Recap: Cleveland 114, Philadelphia 85 (or, tanks for the win)

February 18th, 2014 by Nate Smith

It was a rout for the Cavs with little to note besides a ferocious dunk by Dion and a hyper-extended knee on the  landing. The dunk and the scary moment are illustrated above. Though he missed the second half, Dion is thankfully claiming he’s ok. Whew! After taking the lead, 7-5 in the first, the Cavs led the rest of the way and cruised to a blowout over the Sixers, to claim their fifth straight win. The Cavs were engaged, energetic, and performed like they were playing for something, and Philadelphia… did not.

Philly’s lone highlight came in the form of a ceremonial two day contract that they signed Monday with area high-schooler, Kevin Grow, a young man with Down syndrome, who scored 14 points in his final two varsity basketball games. It was a touching moment when Kevin was introduced to the arena tonight, and he was the highlight of the game for Philly fans. The story took a sad turn after the game, though, when Grow called his agent and demanded a trade.

(I am, of course, kidding about the last part)

Highlighting the Cavs win, Tyler Zeller had 18 points on 6-14 from the field and 6-7 at the line, all in 25 minutes.  He played a nice game offensively, and scored eight of the first ten points for Cleveland.  Most of this was because Spencer Hawes was playing a defensive style called, “I’m probably getting traded in two days and I don’t give a ____.” Philly, or Spencer decided that Zeller was the guy they were going to help off of, and he made them pay with jumpers and easy dives to the basket.  The 15 rebounds were the best part of Zeller’s night, though most of them came off Hawes’ lackadaisical play. Last week, it was reported that the outspoken conservative uses toilet paper with Barack Obama’s face on it. Playing with a $6.6 million dollar contract and exhibiting that level of laziness, I wonder if Hawes realizes the irony of his position on entitlement reform.

Tristan Thompson matched Zeller’s positive play with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Deng had a quiet 13 points.  Kyrie’s night was solid but brief. He stayed engaged and finished with 14 and three assists and a game high +24 in 24 minutes. Cleveland held Philly to 35.6 percent shooting and out-rebounded them by a ridiculous 61-44 margin.  Mostly, this was due to a complete and total lack of caring by the Sixers.

As Tom Pestak mentioned in our podcast the other night (paraphrasing), “these guys make millions of dollars as professional athletes, and can’t be bothered to play hard? The thing that makes them winners versus losers is trying?” It’s weird to watch Philly through the looking glass of a fan that watched Cleveland suffer through a miserable 26 game losing streak a couple years ago, and suffered through awful effort-free losses to the Kings, The Lakers, and the Knicks. It’s much easier to watch it from the winning side. But this game would not end.

The Cavs nursed a 20+ point lead throughout the second half, and it was hard to watch. Garbage time lasted most of the last 24 minutes. Cleveland kept up the focus, and Philly kept up their lack of it. Bennett finished with a respectable 10 points and 11 rebounds, though I’d respect it more if Philly had showed up. C.J. kicked in another 10, and Dion 13 in 15 first half minutes. Delly had a nice game running the offense in the second half, but his lack of ability to get his own shot is going to be a problem. He has to shoot better from behind the line and find a way to finish near the basket if he wants to ever be more than a third guard. He finished 1-6 and 0-3 from deep.

The NBA has a real problem on its hands. The Sixers players know that the organization does not want to win this year, and they play to oblige.  Remember, this Sixers team is mostly the same one that went 34-48 last year, and so far this year, they’re 15-40.  Michael Carter-Williams for Jrue Holiday is pretty much a wash. But last year, the hyper-competitive Doug Collins coached Philly, and this year, it’s obvious that either the team has completely tuned out Brett Brown, or they don’t care if they win or lose. The game tonight was a painfully unwatchable product, and I was rooting for the winning team.

Real or perceived, the NBA has incentivized teams to lose by rewarding the worst teams with the best chance to get franchise changing players. As we’ve learned by watching the Cavs this year, it’s not easy to go from a team that is incentivized to lose, to a team that is expected to play hard and try to win. It’s not a light switch that can be instantly switched from “off” to “on.” And I fully realize the hypocrisy of calling this an inferior product when I, and other members of this blog, rooted for “entertaining losses” over the last few years. We’re now watching players who were the fruits of that awfulness, and I’m complaining about the lack of effort on the other team. But it seems that every year the tanking is getting worse, and more and more unwatchable.

I empathize with players like Thaddeus Young, who has, throughout his career, been an effective two way player. He’s gone from a player whose organizational goal is to make the playoffs and win as much as possible, to a player whose organization just wants to play for next year. Hes faces a situation with few positive short term outcomes: play too well, and your team won’t want to trade you; play too poorly, and no one will want to trade for you. Having spent his whole pro career playing for the Sixers, It can’t be easy for him when the boos reign down. Hopefully, he’ll be playing for a team that competes by this weekend. Brett Brown can’t be happy with the effort Young and the other starters showed tonight, though, either. Brown was still playing the starters with five minutes left, down 30, which must have been to send a message. The players aren’t idiots, though. No man can serve two masters, and no team can serve two goals: try and lose.