Recap: San Antonio 122, Cleveland 101 (Or, the time Kyrie channeled his inner Sasha)

March 5th, 2014 by Nate Smith

Dion Waiters returned tonight, and Cleveland played a solid defensive first quarter. Then, the Spurs scored 109 points over the next 36 minutes, to slice and dice the Cavs into julienne silvers. When you play the Spurs, openings lead to reactions. The Spurs use those reactions against you and seem to instantly know the best way to exploit the tiniest mistake or overplay, and it doesn’t matter how many passes, cuts, or screens it takes to exploit that mistake. When you compound the precision of the SAS brand basketball-omatic with poor defensive discipline, weak rebounding, and ungenerous officials, victory can seem like an impossible task. It’s even harder when your franchise player plays looks clueless on defense.

First Quarter: The Cavs played the Spurs like you have to in order to beat them. Double nothing, live with the points that they score from post-ups, penetrations, and screen rolls. Don’t give up three pointers, and play good individual defense. Cleveland stayed disciplined and held San Antonio to 13 points, mostly on long two pointers.  Spencer Hawes thrived off the developing pick-and-pop game with Kyrie Irving. Spencer for Hire is making himself lots of money with his stint in Cleveland.

Hawes can catch the ball at the top of the key or the wing, and has four or five options. He can shoot a three (he’s shooting 50 percent with Cleveland), he can swing the ball, he can drive to the bucket — which seems to flabbergast most defending centers, or he can drive to the high post and make brilliant passes to cutters.  How many players in the league can do this at the center position, and still average close to ten boards and over a block a game? One?

Once Hawes gets on the same page with Kyrie in terms of when to roll instead of fade, their two man game might be near impossible to stop. In fact, miscommunication seemed to be the only thing stopping it tonight, as Irving had five turnovers, most coming on the two-man game with Spencer. If this small sample size is indicative, Spencer Hawes could be an all-star playing with Kyrie Irving.

The Cavs got more welcome news in the return of Dion Waiters who looked just fine, offensively. Dion attacked as soon as he came in, first setting up Hawes for a three, then attacking the rim for two quick layups in transition. Waiters has obviously been watching the videos of the Sleepy Floyd Game I sent him. Keep attacking before the defense is set, Dion.  Kyrie closed out the quarter with a three, and the Cavs went to the bench satisfied with themselves, up 23-13.

Second Quarter: The Cavs started with a Delly, Dion, Irving lineup. After a pretty Irving layup (plus an uncalled foul) off a back-door feed from Delly, and then a Dion slam off a beautiful outlet pass from Delly, the Cavs got smoked by a 15-2 run in just under three minutes where Belinelli, Diaw, and Mills, scored most of the points. This was one of those maddening stretches where Mike Brown waits way too long to call a timeout, and the lead suddenly evaporates.

Kyrie Irving has improved as an on-the-ball defender this year, but his-off-the ball defense may have gotten worse. Patty Mills got a wide open three in the middle of this run on a play where Irving contracted to the elbow for no reason, got caught on a screen, and never recovered to Mills (there was no screen, only lousy defense). Kyrie watches the ball way too much and doesn’t watch his man. The Spurs exploited him all night. The Cavs’ three-guard lineups were positively Pavlovichian.

After a merciful official timeout (no Mike Brown didn’t call it), the Cavs traded baskets as Dion started to heat up and converted on two gorgeous drives and a three. But the Cavs defense got shredded by Mills and Leonard. Leonard posterized Cleveland in transition, but Mills, in particular was galling, because he hit two 19-footers off pick and rolls, and another three where Kyrie collapsed for no reason and lost his man (click for the video). Cleveland’s defensive discipline of the first quarter was completely absent, and the Cavs just looked clueless.

The Cavs offense stalled big time, and Jack and Irving mid-rangers seemed to be the only options.  Meanwhile, Danny Green hit a three where Jack helped on a drive for no reason. A play or two later, Duncan threw a 60 foot laser outlet pass to Ginobili on the left wing. Before the ball was even 10 feet from reaching him him, I said, “Crap. That’s three points.” As if in slow motion, Manu caught the ball two feet behind the line, Kyrie ineffectually closed out, and Manu splashed a three. The half closed a minute and a half later with the Cavs down 40-50.

Third Quarter: It started out well enough, with the Irving and Hawes show quickly cutting the lead to five. And then Danny Green made Kyrie look incompetent for the first of many times in the second half, cutting to the basket, without Irving paying a whit of attention to him, and getting a ridiculously easy layup. Seriously, someone on the Cavs needs to coach Kyrie. If you have a hard time guarding your man, keep a hand on him while you watch the ball, just so you can know if the guy is within arm’s reach. There should be no point where you are at the elbow, and your man is at the rim. Irving got the points back immediately with a Pavlovic-esque “my defense is my offense” 20-footer, but it was a bad portent.

