When the first half ends against New York on Tuesday, the initial quarter of the 2013 – 2014 season will have transpired. It wasn’t frequently pretty, featuring plenty of blown leads, runaway defeats, and miserable individual performances. But as this period of the season draws to the close, the Cavs ride a three wins in four games streak, against opponents with a combined 43 – 38 record — with two of those wins on the second night of a back-to-back. Recently, at least, individual performances reach or exceed the thresholds expected for the season. A sampling…
WHEW! This game had it all: defense, offense, half court shots, fans on the floor, dust-ups, a fourth quarter that would not end, and, most importantly, a victory over a playoff team. The Cavs are 4-3 on Saturdays this year, including 3-3 on the second night of back-to-backs. Tonight, they faced the Clippers who were off last night, but who were on the third game of a seven game road trip. After last night’s debacle, Cleveland brought the energy and the defense, and got their first ugly, “Mike Brown” win. This game was beautiful like a scraggly dog.
The Cavs waited until the 2nd quarter to play and spotted the Hawks 17 points. Does anyone know if Kyrie Irving made his layups in warmups? Because he missed every shot he attempted in the game, including 3 free throws. Mike Brown yanked him with 7 minutes to go in the 3rd and he never returned, logging just 20 minutes. Coincidentally, the Cavs went on a 12-0 run after Kyrie was replaced.
The Cavaliers rode a balance of front court dominance and Kyrie Irving… er, Kyrie Irving-ance to put some scuff on the gleaming Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets, winners of seven straight heading into Wednesday night’s contest and one of the league’s fastest paced teams, were held to 39.1% shooting. Their leading-scorer Ty Lawson was bottled up scoring only four points on 1-13 shooting, more than 16 points below his season average. For the Cavs, Irving led all scorers with 23 points, but the key to Cleveland’s first relatively stress-free fourth quarter was the trio of Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao, who combined for 49 points and 41 rebounds.
Cavs’ First Winning Streak of the Season Bullets:
-Okay, let’s get this out of the way. What is going on with Varejao’s facial hair? I mean, that’s all any of you could think about during the game, right? It wasn’t Andy rediscovering his bolting cuts to the basket, his post game or his continually money elbow jumper. It was whatever that bizarre thing he’s got going on in the upper-lip/chin region. I know. I get it. But, please, trust me. If you look past some of the poorest manicuring decisions this side of Drew Gooden, you’ll see Varejao’s first full game as the Andy of old. He was active and incredibly effective offensively to the tune of 18 points (on 7-9 shooting) to go along with 13 rebounds, three assists, three blocks, two steals and only one turnover. No, this man is not just a collection of mismanaged facial follicles. When he’s playing like he did tonight — like he played in his abbreviated tenure last year — he is one of the most intelligent, entertaining players in the league. Period. But, seriously. Shave.
In almost any explanation of an NBA team’s relative success or failure, a disproportionately large amount of credit is given to one thing: culture. When a team wins, it has a culture that holds players accountable, that allows the young guys to grow and contribute to the team the right way, that demands that the game (and the game’s in-time proxy, the head coach) are respected. Long time guys stay because the culture is so good. New guys transition in well, often showing improvement or an unselfishness that was less evident in their previous stop, because the culture allows — and often demands — that they be a different player, a better player. The Spurs, the Bulls, the Heat and, until this season, the Celtics are all teams that don’t just beat you with the final score, they beat you in every aspect of their organizations … or so it is spun, anyway.
Likewise, when a team is down, the reasons it often stays down for a long time are not just talent and ability. Again, it’s about the culture. The culture of losing. Once-successful teams fear the deterioration of their culture into one driven by selfishness that operates at even half speed only half the time. Teams whose recent track record already has a giant, red L stamped on its culture card turn to changes in ownership, coaching, bringing in veterans who are viewed as “winners,” anything to break-up the losing mentality that has, the thinking goes, sunk itself so deeply into the organization that, as with a zombie-bitten hand, whole arms must be chopped off to keep the infection from spreading.
There is a truth to culture, but not a whole truth.
