The Cleveland Cavaliers winning streak came to a sudden halt last night in Toronto.
The day after firing General Manager Chris Grant, in which Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin became interim GM, the Cavs defeated the home-team Washington Wizards, holding onto to a 14-point fourth quarter lead to win 115-113 and began a season-best six-game win streak.
The streak brought back the preseason hopes in Cleveland of their first playoff berth since losing LeBron James in summer 2010.
Though the Wizards were the only playoff bound team beaten during the winning streak (the Memphis Grizzlies, however, do boast a winning record), Cleveland’s play does look improved.
Four of these six games have seen the Cavaliers on the ropes late in the fourth, and all four times Cleveland has held on. And Kyrie Irving has been a big reason for this.
After criticism in the early parts of the season for poor play, Irving has been in the zone in these six games. In their overtime win against Memphis, Kyrie scored the last four points of regulation to send it to extra time, as well as hitting four clutch free throws in the final 30 seconds of OT to seal the win. He also hit a huge three to put Cleveland up four with 30 seconds left against the Detroit Pistons, and hit four more clutch free throws down the line to secure the victory.
Another big reason for the Cavs winning is the improved play of Anthony Bennett. Bennett has had two double doubles during the streak, and is averaging 8 and 7 over the six games, which is spectacular compared to the season he’s been having. He also was shooting an incredible 53% in those six wins.
Jarrett Jack’s new role in the starting lineup may be a part of the improvement, as well. While statistically Jack has not been overwhelmingly impressive, his role is what is giving the Cavaliers the advantage. Playing in the back court alongside Kyrie Irving, Jack allows Kyrie to play off the ball, taking pressure off of Irving to both run the offense and be the Cavaliers’ biggest scoring threat.
Players like Bennett and Jack, and even Tyler Zeller have started coming around recently, but the entire team seems to be clicking. It even looks as if Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving are getting along and as we all know both players showed off during All Star weekend. Waiters’ shooting has seen an increase, hitting nearly 50% of his shots over the six-game win streak, and his playmaking ability looks more intelligent.
Last night against the Toronto Raptors was a different team than during the streak.
With the trade for Spencer Hawes at the deadline, in which Philadelphia received Cavs’ Earl Clark and Henry Sims, and injuries to some key players(Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and C.J. Miles were all out against the Raptors) Cleveland’s roster has a different look and will need to adjust with the addition of Hawes, who could provide to be a valuable asset.
Toronto, who is tenth in the Hollinger Power Rankings, improved to a 30-25 record, and are still currently first in the Atlantic Division and are easily the best team the Cavaliers have played in the last seven games. However, the next three games have the Cavs facing three playoff-bound teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder arguably the best team in the NBA right now. It will be interesting to see how this young, improving Cleveland squad will respond to this loss as they battle some quality teams.