Archive for April, 2013

Recap: Cleveland 95, Miami 96 (or I saw a game today, oh boy…)

Monday, April 15th, 2013

There seemed to be an awful lot of things more important going on in the world yesterday than the season’s final meeting between the Cavaliers and their recently minted arch-rivals, the Miami Heat.  In truth, there’s always something more important going on in the world than a basketball game.  But we watch because the enormity and weight of all the comedy and tragedy in the world cannot be borne by us mortals twenty four hours a day.  Sometimes we need our opiates to get by.  Sometimes the the best of human endeavor can be measured in a silly athletic contest with contrived rules between a bunch of players payed to hone size, strength, dexterity, and obscure talents to ridiculous efficiency.  Sometimes those silly contests are the height of human expression: movement, grace, form, strength, agility, intellect, bravado, and endearing naivete.  And sometimes we signed up to write a recap, and we can’t get out of it.

The Cavs played this one against the Heat, who were without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Udonis Haslem, and Mario Chalmers — who were resting for the playoffs.  Norris Cole returned to Cleveland, to star for the Heat, notching 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists for Miami, who had six players in double figures.  The Heat were also buoyed by six points delivered by the basketball Gods: first a straight on three by Chris “Birdman” Andersen: off the glass from 27 feet to close the first quarter.  And then possibly the worst call against the Cavs of the season happened when Livingston’s block of a Ray Allen three was called for a foul a full second and a half after it happened, giving Allen three freebies with about 9 minutes to go in the 4th.

The first three quarters of this game belonged to Tristan Thompson for the Cavs who was hitting from everywhere — his confidence in that rocker jumper growing with each game.  His first basket was a 14 foot jumper that tickled the twine, and I’m not quite sure which hand he shot it with.  Tristan finished with 16 points and 13 boards on 7-14 shooting with 2 blocks to help lead the Cavs in scoring, and had a big block down the stretch to keep the Cavs in it.

Dion Waiters returned to action tonight, and scored 16 on 7-14 shooting, with 4 dimes, 2 blocks and a steal in 27 minutes.  It was quite a productive outing.  In the highlight of the night, Anderson Varejao was broadcasting with Austin Carr and Fred McCleod when Waiters drove from the top of the key, leaving Norris Cole far behind him, and Frion crushed it over the Birdman.  A.C. and Fred got Andy got to narrate the replay in Portuguese.  Similarly, Dion had a layup off spin move that took him from past the left block to the right block without traveling (I checked).  He left the Birdman in the dust on that one too.  Saint Weirdo only had a couple heat chucks as the game started to unravel in the late third and early fourth, but his shot selection was mostly sound.

As for the non-core, Kevin Jones looked ambulatory and like a productive offensive rebounder, but he very much plays below the rim and relies on quick shooting around the basket to score, instead of exploding.  Furthermore, he only had one defensive rebound in 14 minutes against Miami’s third stringers.  Kevin Jones’ ceiling is as a 13th man in the NBA.  Wayne Ellington’s crash back to earth continued as he was 2-6 and was complicit in the general breakdown on the defense that led to Norris Cole’s all star performance.  Casspi posted 1 rebound and 2 fouls in 11 minutes, and nothing else.  Speights was happy to go 2-7 with 2 rebounds in 17 minutes.  Livingston played a large section of the first and second halves playing small forward with decent effectiveness alongside Waiters and Irving, and finished with 7 dimes and 4 points.

Irving struggled shooting, finishing 7-19 and 1-5 from three for 16 points and 8 dimes.  Also, Norris Cole was glad whenever Kyrie guarded him.

The game was slipping away in the fourth, after the aforementioned three freethrow gift, that was awarded to Ray Allen, put the Heat up 12.  The Cavs clawed back to trail 91-93 with 2:56 left in the game, and then Alonzo Gee committed two really stupid fouls in three defensive possessions on Rashard Lewis while the Cavs were in the penalty, which gave the Heat three free points.  Despite Kyrie’s efforts to win as he made driving layup after driving layup, the Cavs couldn’t get past those fouls.

The Cavs cut it to a one point deficit, 95-96, with 19 seconds left, when they fouled Norris Cole, and he missed both freethrows.  I bet you can’t guess which call Byron Scott ran out of the timeout with 13 seconds left… Yep, spread floor, isolation, Kyrie Irving from the top of the key, or as I like to call it, the old LeMike Brown play.  Norris Cole absorbed the ball from Kyrie on a play that the box score called a block, but looked more like grand basketball larceny.  Like he was Charles Xavier, Cole knew that Kyrie going left, and took the ball from him with a deft mixture of reflexes, guile, and telekinesis. And that was that.

So there is one game left on the schedule for the Cavs, a moribund affair in Charlotte on Wednesday night.  If you’re going to be in the area, tickets are only $2 on Stubhub.  There’s not a lot on the line that night.  Even if the Cavs win, the fact that Phoenix beat Houston tonight means that at worst (or best?) the Cavs will tie with Phoenix for the third worst record in the league.  In other news, Utah beat Minnesota tonight, leaving one night of action for drafty, the Cavs’ second first round pick.  If the Lakers beat Houston in LA, and/or if Utah loses to the Grizzlies in Memphis, then the Lakers make the playoffs and the Cavaliers get their draft pick.  Otherwise, they get Miami’s.  Should make for interesting action Wednesday night as permutations of trying, tanking, and resting for the playoffs all collide.

On a final note, we may have just watched Daniel Gibson’s final game at the Q: a game in which he did not get to play.  We may have also watched Byron Scott coach his last Cavs game at the Q.  Both men are decent fellows who deserved better than to have to end a seven year career on the bench or have to fall on his sword for a team designed to lose.  But life is inherently unfair.  Both men will be fine in the long run.  Gibson will find a spot on the end of the bench hitting open threes for a contender, and Byron Scott will most probably make millions to do nothing next year.  But for both of them, it seems time to move on.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s not even unfair, really.  It’s just a day in the life.

Links ad Praesens

Monday, April 15th, 2013

The Cavaliers season is just about over.

It’s end-of-season time for the Cavs, and their goods offered are looking just about as appealing as a J.C. Penney sale rack. Here’s some links. By the way, it’s Latin in the title. In case you were wondering. Anyways, links.

- Byron Scott continues to fight until the end. Defense is the real problem here, Byron, and why you’re going to lose your job. I don’t think pre-game shootarounds are going to do much. But Byron is a human, just like the rest of us! Just kidding; Byron is a cyborg sent from space to befuddle Cavs fans into submission.