First off, I am firmly in the camp that believes the Cavaliers should not trade Waiters. This year’s Cavs offense has been 10 points per possession better with Waiters on the court, and he is part of the most efficient Cavs lineup. Since ESPN reported that he was being hawked on the open market, his play has been stellar. Scoring has ticked up, but what’s been most impressive is how he’s improving his shot selection towards the mostly-layups-and-threes prescription and reducing his tendency to fire away from midrange.
You could examine this cynically and come to the conclusion that he is seizing the opportunity to audition for the rest of the league. There are some rumors (which feel pretty true given the soap opera of the past two weeks) about the iciness of his relationship with Kyrie Irving. Signs may point to his desire to get out of Dodge, but punting the most dynamic player of a frustrating Cavs team would be a mistake. He gets a lot of flak, mostly based on his propensity to shoot everything all the time and who the Cavs passed on to take him, but he has shown noticeable improvement. Waiters’ ability to slash through multiple layers of defense provides precious movement for a stagnant offense. There aren’t any other players on the team besides Kyrie who can impose their will to the degree Waiters can, regardless of his deficiencies. He likely has a way to go as a player, and it feels as if he is on the path to realizing this potential, be it as a sixth man (my money is on this) or as a starter.
Many areas plague the early performance of the Cleveland Cavaliers, particularly on offense. Those include poor individual play, a lack of team chemistry, potential redundancy of skills between various players, limited implementation of an offensive system…this list could extend for a while.
Today, I will briefly look at two of those problems. First, the combination of Kyrie and Dion in the backcourt, then the impact of the 2013 free agency haul of Andrew Bynum, Jarrett Jack, and Earl Clark.
17 games in, I have no idea what to make of the Cavaliers. One good win, one moral victory, and two abysmal losses. Seriously, what is going on with this team?
John, Nate and I podcasted out our thoughts, hopes, and frustrations with the season thus far, discussing Andrew Bynum’s breakout game against the Bulls, the struggles against the Spurs and Boston (and the loss against Miami), how to improve the team, and some trade talk (centered around Kyrie, Dion, and TT).
As always, we can be found on SoundCloud at: https://soundcloud.com/cavstheblog/0024-what-now
And on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cavs-the-podcast/id528149843?mt=2
On the back of a dominant 20 point, 10 rebound, 5 block, 3 assist (and a few hockey assists) effort from Andrew Bynum, the Cavaliers defeated a feisty Chicago Bulls squad to get back into the win column. Kyrie Irving struggled from the field but played with reckless abandon at both ends. His energy jump-started the Cavs early and his attacking of the basket netted him 19 points. Dion Waiters had perhaps his most efficient game of the season, finishing 8-10 from the field for a team high 20 points.
With the full assortment of Cavs:the Bloggers wrapped up in varieties of travel and holiday festivities, no one volunteered to recap tonight. That is probably for the best. In the first half, the Celtics hit easy shots. In the second half, they hit tough shots. I included their third quarter shot chart above. Of the four three-pointers, two were by Jared Sullinger, and one was banked in by Brandon Bass at the buzzer. Almost everything else was a long two. Sullinger hit four three pointers on the game, adding to his previous ten career bombs from deep.
This was not the Cavs night. Cleveland was frequently a perverse comedy of errors. Players falling down. Airballing three pointers. Banking in three pointers. Throwing the ball to unoccupied space. Fighting each other for rebounds and losing the ball out of bounds.
Cleveland started the game behind on a 22 to 4 run, as the Andrew Bynum thing is not working. He was minus-25 in 15 minutes. The first half highlights involved Kyrie going off for 15 points, and Varejao nearing a double-double with 8 & 10. Cleveland trailed 39 to 55 at the break. The second half included even fewer positives. Dion got aggressive and did some damage, but much of it in relative garbage time, as after Boston scored the first bucket of the third quarter, the deficit never got closer than 18.
Kyrie finished with 17 points on 7 of 16 shooting, with 3 assists and 4 turnovers. Dion tallied 21 points on 7 of 18 shooting, with 6 assists, but also 6 turnovers. Andy finished with 10 & 12 and wins MVP for the night. His energy level was solid, and the Cavs actually outscored Boston by three points during his 26 minutes. No one else did anything noteworthy, at least not in a positive sense.
I don’t know if the plan is to sit Bynum tomorrow against Chicago, but maybe it should be. Until then.