Recap Part 2: Cleveland 118, Portland 119 (or emotional purging through basketball)

December 1st, 2012 by Nate Smith

Note: Due to the way the game ended, there was an earlier abbreviated recap about some bad calls, and the last 3.4 seconds of the game.  Here’s the regular recap.  I had meant to do a running diary style recap, but I think I’ll just keep it to the better part of the second half/OTs.  It’s been a long enough night as it is.  Here’s hoping for some life affirming catharsis in examining the Cavs.  Perhaps the hubris of a blown fast break is a metaphor for life, an example of theatrical tragedy.  Or as some guy who wrote some essay on the internet said of the Greek playwrights, “Tragedy, after all, is an imitation of action and of life, not men. The stage externalizes what’s within our souls. The actors play out the meaning of life which the audience can safely inspect without endangering themselves.”   So let’s get to it…

Just started this recap midway through the third quarter: a maddening quarter in which Byron Scott eschews a timeout in the middle of a Portland run which stretches out to 10 points straight.  Damian Lillard has just abused Pargo for three straight possessions for 8 points (of course Pargo was screened by his own man, Tristan Thompson, on one of those).  How does Scott respond?  By substituting Sloan in…  Sloan is one of those players who I’m at a loss to figure out one thing he does well.  Thankfully Andy is playing out of his mind this game, despite the fact that Pargo and Waiters have been passing up open looks to him.  During one play, Pargo throws it to Andy on the left block…  Andy passes back and then instead of reposting, Pargo launches a pull up 27 footer.  UGH.  Waiters is launching pull up threes with 13 seconds on the shot clock.  Cavs living for jumpers right now and not looking to attack.

Miraculously, the good parts of the Cavs bench, Casspi and Zeller, pull the Cavs back close.  Sloan gets fouled on a couple transition drives, then gets scored on by Nolan Smith who executes the slowest post move by a guard in the NBA since the mid 60s.   Boobie hits a huge three to make it 72-70 with 26 seconds left in the 3rd.  The Cavs are now 9/26 from three in the game.  Ye gods.  Anderson Varejao outplaying another all star: this time it’s LaMarcus Aldridge.  Aldridge tries to face him up on two separate possessions, and Andy absolutely gives him nothing of value: pushing him into a contested jumper from a bad angle on the baseline and then getting him to shuffle his feet on an iso at the elbow.

Sloan!  Closes out the third quarter with a pullup that rattles home.  Then starts out the 4th with a left base line drive.  Wow.  Cavs Bench is playing as well as they have all year as Casspi tips in a missed Sloan dunk attempt.   Blazers answer with a couple buckets to cut the Cavs lead to 4.  TO, Cavs.  Portland playing their starters heavy minutes.  Sloan with 10 points…  Easily his best game of the year.  Casspi with awesome defense on Batum…

Cavs drawing fouls all over the place in the first half of the fourth quarter.  Sloan gets lit up on a lazy closeout on a 3 point splash by Lillard.  Lillard is definitely winning the head to head ROY matchup against Waiters tonight.  He’s 6/10 while Waiters is 2/12…  now 2/13.  He’s absolutely chucking tonight: 1-8 from the three point line.  I hate to say this, but… put Sloan back in.  The fact that Pargo and Waiters don’t realize that Andy should be touching the ball in the middle of the floor against the zone EVERY POSSESSION is stupidity, bad coaching, or both.  It seems that everyone realizes the Cavs have an all-star on their team except for his own teammates.

ANDY to GEE on a baseline cut!  Slam! See?  Tie game with 3:30 left.  Dear Cavs guards: Please run every play through Andy till the end of the game.  After the timeout and a goaltend by Andy, GEE TO ANDY, Slam!   Then 3 Pointer Batum… Ugh.  Pargo THREEEE.  TT with the best block of the year!  Waiters, probing… driving… to Tristan long gather…  SLAM!  Cavs up 2!  54 seconds left…  Catching my breath.

Aldridge with a foul, and then a goaltend by TT with a ball below the rim?  Ugh.  Stupid play by TT… stupid call.  Missed free throw.  36 seconds left….  and then a wasted possession by the Cavs.  Ugh.  Why not go 2 for 1?  Why no timeout?  Terrible late game awareness by the team and the coach.  Iso Lillard on Pargo…  Fading to the left baseline… BRICK!  OOOOOVERTIME.

