No C.J. Miles and no Kyrie tonight, apparently. The Cavs gameplan is to sit him on the second night of back to backs. That seems like a good idea to me. And of course Dion Waiters is still out. We’ll see how the Cavs generate offense in this game.
Sloppy start for both teams. Lots of running up and down and wild shots. Tristan showed off some foot speed blowing by Horford for a foul but he missed both free throws. He also committed 3 turnovers and was blocked for a non-box-score turnover and was forced to switch onto Devin Harris who promptly plowed right into him to draw a foul. (Rough start for Tristan) Luke Walton had a sweet give and go to Shaun Livingston for the lefty flush. Kyle Korver got 5 wide open 3 point attempts. Fortunately, he only canned 2 of them. Devin Harris attacked the Cavs defense at every opportunity and went to the line over and over. In a rather embarrassing defensive breakdown, both Tyler Zeller and Wayne Ellington decided to close out hard on Harris spotted up in the corner for 3. Harris pump faked and drew the foul because Ellington couldn’t get out of the way with Zeller right next to him.
At this juncture I checked the Cavs’ shot chart and they had taken 6 of their 13 shots in the “long-2” region. Thankfully, the Hawks obliged by repeatedly missing wide open corner 3s. It is nice to see Horizon League legend Shelvin Mack making it in the league. He canned a J. The Cavs seemed to be playing a zone. I hesitate to call it a “lazy zone” but that’s what it looked like. It worked – as the Hawks just refused to make wide open outside shots. Watching Syracuse grind out a victory this weekend was like getting a root canal – didn’t know I was getting back in the chair tonight. Luke Walton found Tyler Zeller sneaking behind the Hawks transition defenders for an alley-oop and the Cavs weathered the storm of their own making (lazy defense and horrible shot selection). 25-19 Hawks after 1.
Omri Casspi started the second quarter. (FREE CASSPI!) Luke Walton finished the 1st quarter with an airballed floater, and he started off the second with an airballed long-2. Then something weird happened. Boobie Gibson missed a 3 wide right and collapsed like he was fouled. After a play stoppage, the camera focused in on Boobie – who had a look on his face like: “I’m not totally sure, but I think in most leagues that might have qualified as a shooting foul. Huh.” He was about as calm as you could possibly imagine an NBA player being after thinking he was screwed out of free throws. And the next thing I know – he got ejected. Wait, what? He didn’t even bark at the ref as he walked off the court – just sort of walked away with a look on his face like: “Really, I just got ejected? Huh.” Byron Scott had a look on his face like: “Why are you walking this way?” It was all very surreal without sound so I assumed I missed something. Then the replay showed Boobie kinda looking in the direction of NBA Champion DeShawn Stevenson. Apparently, Boobie got T-ed up for arguing the call with the nearest ref, and that caused the original stoppage in play. Then, he and Stevenson had words – in the way that Victorian heiresses have words over tea – but it was enough to warrant a double technical and it sent Boobie to the locker room for the night. Apparently, the refs saw all the uncontested corner 3s from the Hawks and all the uncontested airballed long-2s from the Cavs and decided the game was spiraling out of control. They wanted to assert some order before the game really got violent.
Alonzo Gee came to play in the second quarter. He was pretty active on D and made a bunch of his patented 15-foot turnarounds. On the one he missed, Dwayne Jones was there with good position for the put back. Then, Wayne Ellington and Jeff Teague traded 3 pointers. (offensive explosion!) After a Shaun Livingston baseline J off a Luke Walton feed (where neither player was even considered by the Hawks D), Jeff Teague ran really fast up the court, and then pulled a Pete Mitchell special. Only instead of flying right by, Walton rammed right into him, which may have been the point of the maneuver actually…
Teague made 1 of 2 – and after an empty Cavs possession he followed it up by taking an out-of-rhythm contested 3 from 4 feet behind the line which, of course, he drained. In one of the least entertaining halves of basketball I’ve watched this season, the Cavs trailed 52-44 at the half. Zeller, Speights, and Livingston kept the Cavs afloat in the 1st half, and Luke Walton filled the stat sheet the way only Luke Walton knows how.
The Cavs came out with more composure to start the third. Shaun Livingston patiently backed down a smaller defender and drained a 12 foot turnaround. Tyler Zeller got called for a weak call away from the ball (his 4th foul) and then Alonzo Gee drained a mid-range J and then a triple jab step corner 3 – which has to be his lowest percentage shot-type, bringing the Cavs within 2. Atlanta called timeout. And then they proceeded to go on a 14-4 run in 3 minutes, forcing the Cavs to call their own timeout. After trading baskets and playing like the game was already in garbage time, the Cavs were saved by…OMRI CASSPI? Three straight transition opportunities – two buckets, and a shooting foul. Casspi air-balled the first free throw (entertainment!) and professionally missed the second one. And then Luke Walton drew a technical foul. I was waiting for these refs to whistle Austin Carr for a technical foul for being too jovial. The Hawks led 79-68 at the end of the third.
