Overview: Is ‘a tale of two halves’ a cliché yet? What was looking like a very promising evening turned quickly for the Cavaliers, as the Kings came out in the third quarter and quickly erased a 14-point deficit. Even more sadly, said Kings did not stop there as they rode that momentum all the way to the finish. The Cavs continued (continued because 2 out of 3 games will henceforth be indicative of the status quo) to get encouragingly strong guard play…but there wasn’t much else. And that, I think, is the worry.
The Tale of the First Half (approved for all audiences):
(Cavs 67, Kings 53.) The first half, while a bit high scoring for what I think this team will eventually be going for, was pretty darn fun to watch. The Cavs were able to hang with the Kings (a phrase scarcely used since 2003) through a high scoring first quarter, and then, in the second, perhaps gave us a preview of what Byron Scott’s vision for this team seems to be. In the second, Byron’s bunch was able to muck up the Kings offense, forcing them into turnovers and just generally sloppy play, all the while holding the Kings to 40% shooting. All of this went about speeding up the game in general, and the result was a lot of open shots for the Cavs. Not coincidentally, this was when the Cavs broke the game open with a 12-2 run, and they outscored the Kings 33-19 for the period. The defense for the bulk of the second was something else and, all across the board, the team was rolling. Andy was active, J.J. was very good, and the guard play (Session, Gibson, Parker) was phenomenal. I wrote this stat down at half time: PG position – 25 pts, 9 assists. That’s pretty good work for a half.
The Tale of the Second Half (restricted):
(Kings 54, Cavs 37.) And then, for the finish…basically everything good ended. To the extent that it wouldn’t surprise me to find the game was directed by M. Night Shyamalan circa 2004. What actually happened was the defense faltered, and for reasons about to be mentioned, that can’t happen. There are a lot of finishers (of sorts) and specifically skilled players on this team. They’re like tradesmen. That’s a result of years past, when each of those players filled a gap around LaBron James (sp?). What I think Byron Scott envisions, and practically so, is that the transition game can take Le-Bron’s (sp?) place. That the transition game can be the creator that allows our niche players to have access to their respective niches. And three games in, he’s proving to be right. When the Cavs are able to run, Gibson gets open threes, J.J. and Jamario can use their athleticism in the open court, and from what I’ve seen so far of Sessions, he is far better at finishing at the basket in either transition or early offense then he is once a defense has set itself.
So as soon as the defense dried up in the third quarter, so too did the transition opportunities, leaving the Cavs to operate in the half-court. And the Cavs looked awful uncomfortable in the half-court. That’s where it becomes readily apparent there is just no one prepared to create. Gibson looks great and much improved, but his penetrative skills are still more of a change of pace attack, made to look stronger than they are because of his admittedly top-notch shooting. Meanwhile, Sessions penetrates to score, and neither he nor Boobie look tremendously comfortable shooting off the dribble. AP is playing very well, but again, is not a creator. In the fourth quarter, when the game was getting out of hand, the Cavs went into the post to Andy Varejao on consecutive possessions. I love Andy as much as anybody, but I think that’s ominously illustrative of how the Cavs were operating in the half court. They had no real sense of what to do. And there is no one on the team who can really play when forced to operate out of his comfort zone.
Now, if anybody has ever read anything I’ve written before, you’ll know this…I am wont to overreact, jump to conclusions, and fear the worst. And in spite of that I actually think the Cavs will be okay. Byron Scott admitted to me after the game (via yahoo.com/nba) that the Cavs “have a lot to learn about ourselves as a basketball team.” And I’m inclined to believe him. After all –
– this looks like the stance of a man who knows what he’s doing.
The players will learn to stay in those comfort zones, how to rely on the offense to set them up, and hopefully, eventually, how to run off makes (!)… The only thing I could see really derailing this season is if the Cavs find themselves truly unable to guard. Athletically unable to match-up. But against most teams, I don’t think that will happen. I think the defense will come. So often tonight, the team looked disheveled and off with their once razor-sharp rotations. There was a play in the fourth quarter where Andy nearly forced DeMarcus Cousins into a turnover at the three-point line, only to have Cousins recover the ball and drive down the lane completely untouched for a dunk. Cousins is tough, but he’s not a superior athlete. There was just no help. No one even close. I realize we’re one uber-athletic small forward short of where we used to be, but I have to believe the rest of the guys still remember how to do this. And if the defense comes, the rest will be so much easier.
And now, a couple of…
Cavs Related Bullets:
Guard Play – Who were huge bright spots. AP looks very steady. He’s not going to go toe to toe with the Wades and Kobes of the world, but he almost reminds me of a poor man’s Paul Pierce sometimes. Just in that he’s playing very methodically. And Sessions and Gibson were fantastic. Sessions was under control and selectively attacked the rim with abandon. Boobie Gibson continues to play by far the best ball of his still relatively young career. And just as encouraging, I think there’s room for Mo to play with the two of them and provide something that neither of those two really can, the ability to shoot off an aggressive dribble.
J.J. Hickson – Who, right now, is like a speed rushing end in football. He can be so effective, but ultimately, he’s gonna need a counter-move or two. At least before he can be relied upon consistently. Just something so he can adjust if Plan A is cut off or goes awry. Not necessarily today, he’s twenty-two and he’s growing, but that’s a big limitation for someone we were hoping could provide the majority of our interior offense. And speaking of interior offense…
Antawn Jamison – Whose appearance in this blog will be his most prominent of the night. Is he sullen, old, or just off to a bad start? It’s crossed my mind the answer could be D) Dog House. He played 18 minutes tonight, and with the Cavs down three with 5 seconds left, I could not think of one reason for him to be out of the game. None. Other than Byron Scott was making a statement. Again, I love Andy Varejao as much as the next guy, but when he failed to succeed from the post, I don’t think the answer was to have him as an option for the game-tying three. The Cavs may not need Jamison for the long term, but as this year goes, it wouldn’t hurt if he could give them some production in the half-court off the bench, as well as improve on his early season 2.3 pg rebounding average.
I’ll close with these:
Silver Lining # 1: Without their starting point guard, the Cavs manufactured a significant amount of balanced scoring. Ideally, 104 points is supposed to be enough to win the game.
Silver Lining # 2: If we were going to lose in the Kings’ return, I’ll sleep easier knowing that it happened with that apostrophe placement.