This was going to be a tough game for the Cavs. Not that Utah is great, but neither is Cleveland, and Utah is 4 – 0 at home this year. Cleveland is on the 4th game of road trip.
I’m going to handle this game through looking at eight different internal battles that will either lead the good guys to a victory, or result in defeat. They are:
1. “OMG! He’s going to be a star” vs. “:( – He’s still just a rookie”. Obviously this one’s for Kyrie Irving. Irving has raised the bar for himself early on; threading needles with passes, getting to the hoop with some sick handles, hitting NBA threes…all while being the undisputed leader of an NBA offense at age 19. Obviously there will be ups and downs for a player this young; he’ll eventually need to finish more consistently at the rim, he’ll need to cut down on turnovers a bit, etc. But he’s definitely a keeper. In the Cavs four wins so far this year, Irving has shot 55% from the field, but in their four losses only 36%.
Irving was really solid again tonight, tallying 20 points on 60% true shooting with 5 assists and only two turnovers. He continues to get to the basket with relative ease and finished some spectacular shots tonight. A skill that needs developed is a pull-up or floater; Irving’s two first half charges sent him to the bench. The Cavs were leading 42 – 41 at that point, but then Utah went on an 11 – 1 run to end the half. They never looked back, but the Cavs win this internal battle, and the score is “Cavs 1, Jazz 0”.
2. “Sorely needed offense” vs. “Children, avert your eyes!!” Cavs:theblog’s complicated relationship with Antawn Jamison is well documented. Jamison is one of the only players on this team that regularly creates offensive opportunities. The downside is that just as often as not, he’s very bad at converting those opportunities. In the Cavs four wins, Jamison has shot 53% from the field and 53% on threes. Can you say trade asset?!? In the losses however, those numbers are 31% and 11%. Watching all those bricks get laid stings deeply.
Last night, Jamison scored 22, but on relatively poor 48% true shooting. He drew alot of fouls on the Jazz big men, resulting in Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors fouling out, but he was abused by Millsap otherwise. Millsap scored 19 points on 9 of 10 shooting. Inefficient scoring…matador defense…Bad Jamison loses this one; “Cleveland 1, Utah 1.”
3. “I’m back and better than ever!” vs. “I’m still offensively limited”. It’s early in the season, but Anderson Varejao is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and PER. He’s rebounding better than ever, ranking 3rd in the NBA with 4.1 offensive rebounds per game. Even when accounting for the full variety of low minute players whose only skill is rebounding, Varejao still shines; he’s grabbing 19% of available rebounds, which ranks 13th of 317 qualifying players. Varejao can’t generate a lot of offense if his cuts and o-rebounds aren’t working and like the previous two players, Varejao has struggled from the field in the Cavs losses, shooting 44% compared to 57% in the victories.
Against the Jazz, Varejao snagged 7 offensive rebounds on the way to 12 points and 11 rebounds with the Cavs outscoring the Jazz by 3 with him on the court. The big downside is that defensively he had no answer for Al Jefferson (30 points on 13 – 17 shooting). His Magic Johnson impersonation – a spin move followed by an over the shoulder pass to Parker puts Varejao into the win column (he was called for a charge on the play, but it was still excellent). Cavs take the lead, 2 – 1.
4. “Legit rotation wing” vs “Playing in Italy isn’t all bad”. Coming into the season, I leaned towards thinking Alonzo Gee’s NBA career would be relatively short. Then he started the season looking like he had improved his game, mixing athletic attacks on the basket with 50% three point shooting over the first four games. If Gee really wants to succeed in the NBA, he’ll need to stick some from long range; his strong start to the season left me re-thinking his future. Over the last four games, Gee’s field goal percentage has dropped to 41% and he’s only 1 of 8 on threes. Compared to his two seasons in Sacramento, Omri Casspi has been worse in almost every way. I hope for one of these guys to be a back-up on the next Cavs championship team, and this season is a big audition.
