For quite some time the Cavs have been completely hapless (and to some extent complete helpless as well) when facing the Spurs in San Antonio. The last time the Cavs beat the Spurs in San Antonio was in 1988, which is a fairly incredible streak when you consider that the stretch of fairly quality Cavs teams from the early- to mid-90s were just as (in)effective as the crappy teams of the, well, every other Cavs team over that period, really (except for last season).
But such is no longer the case. That’s right. There’s a new streak. It’s been almost a year since the last time the Spurs beat the Cavs in San Antonio. Indeed, I have to qualms backdating the streak until the day after the Cavs last lost to the Spurs in Texas and massaging the language as well. A streak that’s lasted “almost a year” sounds much better than “about twelve hours”.
It’s tough to take much away from the early games of the season even though doing so in very tempting. Witness Chicago, which dropped the biggest opening night defeat on a defending champion in the history of professional basketball and then promptly lost to Orlando and Sacramento. The season is still early, the NBA season is insanely long, the best teams usually don’t start playing until after the new year…you know the usual run of cliches.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, last night was San Antonio’s home opener. I know the Spurs played the night before against Dallas and that it was a brutal, well-fought game. Nonetheless, home openers only happen, like, once a season, and teams are always fired up on those nights. Beating the Spurs at their home opener is great. Second, this was the first road test for the Cavs and the team responded admirably, especially in the fourth quarter when the Spurs made a number of runs, none of which were particularly potent because the Cavs didn’t buckle. Last night was the first time in a long time I was never really worried when a (good) team made a run at the Cavs late in the game (how much of this is due to the fact that the Spurs can’t shoot free throws is an issue I’m going to leave aside). Third, Cleveland held San Antonio — a team that scored 97 points in their first game — to an impressively low 81 points, including just 18 points in each of the first two quarters. Only in the fourth quarter did San Antonio score more than 20 points. This following a game in which the Cavs held Gilbert Arenas to a paltry 2-12 shooting for seven points. It’s far too early to suggest that the Cavs have turned the corner on defense — still too many fouls, defensive rotations are still slow, etc — but these are two encouraging signs.
The next test comes tonight against the Bobcats. Seeing how the Cavs respond to back-t0-back road games across time zones will be interesting.
And now for the Disappointment Zone Box Score.
LeBron James returned to form last night, leading the team in Win Score per minute above average. Gooden turned in a solid game for the minutes he played — 50% FG shooting, 100% FT shooting, two steals, nine boards, and only one turnover is an efficient, mistake-free line. Larry Hughes regressed from opening night, which shouldn’t be a surprise. He and Eric Snow both had pretty poor nights and for the minutes they played they were the most detrimental players last night.