The Cavaliers lost last night to Indiana, in a game that the Pacers dominated in almost every statistical category. It wasn’t pretty for the Cavs, and Indiana showed why they were the runner up in the Eastern Conference last year. Cleveland looked like they were still adjusting to their new head coach and system, especially on offense, and showed that their small forward problems aren’t going to go away any time soon. Floor spacing issues seemed to plague the Cavs all night. Cleveland had a very hard time getting the ball to the third option, and it rarely swung to the corners. Indiana looked like a giant yellow blob absorbing wine colored invaders every time Cleveland tried to pierce the defensive membrane.
Defensively, the Cavs competed, but Indiana just wore them down. Lance Stephenson was the third option on many sets, and the Pacers moved the ball and found him on the wing consistently, where he was 5-7 from three. Also, Paul George had 21 points and 13 boards, scoring every way possible: pull-up jumpers, cutting layups, leak-out dunks, and in the post. He’s like pretty good and stuff.
The fact that the refs called 25 fouls on Cleveland, and 16 on Indiana didn’t help either. Dion, especially, seemed the victim of some pretty tough no-calls. Cleveland was also plagued with offensive fouls on screens and dribble hand-offs, and it seems as if the “point of emphasis” of policing those calls has reached ridiculous proportions. Cleveland had way too many touch fouls 23 feet from the basket, which really hurt their offensive efficiency, and those fouls seemed to come at momentum killing moments.
Indiana clearly designed their game plan to mitigate Cleveland’s top two scorers in the first two games: Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving. Tristan clearly struggled on offense, going 1-5 and scoring only two points and grabbing only four rebounds. Indiana was denying TT touches, and the Cavs weren’t making the extra effort to get him those touches. Indiana’s defense conceded shots to Varejao and Earl Clark. Andy made them pay going 6-9 from the floor with a bevy of elbow jumpers. Roy Hibbert was reluctant to chase Andy out past 15 feet, and Varejao capitalized. Earl Clark was not so fortunate, going 0-4 with 2 points and seven boards. Clark often looked to defer, and it was clear that Indiana was not worried about him.
Indiana packed the paint and extended their defense on whichever guard had the ball, giving them little room from the three point line to the bucket. Kyrie and Dion went a combined 13-38 from the floor with only 5 assists. Dion was the team high scorer with 17, but he had a very hard time finding teammates, hence the zero assists. Though he did notch 4 steals, he and Kyrie were late rotating to Stephenson, especially in the second half. One of Cleveland’s lone statistical victories came in the way they played passing lanes, pilfering 15 steals, and winning the turnover battle 16 to 20. Being out-shot 41.6% to 34.9% pretty much mitigated that advantage, though.
Oh, and rebounding. Indiana will be the best rebounding team in the league this year. They chase down the ball, no matter who is on the floor, and out-rebounded and out-extended the Cavs 51-37, including 21 rebounds off of the bench. Tristan Thompson seemed a step slow on the boards, and only had four in the game.
Cleveland closed out the third quarter well, and cut the deficit to 7 points, the closest it would be for the rest of the game. Indiana blew the doors off the good guys at the start of the fourth, outscoring them 17-6 in the first five minutes, and that was about all she wrote. Mike brown did try going three guard at that point. The lineup was +4, but it was too little, too late.
So let’s talk about what’s really going on here.
- Anthony Bennett shouldn’t be playing. He’s 0-12 so far this season from the floor, in three games, and his presence isn’t conducive to winning. Zeller’s 6 points and 3 boards in 18 minutes wasn’t great, but he appears healed from his appendectomy surgery, and he should be getting Bennett’s minutes. The Cavs are going to have to balance their shepherding of Bennet’s confidence with their desire to actually win games.
- As improved as the Cavs seem on defense, the offense is a mess. The Cavs seem directionless offensively in the last two games. I’m not sure why we don’t see more pick-and roll sets with Andy and Kyrie or Dion and Tristan, etc.
- A reason for that is probably because Earl Clark is not a floor stretcher as a starter, allowing defenses to overload on everyone else. Perhaps Gee or Miles should be starting. Gee isn’t exactly killing it, but his steals lead to transition buckets, he was hitting the corner three in pre-season, he runs the floor, and he finishes well in transition. I’d hate to move Miles to starter and lose his scoring off the bench. Clark might be better served getting Bennett’s minutes at power forward off the bench.
- Mike Brown’s offensive message was “keep it simple” out of a third quarter timeout. Really? That is worthless fortune cookie advice. Three games into the Cavs season, and the question on Mike Brown seems the same. Can he coach offense?