In last night’s loss, Gee had a big first quarter, leading the team with 8 points and 2 steals. His second half was pretty quite though, with 2 points and 2 turnovers. Casspi scored 5 points in 22 minutes, continuing his struggles in Cleveland. The Cavs get one-half credit for the ongoing rotation feud between these two, maintaining their lead at 2.5 – 1.5.
5. “I can do this in my sleep” vs “I’ll be retired next year”. Expectations for Anthony Parker are pretty simple this year; make some spot-up bombs from long range. He’s not asked to do much else on offense; on the season, he’s shot 5 times from inside of ten feet and only 4 free throws. This hyper-aggressive NBA schedule will be tough, as he’s 36 years old and athletically overmatched by NBA 2’s.
Last night, Parker shot 0 – 4 from downtown and got taken to the basket by fellow senior spokesmen Raja Bell (congrats to Mr. Bell on the birth of a child yesterday morning). Parker didn’t get it done, bringing the score back to even at 2.5 – 2.5.
6. “Super Subs” vs “Lunch Meat Sandwiches”. Cleveland’s bench has helped turn a couple of close games into walk-away wins this year. Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson have been hugely instrumental in those efforts. At 25 years old, they’re both at the point where they’re beyond hoping on any potential. Day in and day out they need to show that they’re a cut-above for back-up guard tandems, or they’ll instead be viewed as inconsistent and undersized. Sessions has averaged 7.3 assists per game in Cavs wins, but only 2.5 in losses. Gibson has shot an amazing 71% from deep in Cleveland’s triumphs, while struggling to hit a quarter of his shots in defeat.
In Utah, Gibson’s +/- was -3 for the game with 6 points in 26 minutes and Sessions finished with a negative 9. Cleveland’s bench was bested by Utah tonight, pulling Utah ahead at 2.5 – 3.5
7. “Projected as AWESOME!!” vs “Project”. A few things are apparent about Tristan Thompson after 8 games; he runs the court, is active as a weakside defender & as an offensive rebounder, and he adds a lot of good footage to the end-of-year highlight video. This skill set will build the base of a long career. He’s not without his warts though; the 42% free throw shooting is scary and he could improve his defensive rebounding chops. Finally, an expanded offensive repertoire would look really good on him. Relying too much on offensive rebounding and the generosity of others will occassionally result in super quiet offensive games (3 games with 2 points or less).
Against Utah, Thompson did exactly what he does. 9 points on 5 shots (2 dunks), 3 offensive rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block. On the flip side, only 2 defensive rebounds and 1 of 3 from the charity stripe isn’t the right idea. That said, as long as Thompson continues to generate a couple of buckets every game with his 2-dribble drives, he’s a winner. Good TT puts in work, and the Cavs pull even in my pseudo game at 3.5 – 3.5
8. “Legit Back-up Center” vs “Playing in Italy isn’t all bad, Part 2”. Is Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels or Ryan Hollins an NBA player?
Erden got the minutes tonight and the answer was no. He had twice as many fouls and turnovers as points, rebounds, and blocks. And that settles it, Cavs lose their ”who shows up” battles by a final of 3.5 – 4.5.
Summary: Amazingly, my super-scientific system resulted in an outcome similar to the game. One issue is that the Cavs’ bench was not able to stretch leads as in previous wins; they were outscored 47 – 38 by the Jazz bench. The biggest issue for the Cavs though was their interior defense. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, and Derrick Favors scored 63 points on 82% field goal shooting! The Utah Jazz paint was where amazing happened tonight. Jamison was completely overmatched by Millsap and Favors. Varejao does alot of things well on defense, but post defense is not necessarily one of them. I think Byron Scott could have tried something different to stop the Jazz big men; maybe immediately running double teams at them, maybe playing Thompson more than 15 minutes…I don’t know, but obviously when you’re getting torched like the Cavs were, something different needs attempted.
Tough loss tonight. Three more games on the road trip; Thursday night brings Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns, then another test against an even better front line in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in LA. With a few minor adjustments, I am confident the Cavs will hold those two below 75% from the field. Until next time…