The Cleveland Cavaliers turned an early deficit into a cruising blowout last night, a 117-92 victory over the Brooklyn Nets that was well in hand by the end of the third quarter. That third quarter was punctuated by the playmaking between Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving and center Timofey Mozgov. As you can see in the NBA video above, Irving found Mozgov five times for easy dunks in pick-and-rolls, four of them coming in that third quarter that turned a big lead into a definitive one.
There’s some schematic tinkering to be done here, but for the most part, this is just a situation of a quick playmaking point guard just finding all the right spots. Irving blows by Williams in pick-and-rolls, and Williams leads him into a defender, usually Brook Lopez, who doesn’t have anyone else picking up slack behind him. And can you blame them? Bringing an extra defender on any of these plays likely means you’re leaving LeBron James, Kevin Love, or J.R. Smith, who’d hit four three-pointers in the first half. It’s pick your Cleveland cyanide.
Just look at the last play. Irving sets up a pick-and-roll with Mozgov, and Williams leads Irving into Lopez’s defense. Lopez keeps a body on Irving somehow as Williams trails, hoping to recover. Plumlee sees Mozgov wide open at the rim and “bumps” him, but is also cognizant of Kevin Love behind him, and moves off Mozgov to play somewhere in between. It’s also at this point that Lopez should be recovering to Mozgov, but you can’t leave Kyrie Irving alone close to the rim, and Lopez gets tripped up anyway.
Lopez hitting the ground is a big deal here, but it’s not the only reason the Nets couldn’t defend the play. The Cavaliers had options all over the floor, and once a sliver of space opened up, there was nothing the Nets could do. Just look at Mason Plumlee, who you can see yell “s–t!” in slow-motion, helpless as Mozgov gets the slam.
Irving finished the night with 12 points and 10 assists, including five dimes in the third frame alone. Every Cavaliers starter save James rested the entire fourth quarter. Mozgov tied Smith for a team-high 17 points on 7-8 shooting; six of his shots were assisted and the seventh was a tip-in off an offensive rebound.
The Cavaliers have won 25 of their last 31 games after a rough start to the year. They’re one of the league’s best teams, and the Nets just can’t match their talent. These aren’t the games you expect the Nets to win, and with the playoff door closing, they’ve got to make up ground anywhere they can. But with another game left against the Cavaliers, two against the Hawks, and a few more against Eastern playoff teams, it’s hard to see the team trending upward.