- Ooh, ESPN thinks the Cavs have a bright future. Sweet! No surprise here, of course. Chris Quinn has superstar potential. Never mind, that’s Kyrie. But at least Quinn tries on defense.

- The Cavs ended the season ranked 28th in the ESPN (Stein) Power Rankings. Hey, at least Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, and Ben McLemore declared for the NBA Draft. #OKCmodel

Amateur Documentarians

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

As a Cavs fan, what I want more than anything, and what I probably don’t deserve, is access to the inner workings of the organization: its front office, its locker room, its phone lines. A few months ago, on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, Stan Van Gundy complained the NBA forces teams to give the media too much useless access. I’m paraphrasing here, but Van Gundy said that on a game day, the head coach meets with the media four or five times—pre-walkthrough, post-walkthrough, pre-game, in-game, post-game—and most of those times, the coach really has nothing to say to them. What new quotes can you offer your team’s newspaper writers and bloggers when you just talked to them two hours ago? “Well Jim, since last we spoke, the team has played a few games of Mario Kart, gotten really into friendship bracelets, and staged a low-rent production of ‘Othello.’ Oh, and Tyler Zeller has converted to Tengriism. I continue to think the Celtics will be a tough opponent.”

It’s probably unpleasant for everyone involved to rephrase nothing five times or to have to spin nothing into a column that won’t read like sand tastes. I’m not imagining that excruciating kind of access, but something more substantive and therefore unrealistic: fly-on-the-wall type stuff. I’m curious how effectively and how much the front office communicates with the coaching staff, the type of instruction Byron Scott gives his players in practice, how hands-on Dan Gilbert is on draft day or during free agency. I would expect most of this stuff to be minutiae: front office drones clicking around Synergy, Scott yelling at Dion Waiters about a botched defensive rotation, Alonzo Gee and Boobie Gibson comparing ink. I would just like to know how the whole machine operates, and which parts are hopelessly corroded.

It would make this whole fandom endeavor, if not necessarily happier (it could turn out the Cavs are incredibly dysfunctional), then less suspenseful. I could do with a modicum of certainty as to what this team is working with and where it’s going after three years spent in the deep space of a slow rebuild. I’m not uneasy because I think the team is on the verge of failure; I’m uneasy because this sort of thing—tearing down and remaking and not being consulted about it—inspires unease.

But here we are. The Cavs, aside from a decent run of health and form in February, were pretty bad. Of course, “bad” is reductive. The team improved only marginally in the win column, but then this isn’t a team so much as it is a collection of bodies auditioning to play for an actual team—one that makes sense positionally and doesn’t get blown out by lottery teams—that will exist in the near future. Through narrow prisms, hope is visible: Tristan Thompson nearly averaged a double-double, when at this point last year he was playing basketball as if being constantly pelted with invisible water balloons. Dion Waiters curbed his penchant for step-back 19-footers and learned the free throw line is his friend. Kyrie Irving is Kyrie Irving, though the Cavs’ equipment staff might consider fashioning some sort of bubblewrap armsleeve to keep the young star preserved. There are other reasons for hope, maybe. People disagree about them. It gets loud and stupid. We’re moving on.

Because we only get glimpses into how the team functions, we can’t get the answers we want most—whether Scott will be back next year, Gilbert’s level of trust in Chris Grant, how the players feel about the direction of the team—and so have trouble prognosticating or rendering judgments that don’t feel woefully underinformed. Want my full analysis of the Scott situation? He has the comportment of a consternated waterbed salesman, puzzled as to why his “sleep solutions” aren’t moving as they should, and I’m not nuts about my favorite team being coached by a man who, in the fantastical one-act plays that happen in my head, is kind of a doof. I don’t like the faces dude makes, is more or less my reason for being okay with his prospective firing. There are other factors to consider, certainly, but I have a hard time knowing whether they’re his fault or not—do we blame him for Irving’s lack of interest in defense or is that someone else’s failure? I just know he’s the head coach, and he’s the guy with whom fault lies when the team makes like a street-side fruit stand in a chase scene. So my take on Scott’s fate is based on the half-bemused, half-ponderous look he affects when the team gets down by fifteen. It’s about as useful as any of the other information I have.

Which is why I have a hard time claiming with any conviction that the Cavs should fire him. What I understand just as incompletely but feel more comfortable commenting on is Chris Grant’s tenure as general manager. I know being an NBA GM entails a lot more than just making personnel moves (though, quick: ask me to delineate them before I dive out this window), but that’s ultimately what determines how we perceive the job they do.

Here’s a GM’s role and responsibilities, in handy narrative form: you—you’re an NBA owner in this situation; enjoy your party yacht—put your faith and money in a person to build what fans and broadcasters will, employing mildly unnerving corporate-speak, call “the foundation for success”: that is, you count on him to draft young talent, find someone to coach ‘em up, and perhaps make the odd off-brand free agent signing. You then, after three or four years, take stock of the situation. You’ve made your bed at this point—unless you want to trade away a bunch of players in their early 20s and start over again (and sell that plan to your anxious fanbase), you have to roll with the strategy your GM has half-implemented—but you can correct course slightly and decide to part ways with whoever drafted Jonny Flynn or thought Avery Johnson was much of anything besides loquacious because you’re better off hiring a GM that’s actually just a speak-and-spell with a picture of Danny Ferry’s face taped over the front of it than someone who believes in Avery Johnson.

Let’s say the rebuild process seems to be on the uptick. You dole out a contract extension, then hope the person you trusted to evaluate lottery-caliber young talent and find the coaching staff to develop that talent is also up to a task that’s not altogether similar: paying the right free agents the right amount of money, knowing when to flip an asset at peak value, and scrounging the middle and back end of the first round for rotation-quality prospects. Then you get old, eventually die, everyone who has ever met you dies, and, much later, the sun explodes.

I’m simplifying here, but that’s sort of the point: this is how I think general manager-dom works, and the limited information I have causes me to conceive of it that way. I’ll spare you the graf where I more or less slap grades on Chris Grant’s draft picks while comparing Tyler Zeller to a mop, but I think the rebuild is going about as well as one could hope, which is to say a bunch of dudes in their early 20s are running around stupidly and brilliantly; defensive technique is ritually murdered; I’m talking myself into Shaun Livingston. As a fan, I’m fatigued and not a little bit cranky, but as a rational being, I get that this pathetic outfit could soon grow into something watchable, even exciting.

We’re at what feels like the midpoint of the scenario I’ve laid out above. After three years of bottoming out and amassing good-at-basketball 20-year-olds—intellectual honesty alert!—I’m starting to resent having to watch this team three times a week and because of that am going to say the Cavs will finally make an earnest run at the playoffs in 2013-14. Plus, LeBron James is going to be a free agent next summer and a young team on the rise is a lot more enticing than a young team on the oh dear god C.J Miles just attempted to split a double team.