Apparently Tristan Thompson got poked in the face and required stitches around his eye – thus the limited minutes tonight. The Hawks started the 4th by scoring the first 4 points and Byron Scott called a quick timeout to galvanize the troops. He must have Care Bear-stared Omri Casspi because he turned into a positively breathtaking spectacle of feel-good basketball. (He cared a lot.) He got out in transition again for a bucket, then found Luke Walton for a driving layup before canning a triple and bringing the deficit back down to 8. It forced the Hawks to call timeout. Out of the timeout Casspi drove and collapsed the D and found an open Mo Speights for an 18 foot baseline J.
Josh Smith stopped the bleeding the only way Josh Smith knows how – with an out-of-rhythm 21 footer. Luke Walton jumped a passing lane and comically lost the handle on a high dribble in transition. But he recovered and passed behind him to Casspi who crashed full speed into Devin Harris. Even though Harris was still moving and Casspi came at it with a bit of an angle, it was a collision that’s judged ‘a charge’ 99% of the time, but not tonight. (The Power of Caring) Without Zaza Pachulia or angry Boobie Gibson, the two teams leveraged their referee exasperation to the tune of more long-2s – one from Josh Smith (the “prize” of the offseason) and one from Mo Speights. After two more quick buckets from the Hawks, Byron took another timeout with the Cavs trailing 10 and running out of time. Out of the timeout the Hawks got a wide open 3 for Jeff Teague, and then after a Cavalier turnover, Teague found Devin Harris hiding out under the hoop after he set a screen for a baseline cutter and both Cavaliers followed the cutter. Speights answered with an 18 footer that didn’t really touch the rim or the net – the quietest 18 footer you’ll ever see. After a Hawks miss, Speights had the decency to russle the net on his next made 18 footer. Al Horford answered with an 18 footer of his own, and Speights showed everyone in Atlanta that no one can out-long-2 him, swishing yet another 18 footer. After some stout defense by the Cavs, the Hawks finally decided to get physical with Speights. I won’t say he didn’t earn the heat check, but it wasn’t a great shot and he missed.
Tristan bullied his way into the paint and banged one in off the glass to bring the Cavs within 8, and they got a crucial stop, but with under a minute to play. Wayne Ellington popped in his own miss to bring the Cavs within two possessions, and the Hawks called a 20 second timeout. The Cavs sent Josh Smith to the line – not a bad move as he’d only made 2 of 6 from the line up to that point. But he channeled his inner Shaq and “made them when they counted” only he actually did make both. After a Livingston miss, ‘Crazy’ Ivan Johnson made 1 of 2 freebies before Ellington airballed a desperation 3. The Cavs stole the ball back, but Casspi missed a contested corner 3. Speights got the rebound and was fouled – making only 1 of 2. Down 8 with under 15 seconds, the Cavs put pressure in the backcourt but did not foul, and the game ended 102-94.
-Shaun Livingston had a decent game – taking advantage of the smaller Hawks guards. He finished with 14 points on 10 shots, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal, and only 2 turnovers.
-Tyler Zeller had a nice first half but foul trouble kept him on the bench most of the night.
-Marresse Speights finished 11 of 15 from the field and 10 of those shots were deep 2s. That is crazy impressive. He also had 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block for good measure. Twenty-three points in 24 minutes for Speights in a losing effort.
-Omri Casspi finished 4-6 for 9 points and added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and an admirable effort. He missed 2 free throws and 2 field goals. Of those 4 misses, 3 were airballs.
-If Luke Walton could just play the game with his mind, he would be an MVP-level player and his nickname would assuredly be Jedi Knight Luke. Unfortunately, until he becomes a successful coach, he must use his body to play the game. It’s sometimes surreal to watch Walton play. How can a guy anticipate passing lanes so well that he can rack up 4 steals in 25 minutes, but he’s so unathletic that he looks like me running a fast break? (I’ve lost the ball over my head before on the break – it’s embarrassing.) How can a guy pump fake a defender out of his Jordans, drive into the lane, and then airball an uncontested 8 foot floater? A guy with enough touch to dish out 6 assists… Anyway, it has been a pleasure watching Luke Walton this year. A friend of mine was talking about how his buddy won a Luke Walton autograph in a charity event where the Cavs donated memorabilia. His reaction was: “When did Luke Walton go to the Cavs?” Then my friend commented that it was pretty cheap of the Cavs to give out such a crappy autograph. Let me just say I would TREASURE a Luke Walton autograph, especially if it was personalized on the picture below. In all seriousness I think Luke Walton has been a huge positive for this young Cavs team.
-Wayne Ellington had a rough shooting night. He finished 1-5 from three.
-Alonzo Gee had his moments, but finished 5-14 from the field. Most of the shots were bad shots (for him), but there were some pretty desolate offensive possessions at times and someone has to shoot.