Andy is too unselfish.  He’s got to stop pitching the ball back out to the guards with 6 second left.  Shot clock violation.  A high post drive or an elbow jumper is a better option…

PARGO  for 3.  Hickson beats TT on a jump hook.  Andy Gets Aldridge in the air, and then doesn’t jump into him.  Ugh.  Don’t pass up easy free throws, Andy.  Lillard with a sick three.  Pargo dribble dribble dribble, doesn’t pass to Andy then LeChucks a three with 10 seconds left.  Andy rebounds to WAITERS FOR THREE  Cavs up 97-96.

Lillard gets a bailout foul on a drive, and then cans 2 freebies to put the Blazers up one.  Editor’s note: this is the same call that Zeller didn’t get at the end of the 2nd overtime. Waiters slashes after dribbling the air out of the ball and scores.  Great drive to bail out the possession, but why oh why isn’t Andy touching the ball. 99-98 Cavs.  Argh.  Wes Matthews hits an open 3 from the left corner.  99-101, Blazers.

Pargo slashes on a nice defensive possession by the Blazers, and draws a foul on Lillard.  Cans them both… 101 ALL  Andy Steal!  Ugh.  Pargo blows the layup, on a 3 on 1  break, and then Aldridge slams on a Lillard feed on the other end.  UGH.  4 point swing there Pargo.  Editors note: in retrospect, aside from the officiating, this was probably the most crucial sequence of the game.

25 seconds left, cavs down 101-103.  GEE scores on an offensive rebound, and BAILS OUT out a bad possession again, after a Saint Weirdo pullup brick from 20 feet.  Tied at 103, 6.7 left in OT…  Casspi in on D against Batum.  Lovin’ the substitution…  Batum on a putback shot.  Ugh.  Blazers win… WHEW  Thank God for Replay.  Ball was in his hands as the buzzer went off.

Double OOOOOVERTIME.  Gee switched on the P/R and closed out hard on Lillard to force a bad shot to close out that first overtime.  Blazers ran a goofy play: a Luke Babbit, Lillard pick and roll.  Aldridge can’t  be happy about that…

Anyway.  Lillard is an animal… sets up two straight buckets, but he’s answered by Tyler Zeller with 2 straight buckets!  Andy is tired, and no one is stopping anyone in the second overtime.  5 possessions, 5 buckets until Gee loses a dribble on a drive out of bounds.  Portland up 2, now 4 on a Hickson post-up.  Zeller!  Draws another foul for 6 straight points in the 2nd OT.  Cavs down 2.  Zeller makes another great play on an O-Board and Andy draws a foul, and then falls on Dion on a play that looked like it hurt for both of them.

THREEEEE G!!  Cavs Up one…  Then, Lillard with a dagger 20 footer at the top of the key to put the Blazers back up 1.  ZELLER  Elbow J!  Cavs up 116-115!  This game is exhausting.  Lillard turnover, off a fantastic stringout by Zeller.  Zeller gets called on a travel on a play where he forced the ref to make a call, and the ref refused to make the call.  GREAT Defense by the Cavs with 20 seconds left.  Gee hits 1 of 2 with 2.5 seconds on a foul that the Cavs got screwed on.  Gee was fouled without the ball, and it should be 1 shot and a possession for the Cavs.  BATUM  Ugh. with a ridiculously good 3 from the corner.  WHY AREN’T WE OVERPLAYING FOR THE OUTSIDE SHOT!?

Ugh.  Andy almost makes a miraculous over the shoulder 15 foot tip shot with .2 left, but the Cavs lose.  Ugh.  The Cavs lost…  I kind of want to cry.  The Chorus is moaning.  I have to watch some replays…

Marvin Fong, The Plain Dealer

UGH.

Observations:

This was an agonizing loss.  Not only did the Cavs lose a double overtime game where they did some brilliant things and some boneheaded things, but as CtB reader Richard noted, Waiters, “twisted the [tar feathers] out of his ankle, got kicked in the head by Varejao, and then Varejao fell on his twisted ankle all in the same play…brutal play.” I hope he was ok.

