For those of you that grew up with console video games, you may recall a gameplay mechanism that became popular in multiplayer games in the late-90s. In an attempt to give overwhelmed novices [pwned n00bs] a handicap (and a reason to keep coming back for more) many games introduced what I call “Rage Mode”. In the fighting game Tekken, this gameplay was actually referred to as “rage”. Rage Mode activated after a player suffered a relentless and humbling beat down and was in need of serious help. For the non-gamers, Rage Mode is no different than Popeye poppin’ produce, Rocky flashing his Tiger Eye, or Son Goku getting angry enough to become engulfed in a holy and invincible glow. Tonight, the Indiana Pacers activated Rage Mode. The Pacers came into tonight’s game having lost 3 of 4 games – including notable losses to the Heat on National TV and the Kobe/Pau-less Lakers in Indianapolis. Most people probably expected the Pacers to activate Rage Mode against the lowly 76ers, but that game only added to the damage meter. So tonight, the Cavs got burned by a team engulfed in an invincible flame of rage, which as you see, is different than NBA Jam flames.
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The Cavs started off pretty well, which was a welcome sign. After Tyler Zeller’s second straight jumper, however, the Cavs went almost 4 minutes without a point. Paul George drained a bunch of deep twos and an 18-11 lead turned into a 22-18 deficit. With the exception of a 3.J. Miles explosion midway through the 2nd quarter, the Cavs started to unravel. Dion Waiters never checked back into the game, and after some twitter speculation, it was confirmed that he would sit out the remainder of the game with left-knee soreness. The Pacers created significant separation near the end of the second quarter. At halftime, the Cavs trailed 60-45.
Right about here is when the Pacer’s activated Rage Mode. In the NBA, teams often go on runs with hot outside shooting and/or lock-down defense. (NBA Jam flames) In the 3rd quarter, the Pacers decided to simply throw the ball in the post, send a rag doll wearing a Tyler Zeller jersey to the deck, and finish with minimal resistance. It was a nightmare for Tyler Zeller. Imagine Tyler Hansbrough’s deepest basketball fantasy: characteristic two-handed dunks, elbows, thrashing, stolen rebounds, puppies punted off a bridge… This quarter had it all. There was even an ejection – although it was issued to Mo Speights for horse-collar tackling Paul George on a breakaway dunk attempt. (I was actually shocked Hansbrough didn’t “come at me bro” towards Speights after the blatant flagrant).
When the Pacers front-line wasn’t shedding interior defenders like Neo sheds Smiths, Paul George and Lance Stephenson decided tonight was the night to rack up some youtube hits. [Highlights] And that was the game – for all intents and purposes. Garbage time started the second Speights got tossed and the Pacers cruised to a 111-90 victory.
-Tyler Hansbrough was +21 in 23 minutes with 11 rebounds (5 were offensive – and they should have offended the Cavs front line) and earned 7 free throws on an assortment of thrashing moves around the basket after securing stealing said rebounds.
-Roy Hibbert had 5 blocks including a comical one where Wayne Ellington tried desperately to generate some offense, spun awkwardly off one leg to attempt a scoop shot near the right block, and basically served a softball into Hibbert’s torso. Hibbert still found a way to swat it into the floor with his hand for effect.
-Gerald Green splashed 4 triples off the bench en route to 20 points in 23 minutes. All his other baskets were highlight dunks.
-On the good guys’ bench, the Cavs just fell apart defensively. The loss was looking a bit methodical as the 2nd quarter wound down, but the Cavs were still playing with some composure. A few dunks into the 3rd quarter, everything went wrong. The Cavs turned it over 5 times in the first 5 minutes, exacerbating the beat down. The possessions that didn’t end in turnovers seemed to end with shots that were rejected by the side of the backboard. Tristan popped in a few of his patented mid-range floaters, but other than that, it was all Pacers.
-For all the fanfare about his improved play without Anderson Varejao, I get the sense that Tristan Thompson would donate each and every one of his non-essential and redundant organs if it’d help Andy get back on the court more quickly. At this point it’s hard to tell if Thompson is a poor interior defender or if opposing bigs just decimate the Cavs because of the other 4 guys on the court. I honestly can’t tell. Tonight, Roy Hibbert (understandably) and Tyler Hansbrough (puzzlingly) dominated the Cavs front line – at both ends. The one welcome sight with Tristan was that he never got down on himself. He kept on fighting an uphill battle even when the outcome had been decided, and actually finished 9-16 from the floor and led all players in offensive rebounds with 6. He’s a fighter, and he has an insane motor. I think he will be much more effective with an above-average post defender on his wing. With Dion and Kyrie sidelined, the Cavs should look for him more on offense.
-If you check out the box score, you will find that Tyler Zeller shot above 60% from the field, had 4 assists and only 1 turnover, and grabbed 6 boards in 27 minutes. And you might think he had a nice game. If someone offers you footage of the third quarter, you must refuse it. If the NBA kept stats for number of times a player unwillingly landed on his back, then Tyler set a personal best tonight. My hope is that this game will serve as motivation for Zeller, and not discouragement. He fought hard and kept getting back up for more haymakers. He had a nice first half and his 4 assists led all Cavaliers. He can hang his hat on that.
-C.J. Miles had a throwback game harking to earlier this year when he’d get crazy hot. He finished with 21 points in 27 minutes and the Cavs still lost by over 20. Yikes. Part of the problem was that the Cavs couldn’t generate any offense going to the basket (no Dion or Kyrie) and beside C.J., no one could hit a 3. Miles finished 4 of 8 and the rest of the Cavs were 2 of 18 from downtown. Boobie Gibson was 0-6.
The Cavs lack toughness. Mary Schmitt Boyer brought this up in her podcast and it’s been apparent all season. When teams start getting rough with the Cavs – they generally fall apart. Obviously, the roster isn’t rife with feisty players much less enforcers. The Cavs don’t need to be trotting the Incredible Hulk out there to set the tone, but maybe a little more Superman and a little less “mild-mannered Clark Kent” when the ball goes up. Tonight the Cavs got bullied – by an enraged team trying to recapture some of their mojo. Let’s all hope the Cavs activate Rage Mode when the Heatles ride into town on their their unholy noxious fumes of pure narcissistic evil.