicky either. His jumper is pure, his attack of the basket is relentless, he's a point guard in the truest sense, and he's hit deciding baskets down the stretch to now beat Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, and Shawn Marion. Already. In about a two week period. Six guys wearing NBA Title Rings, and four Hall of Famers.
Catching up with Delonte West:
Delonte West signed autographs for tons of Cavs fans after he shot around prior to the game yesterday, and you could see the mutual appreciation there was on both sides of each exchange. I was standing there watching, and it was cool. Cleveland loves Delonte West, and Delonte West loves Cleveland.
I asked him about coming back to Cleveland and that reception he received just after I took this picture. Here is a transcript of that exchange:
Stepien Rules: Can you talk about what it's like for you to come back to Cleveland, and see the reaction the fans have for you here?
Delonte West: Oh man. You know last year I played in Boston, and I was out with a wrist injury the two times we came here to Cleveland, so I didn't make the trip. We're two years out now, but man. You see I didn't miss a shot out there, right? I'm real familiar with those courts.
But the fans, I don't even consider them fans, I consider them my friends. We had such a close bond. It's just good to see the sames faces, and it speaks to what Cleveland sports are about.
Even with the things that went on, you still see the same fans here supporting the new movement. With the owner here, the young talent that they have, this organization is heading in the right direction, and I can see this team contending in a few years.
Well said Delonte, and it was good to see you too buddy. Keep doing well, Cleveland will always be pulling for you.