Tough one here tonight. The Cavs were without their starting back court for another game, and the results weren’t pretty. The Cavaliers clawed back to within 9 with about 6 and a half minutes left in the fourth, but the Bulls shut the door, holding the good guys to just 5 points within the next 5 minutes. Before the game, Byron Scott presented the Cavs rookies with baby dolls and strollers… This was either an apparent attempt at levity in a slog of a season and a fun way to haze the rookies, a reminder that they have to stop being babies, an homage to the Veils, some Phil Jackson-esque zen mind game, some weird Nuke Laloosh underwear trick, or an attempt at dadaism. I don’t know why, but the gesture irritates me. This is perhaps part of my problem with Scott. He seems to try really hard to remain “one of the guys,” in a league where many of the coaches are “type A” team managers who are treating their players like workmanlike employees. I think it’s really up to the teams’ veterans to be the ones hazing the players, and it’s up to the coaches to teach a standard of professionalism. If your expectations are for them to be children, they’ll probably play like children. But I digress. It did make for good photography.
The Cavs came out like dogs and got smothered early. Kirk “Oakleys” Heinrich was dropping dimes, and Marco “yes, I have stereotypically Euro facial hair” Bellineli was shooting the lights out. Cleveland had no answer for either of them, once again proving that the Cavs have big problems with dribble penetration and off ball screens. Heinrich and Bellineli are the backup point and shooting guards for the Bulls. They are much better than the Cavaliers’ backup point guards, Daniel Gibson and Jeremy Pargo. The Bulls are much deeper than the Cavs. Also, I’ll say it again. Daniel Gibson’s defense is trading on reputation because he’s been torched regularly this season. So, the Cavs struggled to score early against the Bulls’ always tight defense. Cleveland picked it up as the game went on, and only gave up 10 turnovers with a stretch of 52 possessions without any. But they couldn’t hit shots regularly enough or stop the bulls regularly enough to make much of a dent. The bulls are one of those teams that is really impossible to win against when they get up by 10+ points. It’s like coming back from a 20 point deficit against an average team.
For the starters Tristan Thompson was effective picking up the trash to the tune of 11 points on mostly garbage buckets, but he had ZERO defensive rebounds in 32 minutes. That’s pretty putrid. Varajao was Mr. Hustle again with 15 boards and three steals, but it was obvious that he was the focus of the Bulls defense, and that his jumper wasn’t falling tonight. He struggled, shooting 4-16. Noah has always given him fits. Gee struggled as well, shooting going 0-4 from behind the arc (though his toe-on-the-line two did cut the lead to 9 in the 4th). The Cavs starters were 2-11 shooting from beyond the arc, a big reason why Andy couldn’t get any space.
Scott elected to bring Casspi off the bench instead of starting him tonight, presumably because he wanted Gee on Deng, but it was the wrong move for many reasons. First Deng lit it up on a highly efficient 72% true shooting. Second, if there’s one thing I’ve figured out about Casspi, it’s that he thrives on consistency. If he gets a new role, it takes him a couple games to get adjusted. He struggled, not getting space to get his shot off, and not having it drop when he did. Starting him one night and bringing him off the bench the next isn’t going to work. Third, Gibson’s much better off the bench against lesser defenders (and offensive players at this point) than starting. I thought starting him threw off all the rotations and the Cavs’ defense. If Scott had done it my way we might have only lost by 7 (probably not though, as the Bulls didn’t call off the dogs till they got up 17).
Sloan outplayed Pargo tonight, in keeping with Lionel Hollins’ big criticism that Jeremy just can’t seem to bring it every night. Sloan had a very efficient 14 points, 3 dimes and no turnovers. Scott might just have to start going with the hot hand at the ends of games. In fact, there were some respectable moments off the bench, with Zeller having a decent game, and C.J. Miles not destroying the fabric of space and time with the force of his awfulness. He looked like an NBA player tonight. The bench’s numbers were all inflated by being +7 in garbage time though.
Except for the bizarre baby dolls, and learning that Kyrie Irving is apparently a slob, this was a thoroughly forgettable loss in early December by a team that definitely needs to get some time off, get healthy, and (some day) get some better players. I hope we hear more updates on the babies. I’ve a new stroller suggestion.