Here’s the part where I call next season a fulcrum and all the hypothetical good things happen. I think better of this because it feels lazy and disingenuous. Paragraph break.

I get the sensation watching this team that I imagine I would get watching raw footage from an incomplete documentary. Just interviews that go nowhere and the outsides of hotels and a bird landing on a statue and, interspersed, a few moments that vibrate, but then a lady talks in circles about her son for eight minutes, and I’m once again disoriented but mostly bored. I want the footage to tell me a story, but it doesn’t and I can only barely see what the story would be anyway because I’m not Errol Morris or Claude Lanzmann, who know a lot of things—most of them probably mundane and inside baseball-y—about how to tell a story using film. Plus they know why they record the things they record. They can see schematics and skeletons where I see only disjointed images.

I observe the Cavs, disoriented but mostly bored, trying to figure out what they are in the first place and what they can become. What’s missing, what needs to go away. I’m doing it without Chris Grant’s expertise or his extensive knowledge of the team’s inner workings. All I know is that, in the end, the Cavs are supposed to be good. This is a useless thing to know and only fosters anxiety. I find myself carving out time and psychic energy to weigh the pros and cons of resigning Mo Speights, which is as good an example that sports fandom is a ridiculous endeavor as any other.

All this vexation—over wanting to know stuff, over not knowing stuff—is at least something to do and proof enough that three years of excruciating basketball can’t kill whatever arbitrary but entirely real investment I have in this team, which I want to be entertaining, to surprise me, to feel proud of if and when they crawl out of their dismal crater. I’m still watching games, though more as source material for whimsy than anything. I think about Kyrie Irving’s facial hair in a way that he would probably find creepy, and I’ve drafted questions—mostly about pork and the eight movies BET runs on Sunday afternoons—for a Dion Waiters interview that will never happen. I’m not sure I’ve absorbed any of the games I’ve watched since mid-March, but they have happened to me. I know this because of all the books I haven’t read.

My analogy is flawed: even the most devoted cinéastes among us probably wouldn’t bother to endure hundreds of formless, meandering hours of raw documentary footage. If you’re a particularly masochistic Cavs fan, over the past three years, you have watched about 600-plus hours of intermittently thrilling but mostly awful basketball. Because your idiot heart wouldn’t let you do anything else. You’ve perhaps made something like sense out of those hours, but it’s the sort of sense that grows from too little sleep and a desire to feel anything but dull pangs. Maybe you’re like me and constantly, sort of insufferably kvetch over what you don’t know and all the unhelpful research you’ve compiled. You do this because you’re something like an amateur documentarian, but not exactly. You’re a fan, however better or worse that may be.

Well, That Wasn’t Very Fun

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The 76ers throttled the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon.

Watching the Cavaliers play basketball is getting more and more emotionally deflating. This entire year was all about losing, and it has pretty much gone as expected. Lots of losses, a win here and there. But as the season comes to a close, the brand of basketball the Cavs play has become increasingly pathetic. Even that, arguably, was expected. After all, the third pick is more valuable than the fourth, and the second all the moreso. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch. The 76ers ran the Cavs right out of Wells Fargo Center today. The final score was 91-77, but anyone who watched the game knows that it was never in question, the winner never in doubt. Halfway through the first quarter, the 76ers had a 19-3 lead. In the third quarter they built the lead up to 28. A few garbage-time buckets cut the lead to 14, and that was all she wrote. Given the horrific nature of the “contest” that I’m sure about six people watched all of, I’m going to skip a full game action recap. Instead, some notes on the game and notable performances.

- Kyrie Irving played a very ugly 19 minutes, picked up five fouls, and was unsurprisingly left on the bench for the rest of the game. Kyrie looked uninspired on both ends, but he faced bad luck on a few layup attempts. The rim was not Mr. Irving’s friend tonight. It isn’t hard to see that Kyrie has tired of the incessant losing, and that’s what worries me most about the Cavs’ end of season record. As analytically-minded fans, it may be easy to grasp the concept that a few awful seasons is crucial to small-market success in the NBA. But that may be harder for a young star to internalize. No one likes to lose, and another season of it would undoubtedly create an embittered Kyrie Irving.

- Tristan Thompson continues to be blissfully unaware of the fact that the Cavs are tanking, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. TT dropped 12 and 12 in 26 minutes, showing off that push shot he seemingly developed overnight. Unfortunately for his self-esteem, he was seemingly incapable of containing Spencer Hawes, who totally went off.

- Marreese Speights is a very talented player. When he avoids falling in love with mid-range jumpers, Speights can play at a near All-Star level; the aggression, skill and athleticism is all there.

- Kevin Jones plays hard, has 17-foot range, and can’t jump. He’s a solid end-of-bench option, and the Cavs should hold onto him.

- In a strange turn of events, Omri Casspi has seemingly made it out of Byron Scott’s doghouse in the final week of the season. Does this mean that the Cavs might extend the $3.3 million qualifying offer to Casspi this offseason, or is the increased PT simply part of the tanking? Whatever the case, he has looked very effective when he’s seen the floor recently, and I wouldn’t mind in the slightest a three-man SF rotation of Victor Oladipo, Alonzo Gee and Omri Casspi.

- Dion Waiters wasn’t very good at all, not that it matters. The time he missed from the knee surgery clearly threw Dion off-rhythm, ending a promising and often explosive rookie season on a sour note. By the way, Andre Drummond and Anthony Davis are the only players from last year’s draft that are inarguably more valuable than Dion.

- Damien Wilkins hit a lot of turnaround jumpers. Evan Turner still isn’t very good at basketball, and doesn’t have a position. Thaddeus Young is a baller. Jrue Holiday isn’t as good as Kyrie Irving, but it’s fun to see a young point guard play defense. A real treat for Cavaliers fans. It appears Arnett Moultrie is alive and well after falling in the draft, and then barely ever playing. Doug Collins is one of the few NBA coaches that I wouldn’t take over Byron Scott.

URGENT: Dion Waiters needs a nickname. “D-Wait” is lame and a near-homonym of D-Wade. Saint Weirdo, while fascinating, is despised by much of the Cleveland population. D.W. is a character from the children’s show Arthur. “Chubs,” as my friend calls Dion, is both derogatory, meaningless and insulting. Get to work, Cavs fans! Hit me up with suggestions at @dansoch. For serious nickname/nickname-branded T-shirt discussions, email me at danisocher@gmail.com.