The game started to spiral when Kyrie gave up another groan inducing three, when he collapsed to the elbow, Green moved from the top of the key to the wing, and Kyrie got stuck on Tim Duncan as Danny splashed it. Is it MB’s system? Is Kyrie being told to collapse? Is it not reading the scouting report? Is it just horrific habits? I mean Danny Green is the guy who just broke the record for threes in a finals series. How do you lose him that easily? I cajoled MB to move Irving back onto the ball, because, at least, he seems more engaged there.

It really fell apart when TT got hammered on a no-call, Mike Brown got a tech, the Cavs got a make-up call on an offensive foul, and never capitalized. Parker eviscerated Jarret Jack for an and-1 off a spin move, and a Kawhi Leonard nailed corner three (Deng was the one who got sucked inside this time). Suddenly the lead was 14 for the Spurs. The Cavs stayed within striking  distance after an Irving three, a Hawes assisted Deng layup, and a 20-footer by Spencer to keep deficit around nine. Despite Irving and Waiters heating up, on jumpers and drives, Cleveland’s inability to get stops doomed them.

First, the Spurs penetrated, and then Splitter set screen on Delly after he collapsed. ‘Dova couldn’t get back to the corner. (The Spurs may be the best in the league at sucking defenders in, then setting screens on them so they can’t get back to shooters). A possession later, Delly’s fellow Aussie, Mills hit a morale crushing step-back triple over Matt’s outstretched arms as the shot clock expired. After Dion got a no love from the refs on a drive where Splitter bumped him, Diaw hit another three from the same corner to close the quarter, depressingly, 85-68, Spurs.

Fourth Quarter: Danny Green canned the first six to put this one away, first with yet another “why is Irving leaving Green to chase a play 15 feet away!” three-pointer, and then with a transition and-1. Game over. Waiters hit a 19-footer, and Gum Drop Bear hit a nice finger roll, but this one was finished. The Spurs were content to trade baskets and further embarrass Kyrie by setting back-picks for Danny Green.  At one point the lead was 27. Most of the starters played till five minutes or so left in classic, “I gotta get mine” fashion. Irving and Waiters hit jumpers, but meh.

Solace came in the form of 12 straight Gum Drop Bear garbage points: first a “whoa, he can elevate” dunk off a Delly dime, and then a buttery 18-footer with perfect arc.  I considered changing Bennett’s moniker to Garbage Time Bear when he next  drained two straight threes, giving Dellavadova his sixth and seventh assists. This made up for the moment earlier in the game where Bennett beat the defense with some nice footwork, and short-armed a right bank layup. Bennett closed it out with two free throw swishes for Cleveland, another welcome sign. In the future, maybe Anthony Bennett can do these things at points in the game that actually matter, and when the other team is trying.

Notes:

  •  Luol Deng finished with nine points on 3-10 from the floor. As bad as he was on offense, he was +1 for the game, because the Cavs’ three guard lineups were defensive sieves. Cleveland needed Luol’s defense, but his offense was painful. Is Luol the anti-Sasha?
  • Irving and Waiters were hyper-effecient on offense, each finishing with 24 points. It doesn’t matter cause they couldn’t guard anyone. Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving were -24 and -17 respectively. Irving, especially, looked uncoached on defense.  Waiters wasn’t as bad, though his +/- was worse, it was mostly a victim of the arbitrary whims of garbage time. But yeah, stink city here.
  • I’m convinced The Spurs offense is governed by the Heisenberg uncertainty principal. The basketball moves like an electron whirring around an atomic nucleus. Once a defender stops to measure where the ball is, it is already somewhere else. That being said, the defensive principals on how to beat them apply: everybody get your man, don’t over-help, and don’t give them open threes. I know. I said this already.
  • Tristan Thompson finished 2-8 and routinely got his weak attempts at the basket swatted by Tim Duncan. He looked lost and the Cavs needed more activity, especially on the boards from him.
  • Spencer Hawes, American Patriot, finished with 20 points and 13 boards. His shooting? An incomprehensible 7-9 from the floor and 3-4 from beyond the arc: ridiculously good, a ridiculous waste. The Spurs mitigated him and Thompson’s decent defense on Splitter and Duncan by moving Diaw to the five and playing small. Boris finished perfect from the floor for 16 points. Coaching win, Pop.
  • Mike Brown coaches at his worst against Popovich, and Pop seems to relish destroying him. The three guard lineup got torched in the first half, and then it came back in the second to even worse results. Why Brown never took Kyrie out is beyond me. Was he watching the same game? The breakdowns on defense are either due his system, his players not executing his system, or Brown’s inability to adjust. The correct answer is probably “all of the above.”