AT&T CENTER--Misery, and cold fronts, seem to follow the Cleveland Cavaliers where ever they go these days. With a drearily cold drizzle arriving at the arena roughly around the same time as their team bus, the Cavaliers found no refuge in the warm confines of the AT&T Center.
Inside the Cavaliers ran into the NBA's hottest team on a night when the San Antonio Spurs managed to correct the few flaws that had plagued them this early in the season. Namely, Tim Duncan reached into his old bag of tricks to solve a new problem, shrugging off his cold spell with a vintage bank shot from the wing. Duncan shot 4-for-6 from the field, Tiago Splitter picked up where he left off from the night before, dropping in a variety of hook shots and quick step through moves (with a dunk no less), and the game was over faster than Cavaliers coach Mike Brown could say, "Dellavedova, you're starting off guarding Tony Parker tonight."
The Cavaliers came into the game absolutely abysmal on the offensive end, as coach Brown emphasized how new his team is and the lack of emphasis that has been placed on the offensive end in his early tenure, a concession made to try and lay the foundations of a functioning defense. Adversity often breaks players down to their base instincts, and without a familiar system to draw upon, the Cavaliers devolved into hasty, long two-point jumpers in the second quarter. In the second quarter, star point guard Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters combined for two points on 1-for-10 shooting, as the Cavaliers were outscored 35-11.
"We bore down really well. We packed the lane, we got out to shooters, and rebounded the basketball--because there's no stop until you rebound it," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We did that, which fueled our break, which allowed us to get some easy buckets and some uncontested shots."
In the spirit of Popovich's instructions, if not in function, came a particularly entertaining moment as Matt Bonner and Tony Parker wrestled for a rebound in the closing minutes of the first half. With Parker not wanting to take the ball, and the Spurs up 61-28, Bonner decided to push the ball up the floor himself, which (jokingly) fueled his ego more than any fast break. Bringing the ball up the court, and a myriad of play calling options at his disposal, Bonner held up a single finger to signal a play that would be called for the first and last time in team history.
"It was an isolation for myself, of course," Bonner said. Not that any of his teammates heeded his directions.
"Matty likes to screw with me once in a while, get his teammates laughing because he knows I'm going to get up off my seat," Popovich said after the game. "Matty will never get a call (for an isolation) from me. Ever."
Bonner finished with 8 points, three assists, and one amused Parker. With the weather outside miserable, and the competition no more lively, it was a game in which the Spurs frequently had to find ways to amuse themselves--whether they were in our out of their seat:
The Spurs are nothing if not a team that knows how to execute, especially when it comes to a great prank. Watch Ginobili conversing with Boris Diaw as Parker uses his towel to hide his intent. It's a wonderful mix of misdirection, quick hands, and timing that Ginobili has used to orchestrate a career full of highlights. The reaction on Duncan's face is simply priceless, as is the realization that as machine-like as the Spurs may seem, they are secretly far from it.
But these little sideshows should do little to detract from what was a focused effort on a night in which the Spurs had every excuse not to be.
"It's night and day between how hard they play on both ends of the floor," Brown said of the difference between both teams. "Offensively, how hard they cut, how they share the ball, how quickly the ball moves, how they set screens, how they space the floor, how they attack the rim, how they play for one another. It's the same stuff that we're preaching to our guys.
"You can see it, it's evident defensively, the same thing," he added. "You can see the multiple efforts they give on each possession. You can see them contesting, you can see them boxing out, you can see the little things that matter for one another to play the game the right way."
And if you look hard enough, sometimes, you can see a team that loves what it does; even on a cold, dreary night against a hapless team in November.