Not a recap: Cleveland 91, New York 101

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

It doesn’t look like anyone is recapping last night’s game.  Apparently, we at Cavs:the Blog are the ones tanking.  Kyrie scored 31 points with 6 assists, but did take 27 field goal attempts.  Tristan finished with 15 & 11 on 6 of 7 from the field, but had ten combined missed free throws and turnovers.  Other than flashes from those two, it was a relatively uninspiring performance.  Dion Waiters didn’t play again.  Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points alongside 14 rebounds and JR Smith was unconscious, scoring 31 points in 29 minutes on 13 of 16.

JR Smith could not miss last night.

Leave any of your thoughts in the comments.

Oh No-be Kobe!

Friday, April 12th, 2013

In what is probably the worst possible Cavs news left in the remaining days of this season, Kobe Bryant appears to be done for the year with what is likely a torn achilles tendon.  For those not keeping score at home, the Lakers remain one game up on Utah with only a few contests left.

As much as it pains me to say this – pray for Kobe.

1 through 5: Coaching Critique

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Five Cavs questions for the writers – all in one place.


Question 1: How would you grade Byron Scott and the coaching staff on in-game execution?

Colin: No snark: are they trying to lose games? I want to know. Surely, the roster was constructed to fail. When Varejao was healthy, the Cavs actually had a nice starting lineup, but then the bench would come in and relinquish whatever advantage the starters had accrued. I think this was by design: let the front end of the roster jell; let the back end of the roster kill the team’s chance to win. But even after the bench-solving Grizz trade (which, we’ll find out this offseason based on who the Cavs keep, may have been almost completely about a mid-first round draft pick), Scott has been, if not trying to lose, vomiting all over himself with wacky substitution patterns that undermine the team’s momentum or by keeping good players off the floor for curiously long stretches. As a tank job, it’s been masterful, but if Byron Scott actually thinks his substitutions are helping the team win, he’s dead wrong and should be fired. I have a feeling I’m going to be doing a lot of hemming and hawing over the course of these questions because I think evaluating coaching is almost impossible–even when you’re right about a coach being good/bad, you can still be totally wrong about what makes them good/bad–but I know one thing just from watching this team from an outsider’s perspective: the way it rotates its players in and out of games is stupid. Anyway, I give the coaching staff 8.2 basketballs out of 17.

Mallory: C-.  Byron’s rotations have been pretty decent since the trade, so there’s a nice plus there.   He did a nice job of creating a second unit that plays well together, and generally knows when to sub guys in and out.  Although it should be noted that he often leaves stars sitting too long and is known to put a weird lineup out there once and a while. I give Byron a deservedly hard time for his end of game coaching.  He’s easily one of the worst end-of-game coaches in the NBA. Out of timeouts the players never have a set play, and often fall apart or turn the ball over.  That’s just not acceptable.  Timeouts are generally used, at the end of a game, specifically for making sure everyone knows their role for the next possession.  Instead, what unfolds is usually a mess.  In addition, the Cavs are horrible at going for two-for-ones, another fault that should be largely placed on the shoulders of their leader, Byron.  Finally, when all falls apart, BS is usually seen detached instead of engaging his players – maybe he’s more engaged after games, but when a problem presents itself repeatedly, it’s the coach’s job  to make sure his players IMMEDIATELY know what they did wrong, particularly when it’s clear the status quo isn’t working. For a perfect example, see the end of Wed’s Pistons game.

Nate: The letter grade would be D+.  That’s a barely passing grade, and only in a non-major subject.  As has been noted, the defense is awful at playing the pick and roll.  Offensively, they’ve done a good job of incorporating different sets and getting into them, but despite all that, until late in the game, the Cavs play below average.  According to teamrankings.com, they are 18th in 1st quarter point differential, 16th in 2nd, 27th in 3rd, and dead last in the 4th quarter, at -1.7 points per game.  This is all despite (or perhaps because of) having one of the best 4th quarter scorers in the league, Kyrie Irving. Kyrie has 141 points in 33 games this year in the last 5 minutes with the score +/- 5, according to stats.nba.com.  But overall, the Cavs are -13 in those situations.  Winning close games comes down to execution.  The Cavs have one late game offensive play: guard isolation.  That play happens whether it’s Dion, Kyrie, Miles, Livingston, or Ellington handling the ball.  It looks slightly different depending on who’s running it: Miles and Ellington pull up, Kyrie and Dion can get to the rack and draw fouls or pull up, and Livingston turns it into a backdown.  They routinely lose to good teams because those teams know it’s coming and trap it.  None of those players are great at passing quickly out of high double teams, with a possible exception of Livingston who’s big enough to see over them.  The Cavs are -30 in the last two minutes of close games, and -40 in the last five minutes.  They are also terrible in late game defensive situations.  The person guarding the in-bounds pass in last second situations is routinely worthless.

Kevin: I grade him as: questionable.  This topic is fairly well exhausted; rotations, use of timeouts, lack of an apparent offensive or defensive system…these are complaints filed throughout the season.  Approaching the completion of a third season, the Cavs are 64 and 162.  I understand reasons for this: youth, injuries, low payroll / lack of talent.  But at what point is it unacceptable for the coach to turn lemons into lemon wedges?  In December, I wrote about Reasons and Excuses, and the slippery slope between them; as it relates to Byron Scott, Cavs fans are definitely teetering at the precipice between the two.

Tom: The Cavaliers execution is poor at the defensive end, and rudimentary at the offensive end.  They don’t seem to make in-game adjustments when they start getting worked. All season long they have had trouble with in-bounds plays, situational awareness, and finishing quarters/games.  The offensive schemes seems to be individual creativity from the starters, and 2-man games when Walton and Livingston check in.  I’m not a paid scout, but I’d award the coaches a D here.

Question 2: How would you grade them on preparedness/scouting?

Colin: I’m probably going off-message here: how does this team still neglect wide open perimeter shooters? I guess you can file this under the heading of “preparedness,” but it’s mostly just a thing that drives my Thunderbird habit. I get that creating turnovers is a primary goal of Byron Scott’s defensive approach, but you can’t double-team and trap other NBA teams like you’re the UNC Tar Heels facing the Virgin Islands A&M Sun Dollops. If you run two great athletes at college kids, most of them will do something dumb; if you run two great athletes at NBA players, most of them will hit the open man and call you dumb beneath their breath. Yet, for whatever reason, Scott insists that this team collapse on driving guards and frantically overhelp on big men underneath, which results in a bunch of open jumpers for the other team’s shooters while Irving or Gee defeatedly close out on them a second-and-a-half too late. Don’t get me wrong: this team is terrible at stopping opponents because it’s composed chiefly of young guys (Irving, Waiters) and bad defenders (Miles, Walton), but the scheme doesn’t help. What were we evaluating? Mark it down: forty-five seconds of your life you’d like to get back out of a life composed chiefly of seconds you’d like to get back.