-It’s a one game sample, but the Hawks sure seem to have lost their edge, even with DeShawn Stevenson. I think losing Zaza Pachulia for the season is going to thwart whatever playoff hopes they may have had.
-Tristan Thompson was ineffective. The cut above his eye limited his minutes, but he didn’t do much in the time he did have on the court. I, along with many others, have called for Tristan to get more plays called for him, try to score more, etc. He still struggles sometimes when he does get/take these opportunities. Tonight was a good example. I imagine he is exhausted at this point in the season. An offseason of rest and work on his touch will do him some good.
-I’m wondering if the way I view Josh Smith is the way other people view Andre Iguodala. I say this because I thought Josh Smith almost sabotaged his team’s victory tonight and his final stat line is really good. Eighteen points, 14 rebounds, 8 assists, a steal, a block (seemed like 3 or 4) and a +9. I think he plays into my biases against him (settling for all the flat-footed long-2s) and I end up exaggerating their consequences when I watch.
That was one of the softest games I’ve seen in a long time. The Hawks jacked up 30 threes against the Cavs sagging zone defense. Honestly, almost all of them were open, and the Hawks just kept missing. They finished 9-30 from beyond the arc. They also shot the heck out of long twos. Everyone other than Jeff Teague scored easily in the paint, but the Hawks just weren’t interested in pounding the Cavs inside. So credit Byron Scott for going to the zone. It worked if the goal was to bait the Hawks (led by Captain Gets-Baited, himself – Josh Smith) into long jumpers. It didn’t work in the sense that the defense was still a step slow, and Devin Harris just ran into out-of-position Cavaliers all night to draw free throws. The final stats were very similar if you remove Harris’ 8-8 from the stripe.
The Cavs fought pretty hard considering how decimated they were with injuries and that TT (cut above eye) and TZ (foul trouble) weren’t available for much of the night. There were a couple times when the ship seemed ready to capsize, and the Cavs would scrap back into single digits. It would have been a heroic victory, but it’s just as well – more ping pong balls.
Sometime in mid-December I almost wrote a very strongly opinionated piece on player development. At the time, the Cavs were struggling, and I couldn’t see the wisdom in trotting aging veterans (Walton) and fringe NBA players (Sloan, Pargo) over someone like Omri Casspi, a 24 year old pup. At some point, the Cavs FO decided that Tristan Thompson and Omri Casspi were more valuable going forward than J.J Hickson and the #4 draft pick that they netted with a historically bad season. It seemed that this season was a good one to discern whether Casspi had any future with the Cavaliers. I never finished that piece, and by the time I thought about re-writing it, the Cavs were showing significant improvements. The Herculoids were in full force, and C.J. Miles and Luke Walton were playing so effectively it seemed silly in hindsight to be so concerned with the lack of player development with Casspi. “Can’t get ‘em all right,” I thought. Tonight was a reminder of those cold December feelings.
I don’t know what goes on in practice, but I’ve watched enough of Casspi to know he’s a better version of Sasha Pavlovic – a guy that can look lost at times but can also make an impact when his confidence is waxing. He’s big, he’s long, he’s mobile, he can shoot the three, and he seems to work hard if slightly out of control. He’s only played about 200 minutes of non-garbage time basketball this season. (No chance for him to play with confidence) He’s been terrible, posting a career low 38% true shooting percentage and an offensive rating of 95 to go along with a defensive rating of 106.
Just kidding. That was Luke Walton until mid-January. But truthfully, he’s been terrible, posting a career low 43% true-shooting percentage with an abysmal offensive rating of 88 and a poor defensive rating of 104.
Kidding again, shame on you. That was C.J. Miles’ first 240 minutes this season. [Ok, April Fools is over now.] On the season Omri Casspi’s posted a career low 45% True-shooting percentage and an offensive rating of 93 and a defensive rating of 108. Unlike Walton (gone next season), and Miles (a veteran with a fairly static value), Casspi is only 24. And unlike Walton and Miles, who both played under Hall of Fame coaches in distinguished organizations, Casspi has played in Sacramento and post-Decision Cleveland. Finally, Luke Walton and C.J. Miles got the opportunity to play themselves out of some historically awful basketball but not Casspi. It’s a lost season for him (maybe a lost career), and I’ll never understand why the Cavs went out of their way to sit him during a season when there was really never any doubt about the Cavs’ post-season chances. They traded for a young guy and then never played him. He’ll be gone next season, and maybe his value is so diminished that he won’t even play in the NBA any longer. Maybe he was never any good in the first place, and the 1st round pick was a mistake and his promising rookie season was a mirage. I really hope that is the case, and I’m not watching Omri Casspi play meaningful minutes for a good team next season. When your team is going to be built around youth, player development is essential. Maybe like Danny Green and J.J. Hickson before him, Omri just needs a change of scenery…