Close match here. The Cavs battled the Hawks for the better part of 4 quarters, but were out executed down the stretch. Atlanta is a lot better at winning close games than Cleveland. The Cavs were up 1 off of a Kyrie layup with 2:53 left to go. Atlanta needed points down the stretch, and they put Kyrie Irving in the pick and roll to get them. The Hawks took the lead off a Teague/Pachulaia Pick and Roll where Kyrie got lost 10 feet away from the play — not sure whether to cover Teague or the big and instead decided to float. The Cavs called time out with 2:24 to go, and came out of the huddle with a brilliant play: the LeBron Special: a 31 foot iso jumper from Kyrie. Clank. The next play: a Horford/Teague pick and pop: both defenders went with Teague and then Horford canned an open 19 footer. Subsequent Cavs play: iso-Waiters while the other 4 Cavs stood around in bad spots and watched him launch 22 foot fade-away jumper. Clank. 1:30 left, 97-94 Hawks, Atlanta ran another Pachulia/Teague pick and roll. On the roll, Pachulia missed a 5 footer, got his own rebound, kicked it to Korver on the left wing for 3. Ballgame. You read that right: a 7-0 run in 1:11.
A.C. called it correctly. Atlanta runs plays down the stretch, and the Cavs stand around and try to go one on one with no one else moving. He sounded as irritated as I felt. The Cavs really didn’t play any better against the Wizards, but the Wizards weren’t a good enough team to take advantage of it. Atlanta is. The Cavs lack of offensive creativity and execution doomed them when combined with their inability to get stops.
As for the rest of the game, it was a tightly contested yo-yo affair where the lead for both teams bounced back and forth to 9 for the Cavs and 11 for the Hawks. As brilliant as Kyrie Irving is on offense, he and Waiters got torched on defense. Though they combined for 46 points, 9 assists, and 2 turnovers, Teague and Williams combined for 43 points, 12 assists, and 7 turnovers. Despite the turnovers, they played pretty much to a draw. Until they stop giving up as much as they get, Waiters and Irving won’t win. Some of this is defensive philosophy or lack thereof. I can’t tell when the Cavs are supposed to help, when they’re supposed to switch, and when they’re supposed to stay on their man. Unfortunately, I don’t think they know either. As for Saint Weirdo, he certainly lived up to his nickname with some brilliant drives, dribble moves, and nasty finishes combined with some decent passes, and a selection of dumb shots — including the game losing 22 foot fadeaway. 7-21 is not good shooting.
Speaking of passes, Tristan Thompson had the pass of the night with a lookaway bounce pass to Luke Walton that ended up not even counting cause Tristan was fouled on the feed. But it was one of those “WHOA” moments I’ve been noticing lately from Canadian Dynamite. TnT had a mixed game. He gave Josh Smith nothing on offense but crappy 22 footers, holding him to 2-12 shooting. Tristan was +5 for the game and had 8 boards, including a couple really nice offensive ones that led to putbacks, but he had some frustrating moments where he got his shot blocked when if he could have just shielded his defender with his shoulder and put it up off the glass, he would have had much higher odds of scoring… But he’s getting there. He had another “WHOA” moment on defense when he switched out on Teague for 30+ seconds of man to man defense (there was an o-board in the middle), and he got in good defensive position and denied Teague ANY dribble penetration both times. It was, dare-I-say, a Varajao-esque moment. Canadian Dynamite played with more energy than anyone from Cleveland tonight.
Gee was decent, though his shooting woes continue. At least he’s getting to the line. He was the Cavs’ least incompetent perimeter defender. If 4 of Chucky Miles’ minutes had been gone to Gee, the Cavs might’ve won.
Zeller was competent on offense, and his jump shot is coming around, but he still has a long way to go on defense, and Kyrie was passing to him like he had Andy’s hands. He doesn’t yet. ZPA had some bad offensive fouls and a couple more turnovers, but the jump shot progression was nice to see. Unfortunately Josh Smith owned the defensive paint, and nothing came easy there for Tyler and the rest of the Cavs.
Cleveland’s bench was in a word, atrocious. Chucky Miles was back, posting an earth-shatteringly horrific -21 for the game, off a series of awful possessions. His shooting numbers look better than he played. He was 3-7, 2-4 at the line, and 2-2 from the stripe. But his 3 misses had absolutely no chance of going in, and if he was guarding anyone, I didn’t see it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if the Cavs want to win, the play is to start C.J. and bring Dion off the bench, because Miles is an order of magnitude better when he starts. But that doesn’t seem to be the goal as much as developing Waiters, and I can live with that. Pargo was awful: slow ponderous, perplexing, enigmatic, offering little of substance. He’s the Skyfall of point guards. His sole moment of triumph was a reverse hook shot layup to close out the 3rd, off some nice Nashing around the basket. What Walton gave on offense with some nice passing and general heady play he gave up on defense and the boards. Asking Walton to guard Al Horford should be the opening act in the Theater of the Absurd.
In their defense, the bench was hampered because Gibson got clocked by an errant forearm and ended up with a mouthful of blood. He went to the locker room with a “head injury” and never returned. He suffered a concussion and won’t be traveling to Brooklyn tomorrow. Let’s hope he’s going to be ok.
Atlanta looked good, and their ability to out-execute the Cavs really speaks to Teague’s maturation. Josh Smith did not let his poor offensive evening detract him from protecting the paint, and Al Horford could be one of the best centers in the league if he was more assertive. Lou Williams is one of the toughest players to guard in the league. If this team could somehow get an alpha scorer, they could be very very good. Danny Ferry be praised. The Tim Misny lookalike should be calling O.J. Mayo this offseason.
With a young team, it’s often hard to say when they lose whether they got outplayed or outcoached. I can’t imagine the play coming out of the timeout in the late 4th was a 31 foot KI jump shot. It’s hard to say whether Byron called K-Iso, and Irving was feeling it, or whether Kyrie just never waited for the play. But the ball sure is sticking. One coaching thing I notice is that the Cavs are very bad at closing out quarters. At the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters, the Cavs let players get all the way down the court and get good looks at the basket, including a Jeff Teague layup to end the 1st with only 8 second left on the inbound. They need to watch film of Indiana who aggressively traps the ball-handler at the end of quarters, and forces them to the sideline, making it difficult to advance the ball and get off a good shot in limited time. The way teams end quarters lead to point differentials that are not insignificant throughout the season. In addition, though Waiters didn’t lose his starting job to Chucky Miles when Dion came back from his ankle injury, Casspi got a case of the green apple splatters and hasn’t been off the bench since (no pun intended). This is the kind of double standard that really annoys me with Scott. Some players have very short leashes, and some players get all the opportunities in the world. To call coach Scott’s rotations arbitrary would be kind.
I’ve gone through this post without mentioning much of Kyrie Irving’s overall offensive brilliance. The man scores effortlessly, and is a pleasure to watch play basketball when the ball is in his hands. He can score from anywhere on the court. But I think the time has come to bring someone in to mentor him on the little things: how to defend the pick and roll; when to assert himself and when to feed his teammates; how to feed a hot teammate; how to get someone who needs it an easy bucket; how to pull up in traffic and pick up a cheap foul on a defender; how to shot fake and get to the line; how to execute plays in the half court in crunch time, and how to defend the pick and roll. I think it needs to be a player, because Byron Scott is either not coaching well, or Kyrie’s not listening.