Mallory: C+.  Generally speaking, the Cavs rarely come out completely flat and rarely fall crazy behind early in games (the Brooklyn game withstanding).  That being said, the lack of any real defense certainly falls on the coach and his inability to create a defensive scheme that works for given situations.

Nate: D-.  The guards routinely don’t know which players to go over the pick on and which players to go under.  They also don’t seem to know who to cover and who to leave out at the line.  The Cavs are very bad at dealing with stretch 4s like Ryan Anderson, as the Cavs bigs are reluctant to step out.  Cavs guards also routinely close out on the wrong side, and don’t know who to send to the right side and who to send to the left, which is directly out of the scouting report.  Offensively, they’re better, and tend to know who they can exploit in isolation or in the post, but Kyrie seems routinely blindsided when teams trap him late (which good teams do), a measure of preparedness.

Kevin: How about a grade of: fair.  The team starts well often enough; early in the season, the starters looked great, now the team thrives at building big leads.  In-game adjustments, exhibited through the frequent third quarter malaise and the blown leads seem to be the bigger issue.

Tom: If I noticed patterns I’d offer a better critique. I’m not sure if lack of variety counts as lack of preparation but the Cavs don’t seem to mix it up too much at the defensive end. Bang-a-Drummond and the zone defense which were both implemented in the last week are the first signs I’ve seen of changing it up based on the scouting report. C-

Question 3: How would you grade them on player development?

Colin: “Player development” entails a lot, and it’s hard to say where Thompson and Waiters will end up–the job is far from complete, is what I mean–but they’ve both shown remarkable progress over their brief Cavalier tenures. TT’s got a nascent offensive game and is developing into a nice post defender, and Dion takes a lot fewer 18-foot stepbacks than he did a few months ago, and now finishes around the rim with a craftiness beyond his years. The only mark against the staff is that Irving is a marginally better defender than when he came in the league, which is to say he’s cheese clothish. Tyler Zeller sort of is what he is. I don’t know what they can do with him other than work on his 15-footer and encourage him to eat a protein-rich diet. 27 adorable baby elephants for Byron and his associates.

Mallory: B+.  As Tom and I discussed on yesterday’s podcast the impact the head coach has on player development is questionable.  Is Byron working on Tristan’s FT shooting with him every day?  Is he the one who taught Dion how to attack the rim?  What about Kyrie’s D?  Is he the one teaching him how to be a lock-down defender?  (That last one was a joke)  I’d wager that the assistant coaches and nature ultimately have more to do with development than Byron.  But there’s no denying there’s been development.  How much is nature, how much is Byron, and how much is the rest of the staff, though, is the big question – one that is ultimately unanswerable for anyone not in the locker room.

Nate: B-.  The Cavs have done a good job of bringing players along.  TT, Zeller, Miles, Gee, and Walton are all much better than they were, at least offensively, at season’s beginning.  TT, especially, keeps growing on offense.  Kyrie Irving has developed some bad habits, though.  He routinely just doesn’t even try on defense, and though his points and steals are up, his assists, and rebounds are down, though so are his turnovers.  But they haven’t turned individual improvement into wins.

Kevin: Regarding the would-be stars: solid.  Regarding would-be role players: poor.  Thompson took huge steps this year; over a 33-game stretch, Waiters average 20 ppg36 with league-average true shooting; Zeller has at a minimum greatly improved his scoring efficiency.  Regarding the bench auditioners though, did you know that Jon Leuer’s PER is up to 18 in Memphis?  The other youngsters with a chance to potentially grow over the last three years are either posting career-low PER’s, never improved from their rookie season, or are out of the league (Gee, Casspi, Samuels, Eyenga, etc).  Certainly, it is more important that the franchise “get it right” with the high draft picks, so no need to complain too much.

Tom: Irving was not deemed a sure-thing out of college and Thompson and Waiters were both considered reaches at #4. There was a point early this season when many analysts wondered aloud whether the Cavs had missed on Thompson and Waiters. People don’t wonder that anymore. I’m not going to withhold credit from Byron Scott and the coaching staff for noticeable improvements those two guys have made. I also think C.J. Miles and Alonzo Gee have been put in situations to succeed and have made the most of their talent under Byron Scott. The big misses are Hickson and Casspi, but you can’t win em all. A-.

Question 4: Go back in time to July 2012 – keep everything identical except coaching: who would you choose and how many more wins would the Cavs have with your dream coaching scenario?

Colin: That we’re using our time machine to go back to July of 2012 so we can restaff the head coaching position of a team that’s probably still going to be pretty bad anyway and not, like, finessing Hitler’s art school application or telling Martin Luther King to maybe avoid balconies for a while seems irresponsible.  Journalist-God Brian Windhorst mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it’s worth pointing out: there aren’t a lot of coaching free agents more impressive than Scott. I have an affinity for Nate McMillan, but that’s really just because I like defense-first coaches and still have a lingering crush on those healthy Brandon Roy era Blazers teams. It’s not like Nate McMillan has ever been a miracle worker. We’d all like to play with the fabric of reality and have Gregg Popovich coaching our favorite team, but the reality is you’re always either a.) picking someone off the scrap heap, or b.) hoping an assistant coach who’s never been fully in charge a team before can prove himself. Not that those sorts of things never work out. Rick Carlisle has been on the scrap heap multiple times during his career, and the Bulls are flying relatively high without Derrick Rose because Tom Thibodeau, it turns out, is more than a terrific assistant. But I can’t argue that if the Cavs rolled with my boy McMillan they’d be three games out of eighth place in the East. Can I still keep giving out stupid scores? 89 flapjacks out of 89 flapjacks. Flawless flapjack achievement unlocked.

Mallory: This is a hard question because it really takes too many issues into consideration.  Does another coach install a defense, or, as Tom mentioned on yesterday’s podcast, is D a more natural talent than we’re all willing to admit?  Would another coach have realized the freakishly awesome passing skills of Luke Walton pair brilliantly with Livingston?  Would another coach get through Kyrie’s thick skull that you ALWAYS go 2-for-1 when you have the chance?  Would another coach call a timeout at the right moment to prevent hemorrhaging leads?  Would a head coach bring me ice cream after Cavs losses? Byron isn’t a very good NBA coach, at least not in ways that we as viewers can pinpoint.  He’s quiet, pensive, and rarely gets in his player’s faces.  The defense is horrible and the offense often looks disjointed, particularly when it matters most.  He’s bad at calling timeouts and bad at making in game adjustments. I do think another coach might tread those waters more carefully, but who knows.  I wouldn’t want a big name coach, at this point.  The obviously choice would be Brian Shaw, who I think would be a good guy to give his first shot as a head coach.  Maybe he’d manage things correctly, and if so, maybe a few of those coin-flip games fall heads up instead of tails.  I’d predict an extra 5-7 wins.  Not much, but certainly an improvement, and maybe enough to create some moral victories in an otherwise dour season.