This was also by far the best the bench has played all year.  They killed the Blazers bench to the tune of 47 to 29 points.  They picked the Cavs up big time at the beginning of the 4th.  This was Tyler Zeller’s best game of the year.  He was a monster in the 2nd overtime with 8 points and a great offensive rebound at the end of the first OT.  Also had two huge blocks on J.J. Hickson towards the end (it’s all blurring together).  This was also, possibly Sloan’s greatest game of the year.  This is Byron Scott’s best attribute: getting guys who look like they have no discernible NBA skill to improve.  Sloan might not get a chance on any other NBA team, but B. Scott keeps coaching him up.  Casspi also had a great game, but got three happy.  In fact the entire team got three happy.  35 attempts?  Thought Omri was playing some great defense on Batum, and probably should have been on him on the final play.  I thought he did better than Gee.  Gibson was hit or miss, but he was part of the unit that played really well at the beginning of the fourth, so I’ll give him some credit.  He had a huge three down the stretch…  In fact given the long minutes and the fact that the starters for both teams seemed exhausted, perhaps the Cavs should’ve been playing more of their bench in the overtimes…

It’s easy to nitpick the rotations.  I didn’t think they were bad this game, but Byron’s unwillingness to go offense/defense with his substitutions towards the end of games still baffles me.  I was happy to see Casspi out at the end of the first overtime, but I would like to see him get more crunch time defense play.  He’s earned it.  Putting him at the 3 and Gee at the 2 on D would be a nice play.  As for the Cavs execution struggles, they were all defensive.  48.9% from the field and only 14 turnovers in two overtimes by Portland is not getting it done.  The good guys simply could not get stops when they needed.

Much of the credit for the great offensive play for the Blazers should go to Lillard, who absolutely eviscerated Dion Waiters tonight in the ROY head to head battle: 24 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, on 9-17 shooting versus 12, 7, and 5 for Waiters on a soul crushing 4-17.  Neon Deon had some big  down-the-stretch plays, but his stupid shots, bad job of getting the Cavs into their offense, and general Saint Weirdo-ness confounded all night.  Pargo’s 3-12 wasn’t much better, including 0-6 inside the line (he did draw two fouls and chipped in 8 dimes).  Pargo also blew the 3 on 1 in the first overtime that was one of the many plays that lost the Cavs the game.  The Cavs guards were outplayed by the Blazer’s Guards.  Wesley Matthews didn’t shoot well but had a couple mean rebounds, and 10 dimes and only one TO.  I would love to see him in a Cavs uniform.

As for the front courts, Andy was amazing again.  “Fear? What has a man to do with fear? Chance rules our lives, and the future is all unknown. Best live as we may, from day to day.”  He was everywhere on offense, and played some great defense in key possessions.  I’m not lying when I say he needs to touch the ball more down the stretch, especially without Kyrie.  Good things happen when the offense runs through Andy.  Bad things happen when the Cavs guards pound the ball.

Thompson had some nice flushes, and didn’t look incompetent on offense.  He still takes forever to gather, and the Cavs guards are afraid to pass him the ball at times, but he had some decent plays.  He also didn’t rebound much and generally got lit up towards the end of the game.  He had some good defensive plays and some bad bad ones (screening his own man).  That goaltend was dumb, but he also had his best block of the year this game.  Gee was a monster, and had a sick drive off the glass at the end of the first overtime to tie it up.  He’s a guy that just fills up a box score.  I wish he could’ve hit just one more free throw.

The Cavs have been ratcheting up the free throw percentage too, at just under 82% for this game, and had an insane 32 assists.  They’re taking the shots that are open, and the open shots are often threes, but the made threes cause them to take dumb threes too.  But they have to start playing better defense, especially in late game situations.  There’s absolutely no reason that Batum should have been shooting a three then.  They have to overplay the three or take a foul on the floor.  Similarly the blown 1 on 3 and then Aldridge getting a dunk on the other end is inexcusably bad execution.

“How dreadful the knowledge of the truth can be when there’s no help in truth.”  There’s so much to like tonight, and so much to hate.  The Cavs have so much talent, and just don’t know how to win close games yet.  I could think of this game as a tragedy of reaching great heights and then losing it all, or as a comedy, or as a Kafka-esque battle against the bureaucracy of NBA officiating.  But, I think I’ll just call it a cathartic loss and go to bed.  That’s the great thing about basketball.  There’s always another play in a day or too.  I hope the Cavs keep playing this hard… and just a little bit smarter.