Nate: I probably wouldn’t change it.  I mean as much as I love Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, they would have gotten the Cavs to pointless mediocrity.  Would I like to have had someone who could have taught the team to play defense and to bring the effort every night?  Yes.  Taught the team what to do in close game situations?  Yes.  They might’ve edged out Milwaukee for the last playoff spot and taught some intensity, but that’s if they pushed every button perfectly.  Perhaps the point of Byron Scott is to show Kyrie Irving how the other half lives.  Maybe Kyrie needs to learn to appreciate a coach who makes good offense/defense substitutions or won’t play Luke Walton against Al Horford, or won’t pettily bury a 6’9″ small forward who was leading the NBA in three point percentage.  Byron ran his course.  It’s time to bring someone else in.  I don’t think the timing would have been right in July 2012.  Byron brought a modicum of dignity and calmness, though some might call it ambivalence, to the post LeBrocalypse.  Now the Cavs need someone between stoic Byron and losing-his-voice insane Stan Van Gundy to helm the ship for the next few years.  Scratch that.  Thibs would’ve made Kyrie play defense.  I wish we could have had him.

Kevin: My first preference is Kevin Hetrick; it is a definite pay raise for me.  Unfortunately, Cleveland goes 14 – 68 in that scenario.  Second…Phil Jackson.  The Zen Master melds a second-string front court of Samardo Samuels and Luke Harangody into a 39 win team.  Finally, Luke Walton…player-coach.  In this scenario, the Cavs finish 73 and 9.

Tom: Gregg Popovich is my head coach and teaches offense. Mike Brown is my assistant and he focuses on defense. Mark Price is my shooting coach. Stan Van Gundy is in charge of working with my big men and giving half-time interviews so Pop won’t be bothered. Doc Rivers and Phil Jackson are brought in as consultants when there’s in-fighting or someone needs motivated. And with this team? Add 12 wins. (9th best in the East)  The roster has been in disarray since Byron got here.  As much as I love Gregg Popovich, he’s had a healthy Tim Duncan for 16 of his 17 seasons as HC.  Who has Byron had since he showed up in Cleveland?  Also, the off-season additions of John Kuester and Mo Williams transformed the Cavs from the 20th best offense in the league to the 4th best.  That’s a huge improvement from what seemed like minor changes.  Perhaps the addition of a rim-protector + a healthy Varejao will allow Byron Scott to graft his DNA (whatever it is) onto this team.

Question 5: What expectations or ultimatums do you have for the Cavs coaching staff next season?

Colin: I expect the coaching staff to look different, if not at the absolute top, then in terms of the other dudes in suits sitting next to Byron Scott. They have to get a defensive coordinator of some sort. If Scott’s back with the same staff, we might be in for a long season. It’s tough to lay out other expectations when I’m unsure what the team is going to look like, so I’ll make a meek, blandly general statement: the team needs to stay motivated, and that burden falls on the coaches. I’m sure the inertia of failure and the ever-mounting injuries this year made that task near-impossible, but if we’re to surmise the Cavs will actually make an earnest run at the playoffs next season, the coaches are going to have to keep everyone’s heads on straight, so as to avoid eight-game losing streaks and more than a couple bafflingly uninterested games against bad teams. If the staff can act as a sort of consistency-maintaining mechanism, I’ll rate them three dilapidated burlesque theaters out of five dilapidated burlesque theaters.

Mallory: Next year is it.  40-42 wins is the minimum, meaning a 15 game swing is a MUST.  That’ll be tough, especially if Noel ends up being the guy selected and the front office doesn’t make any major roster improvements.  If Scott is still around, he absolutely must install a defense.  A 20th or better defense is essential to improving the record.  In addition, better in game coaching would be nice – certainly cooling down the opposing team when they get hot with a well-timed TO, as well as better end of game clock management. Ultimately, though, the key is just utilizing what’s on the roster to its absolute peak.  That’s what the best coaches in the NBA do on a nightly basis, and it’s something that Byron has been very mixed at.  If he’s around, he’s got to get better.

Nate: Develop toughness.  Teach the team how to play in late game situations and close out quarters.  Rise to above 20th in opponent FG% (as opposed to the current dead last). Teach a sane and consistent defensive philosophy.  Give opponents some wrinkles.  Teach Dion to play off the ball.  Develop a leadership hierarchy among the players on this team (don’t just hand it to Kyrie).  Most importantly?  Develop a culture of respect, winning, and accountability that will make free agents want to play in Cleveland.  Oh, and have a fun haircut.

Kevin: If Scott is back, it would be with a short leash.  Earlier this season, I took a look at Scott’s career.  The two peaks were guided by hall-of-fame point guards and both situations rapidly unraveled as his teams epically quit on him.  If the team starts 3 and 6 – move on and try some young, fresh, up-and-coming basketball mind.  Brian Shaw from the Pacers, perhaps?  He’s widely regarded as a key-schemer in Indy’s top-notch D.

Tom: No ultimatums from me, although I suspect Dan Gilbert wants some significant improvements at the defensive end. My expectations are that the team learns a few different ways to defend pick and rolls. I’d like to see the bigs hedge and retreat, the guards to anticipate the screener, and the help defenders to know where to rotate. On offense I expect more decisiveness and synergy from the core players, and the ball to swing from side to side. I want the team to start looking more than the sum of their parts. That’s on the coaches.

Commentariat, how would you answer these?

Cavs: The Podcast 0028 – BS!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Another bad Cavs loss means the same ol’ question – is Byron the man for the job?  After the Cavs again blew a winnable game to the lowly Detroit Pistons, the question rings louder than ever.  So what better way to answer than a podcast?

In today’s podcast Tom and I discuss Byron’s future, his impact on the team (specifically Kyrie, Tristan, and Dion), what his pluses and minuses are, and his general handle of the NBA game at the coaching level.

As always we’re on SoundCloud at – https://soundcloud.com/cavstheblog/0028-bs-1

And on iTunes at - https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/cavs-the-podcast/id528149843?mt=2

Enjoy!

Recap: Cleveland 104, Detroit 111 (Or layups, putbacks, lots and lots and lots of freethrows, and disappointment)

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

This one was painful to watch.  The Cavs and Pistons battled within a few points of each other for much of the game, and then with 5 minutes left, a free-throw contest broke out.  Let’s get to it.

1st Quarter: The Cavs came out looking to get Tristan Thompson involved early in the post, which wasn’t a bad plan.  TT scored and got to the line.  He also finished some nice dimes from Livingston and Irving to finish the quarter with 11 points.  Though it was effective, TT is sometimes ponderously slow at coming to a decision when he is surveying the offense in the post, and often, the offense stops.  Making decisions more quickly should be a priority in the off season.

Ellington got going early, with 7 points in 8 minutes, by running for layups in transition and Kyrie got to the line.

Defensively, the Pistons put the Cavs in a lot of pick and roll and got a lot of point blank shots for Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.  This was repeated throughout the game.  Dribble penetration both in isolation and in the P/R led to bigs over-helping and easy layups after one or two passes for the Piston bigs.  Drummond and Monroe have developed some really nice chemistry.  They’re going to be a force for a long time, and Stuckey, Singler, and lousy Cavs defense did a nice job of setting ‘Dre and Greg up. I don’t know if Byron Scott is going to coach the Cavs next year, but he or whoever is coaching them has got to come up with a scheme to stop the pick and roll from eviscerating Cleveland.  24-28, Detroit.

2nd Quarter: Free Casspi! Omri executed a nice up and under from the mid post to score the first points of the quarter at 10:22.  Will Bynum made a layup, and then the Dion Waiters show started.  Playing his first game in three weeks, Dion came in to start the second, and swished a 19 footer out of a left elbow post-up.  He followed that up with a face-up drive from the top of the key, which he used to feed Livingston under the basket.  Then Waiters drove from the right wing to the left block for a sweet little reverse.  After a Piston timeout, Dion drove from the left post for a 3 point play after Drummond made a very dumb goal tend.  It was nice to have Frion back.

Cleveland pushed it out to a 9 point lead as Herculoids 2.0 (Dion, Shaun, Omri, KJ, and Marreese) dominated.  Casspi was rebounding and running the floor well.  Waiters was attacking and getting Kobe assists.  Kevin Jones was all over the boards, and Speights Eurostepped into a layup, making Charlie Villueva look as mobile as Gheorghe Muresan.

Stuckey drained a 3, and after a timeout, Kyrie got back in and the Pistons promptly resumed scoring.  First they lost Stuckey in transition for 3, then Bynum waltzed by Dion and set up Drummond for a dunk to cap an  8-0 run.

Cavs fans collectively let out an “ugh,” as Zeller pump faked and then traveled on the drive for the 3000th time this year for the year.  Drummond punished him after the whistle with a swipe at the basketball, which hit ZPA in the jimmies, felling him.

After an anticlimactic end of the quarter, which characteristically had the Cavs outscored in the final thirty seconds, TT had 13 points and 8 boards and the Pistons were shooting 55%.  49-53, Detroit

3rd Quarter: Zeller gave up a Drummond putback dunk, Tyler Zeller canned a 20 footer, Monroe scored easily on TT, Zeller canned another 20 footer, and then allowed Drummond to flush another putback dunk.  That was like watching tennis.

Kyrie bailed on a Brandon Knight a back door cut like he was playing a pickup game at the Y, which led to another putback.  There is no one on the Cavs who could keep Drummond off the offensive boards.  Adding someone with real size and weight in the offseason is going to be a priority for nights like this.  I hear Marcin Gortat might be available.

Ellington was playing better defense earlier this season.  He’s been routinely abused off the dribble over the last two games.  This quarter it was by Stuckey.  To make him feel not so bad, Kyrie decided to play equally bad defense on Brandon Knight.

Late in the quarter, Irving started to get aggressive: getting to the line, converting +1s . Then he posted up Knight and pork chopped him right in the collar bone, drawing an offensive foul.  That wasn’t smart.

With 24 seconds left, Gee retook the lead.  He pump faked at the wing drove and pulled up at the elbow for a bucket.  This is the play that will keep Gee in the league.  If he can pass up the wing 3, which he’s pretty bad at, and start hitting the 20 footer consistently, he will be better served.  75-74, Cleveland.

4th Quarter: Herculoids 2.0 started the quarter, and the Pistons countered with Monroe, Bynum, Singler, Jerebko, and Middleton.  I don’t think there was a minute of this game that the Pistons didn’t have Monroe or Drummond in the game.

Cavs had a hard time getting into their offense, and didn’t score for the first two minutes.  They finally forced the ball into Livingston against Bynum in the post and got to the line.  After trading buckets, Casspi cast off the chains that had been holding him to the bench and rose up for 3! Waiters attacked, and finger rolled for 2!  I love the new Herculoids.  Then, St. Weirdo killed the buzz with a 26 foot heat chuck with 13 seconds left on the clock.

Dick Bavetta really put the kibosh on the festivities when one of his liver spots covered his eyes and he called Waiters for a travel when his right foot was nailed to the floor.  Waiters was lucky he didn’t get a tech from Great Grandpa B.

Livingston continued the game trend of terrible perimeter defense as he allowed Bynum who is 7 inches shorter and 3 years younger than him to shoot over him for an easy two.  Then he let Bynum do it to him from 26 feet.  To make him feel better, Kyrie subbed in and allowed Bynum to do it to him, too with some putrid pick and roll defense (see pic to the right).  Timeout. Cavs, down 4.

The most boring Crunch Time ever: Waiters: nastily attacked the rack with a left handed finish off the square.  I missed you, Dion.  And then Hack-a-Dre started.  Drummond split the first pair and Ohmygod, Kyrie followed it up with a ridiculous weaving dribble drive through four Pistons to score with a spinning finish.

After another Drummond split, TT scored with a right hand hook on the left block to tie the game!

And that was as exciting as it got for the next 2 minutes as the Cavs kept fouling Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t keep from fouling Kyrie.  And Kyrie couldn’t stop turning it over.  Aside from a nifty Canadian Dynamite layup, it was an aesthetic nightmare.  The funniest part of the stretch was when Bynum drained a three before the Cavs could foul Drummond, in yet another brain fart by the Cavs perimeter defense.

With 28 seconds, the game was tied, and then Monroe scored on a lefty hook that touched every part of the rim before it fell in.  Kyrie missed an iso-three, coming about 2 inches short, and it still had a chance to rattle in. Then Tristan Thompson fouled Drummond without the ball.  So the Pistons got two technical free throws and the ball.  Well, that wasn’t smart.  After four freethrows, the Pistons were up 4 with 17 left.  And the Pistons fouled Kyrie!?  Ugh.  The game would not end.  Kyrie split.  The Cavs down 3.  Another foul.  Cavs down five.  Kyrie turned it over to seal the game.  Oy.

Conclusions: Tristan Thompson’s dribble -> jump stop -> pivot footwork has gotten really good.   He creates space with it incredibly well: jump stopping into or by his defender, then clearing space with his lower body and/or shoulders, then reverse pivoting into a hook shot.  He and the Cavs development staff really ought to be commended.  His 19 and 8 were efficient and much needed.  Conversely his defense was stymied by the Cavs difficulties guarding the pick and roll.  The bigs seem to have no idea what the guards are doing and the whole thing breaks down consistently.

Herculoids 2.0 were great.  They went teen deep, and until the Will Bynum fourth quarter explosion, they killed the Pistons bench.  They gathered 37 points and 26 boards. Jones, Speights, Casspi, Livingston, and Waiters were a pleasure to watch.

Irving was good on offense, though sloppy with the ball.  The 5 turnovers hurt, especially the late ones.  But 27, 9 dimes, and 12-13 at the line is a line maybe 5 people in the league can post.  Unfortunately the -14 and -16 he and Ellington posted in +/- was a fully accurate representation of how badly they defended.

The decision to go hack-a-Dre smacked of desperation, and ultimately backfired when TT got so in the habit of doing it, he fouled off the ball in the final two minutes: a big no-no.  Tough to know whether to blame Byron or Thompson there.

Andre Drummond is a beast.  At 6’10″, 270 pounds, and an enormous 7’6″ wing span, suffice it to say, at least 5 teams whiffed by not drafting him.  He dunked everything tonight, and the rotations and over-helping by the Cavs big men helped he and Monroe immensely.  What is really impressive about Drummond is how well he moves without the ball, and how good his hands are.  He cuts, seals, and runs the floor incredibly well for his size and wingspan.  And he catches everything that comes at him.  There was a time about three years ago when he and Shabazz Muhammed were in high school and considered the most cant miss prospects of the 2013 draft.  In the summer of 2011, the CtB comment board was abuzz with visions of Drummond playing along side Andy and Tristan.  Drummond changed his eligibility to enter college a year earlier, and his struggles at UConn were well documented, and because of that and his awful free throw shooting (which has improved immensely), his stock fell significantly.  I wasn’t a believer till tonight, but I’ve not seen a young big man with a chance to be this dominant since Andrew Bynum started putting it together.  In light of that, I’m reconsidering my stance on Shabazz Muhammad.  He might just be as good as everyone thought he was in high school, and like Drummond was trapped in a crappy college situation.  Will teams pass on him the way they did on Drummond, and regret it later?   I like Dion Waiters an awful lot, but it’s tough not to feel some buyer’s remorse after this one.  I hope the Cavs got it right, and get it right this summer.

Late Collapses are Kind of our Thing, Ya Know?

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Paul George hit a few huge threes down the stretch.

IND 99 > CLE 94

Well, this was rather disappointing. The Cavaliers played three quarters of solid defense and opportunistic offense, gaining a twenty point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And then it unraveled as it always does, the lead picked apart by George Hill fastbreak after George Hill fastbreak, topped off by a pair of Paul George three-pointers. People will complain about the calls agains the Cavs (the offensive foul call was a close one), but this one came down to a defensive collapse that doomed us against a suddenly effective Pacers transition offense.

First Quarter: For what the first time in what seems like forever, the young Mr. Irving started out this game on fire, knocking down jumpers and feeding Tyler Zeller for easy buckets. But the Pacers did what the Pacers do, playing ugly and effective basketball to hold off the Cavs. Tyler Hansborough in particular has perhaps the least aesthetically pleasing game in the NBA. He sort of flails around everywhere, throwing elbows with reckless abandon. And in perhaps the upset of the day, Omri Casspi played in the first quarter– and played well. He defended Paul George as best he could, and even scored. IND 29, CLE 26

Second Quarter: Kevin Jones did his best to usurp Luke Walton’s job as the second-string power forward, showcasing an offensive versatility reminiscent of Bernard King in his prime (joking, calm down). Shaun Livingston hit another midrange jumper. He’s money from 10-15 feet. Lance Stephenson got to the line a few times, and David West scored a few. Kyrie dished some nice passes at the end of the first, and the Cavaliers were up five at the half. CLE 53, IND 48

Third Quarter: The third frame started out with two straight Lance Stephenson offensive boards, followed by an easy putback. That’s gotta be a failure on the part of the Cavs frontline. Tyler Zeller continued to ball out, hitting his jumper with ease. However, his rhythm from midrange pulled him out of the paint, leading to only three rebounds for the game. Tristan Thompson looked good out there, but he was only 4-12 from the field. I honestly thought he played much better than that, but you can’t fight the boxscore. The Cavs controlled the quarter on both sides of the floor, opening up a huge lead by the fourth. CLE 84, IND 64

Fourth Quarter: Ugh. The Cavaliers were flat on offense, lazy on defense and seemingly okay with losing the game. The Pacers chipped away, and when Kyrie re-entered the game with six minutes left, Indiana had whittled the deficit to 15. Kyrie started scoring, but he gave it right back on the other end. George Hill was getting easy buckets in transition, and he’s not exactly Penny Hardaway– the issue was that no one felt like getting in front of him. The intensity disparity between offense and defense for Kyrie is truly remarkable. He has to be one of the worst defensive players in the NBA. Paul George hit a three to give the Pacers a two-point lead, and then Kyrie got whistled on a very, very, very close offensive foul call. As close as it gets. But after review, the call went against Cleveland. Pendergraph then hit one of two at the line, and Ellington back-rimmed a three pointer to end the game. IND 99, CLE 94

I don’t have any specific complaints about Byron Scott tonight. For the first three quarters, he had the Cavaliers scoring well, defending better and running the Pacers out of the gym. But once again, it all fell apart in the fourth. The players quit this game, and that has to come back to the coaching. NBA teams should not give up 20 point leads in nine minutes; that’s for March Madness. Kyrie Irving, in particular, needs to start trying on defense if he wants to earn that top-12 player status that ESPN assigned him in #NBArank. For all the talk about Scott’s ability as a point guards coach, he apparently has no idea how to convice Kyrie to defend. That was a crucial factor in this loss, as George Hill dived to the rim without resistance again and again. Disappointing loss tonight.

P.S. This was not tanking. The Cavs didn’t try to lose this game.