First off…all of this Ted Williams business is pretty awesome. That story totally brightened my day. Second off…boy, do the Cavs stink. They are a bleak, black rain cloud of a basketball team, and they are following me around. I’m glad I was working with such a bright day, otherwise today’s game would’ve seriously dampened my mood.
During the last recap I wrote for this site, I prognosticated that the Cavs would ultimately be able to navigate their way through the season’s adversity, then just commencing. They were 6-8 at the time, still looking rather sprightly, and I thought they could get back on track. The Cavs have since gone 2-19. (Being Right Pct. = .105) So allow me to put that rather unsightly feather in my cap, and double down with some more prognostication…if Dan Gilbert’s guarantee has any chance of coming true, however slim it may still be, we needed to get this bad. And we needed to do it this quickly. Purgatory is the middle of the NBA (ever expanding), and we are definitely well south of purgatory. I don’t see any way this team doesn’t feature a young, new SF next season. And that will be the start of things again.
So that’s the future…about which a psychologist would say I’m deluding myself so as not to focus on…
Tonight’s Game Summary:
I think I can do this quickly (which, historically, is a pretty tough feat for me).
The Cavs outscored the Raptors 38-26 in the first quarter, shooting 67% from the field as compared to Toronto’s 50% (that’s defense, baby!). Obviously, this was the highlight of the game. The Cavs were able to get some stops, control the defensive glass, and even get out and run. They had their only 10 fast break points in the opening 12 minutes. The Cavs even flashed some relatively impressive glimpses of Byron Scott’s motion offense. But enjoyable though it was, I have to admit that behind the Cavalier offensive barrage was some pretty porous defensive play by the Raptors (coincidentally, struggling with many of the same issues that have been plaguing the Cavs this season). They were sloppy offensively, they were late getting back on defense, and they were late getting out to Jamison and Boobie Gibson on the three-point line. A very Cavalier-like performance in those regards.
As per usual, the Cavs too were not guarding with any type of intensity. As soon as the Raptors settled down a bit, and as soon as the Cavs stopped shooting 67% from the field, the tide turned quickly. Cleveland, up 15 in the first quarter, was already down by 3 at halftime. And the Raptors pulled away from there, methodically extending their lead on the heels of what would be considered an astoundingly good shooting night (at 56.8%, 50% from 3) had they not been up against such a porous defensive team. By way of points allowed, the Cavs were the 8th worst defensive team in the league coming into the night. By opponent field goal percentage (even more important because it’s applicable at any pace), they were 4th worst. They look like they’re clinging to both of those rankings.
Calderon went for 20 and 17 (on 8-10 shooting), Bargnani had 25 and 8, and the Julian Wright/Leandro Barbosa combo was huge off the bench for the Raptors, who put up 94 points on the Cavs in the final three quarters. The Raptors’ 50% (9 of 18) from 3? Even more discouraging considering they were the league’s worst three point shooting team coming into the night.
For the Cavs, Jamison had a huge night with 32 (keeping the Cavs in it for as long as they were), Mo had 11 and 9 (with 6 TO), and Sessions and Eyenga both had 16. Boobie Gibson had 13 and 6 and was looking very sharp before going out with an ankle injury.
Cavs Related Bullets:
“We need everybody communicating and we need everybody contributing.”
(Note: I appreciate the concern, but since when is Antawn Jamison an authority on defense?)
The Cavaliers allowed 62 points in the paint tonight, 9 of 18 from three, and 11 free throws. Pts in the paint + points off 3’s + FT’s = 100. 100 of 120. Pretty awful.
John’s been harping on it all season, I’ve been harping on it for three games…I think a lot of people have been harping on it. But it’s the preeminent issue the Cavs are dealing with, so, at the risk of being redundant…the Cavs’ defense is hideously bad. The problem has a lot to do with athleticism (we’re probably the only team in the league that employs the rarely seen small, slow lineup), but that said, more then half of the Cavs roster played under Mike Brown, and I don’t see any of his principles in this defense. The help, the weak side defense, any kind of rotation…it’s all slow or non-existent. Many of the double teams feel as if they were thrown on a whim. Just startling undisciplined play. Andy is still Andy, and Boobie has had his moments too, but the Cavs as a whole are the worst defensive team I’ve seen in a long time. Just a small example of a broad futility, but with less then a minute left in the third, Julian Wright got a fast break lay-up off an Antawn Jamison free throw because only Ryan Hollins got back, and he had his head turned. And what’s worse, this all trickles down to the progression of the offense. The Cavs want to be a running team, and you can’t run if you can’t defend. Unless you’re playing against the Cavs. Then you’re likely to find a way.
“It’s got to hurt. It’s got to be painful.”
The Cavs are in free-fall. If you’ve watched this team for more then 2 games, you can see that they just don’t have the athleticism to compete consistently against any of the more talented teams in the league. And despite the musings of some, the talent level in the league has never been higher. So I get why the Cavs are where they are. It’s time to restock, reload, re-whatever you do to get poor basketball teams cap space and draft picks. That understood, the most disconcerting thing about the Cavs to me is that they seem to have fallen into this type of game as their identity. We wanted grit, we wanted hustle, and it seems that we ended up with passive acceptance. I don’t doubt that a lot of the team is taking this personally, and I don’t expect them to publicly seethe in the locker room after each of their now 27 losses, but I would like to see them play a little harder, or in searching for a more specific word…with a little more physicality, or purpose. Andy, of course, still does. Daniel Gibson sometimes, too. But the team, as a whole, is not only sans identity, it is sans any type of presence. From game to game, I see them offering little resistance to the adversities of a tumultuous season. They’ve accepted it. And that’s a stark change coming from the remnants of a recently proud group. I don’t know, maybe that’s part of it. That no one actually saw this season coming, or at least not this bad of one. Nobody seems to be actively searching for ways to make it better, save for maybe Byron Scott. And if you’re not searching, you’re kind of just waiting for it to end. Again, it’s better that it’s happening now, and it’s better that it’s happening this quickly. Regardless though, that acceptance has been the hardest thing for me to watch.
“Well, for one reason, I don’t know who else to put at that position.”
This is is Byron-speak for “youth movement.” Or at least as much of a youth-movement as a team with an average age of 26 can have. Christian Eyenga, in only his second professional game, looked pretty decent tonight. Alonzo Gee, starting in place of the injured Anthony Parker, certainly didn’t embarrass himself either.
Along with Manny Harris, I think it’s time to get these guys on the floor more, and I think Byron Scott is ready to do that. I’d bet only Eyenga is on the team in three years, but we do need to see what we have anyway. Even more then that, I think the wide eyes of the 21-year-olds could serve us well. At least to them, a January game against an 11-23 Raptors team is a big deal. Both Eyenga and Gee made their fair share of mistakes tonight, but I also thought they played with more enthusiasm then a lot of the vets. Also, while he still is not anywhere close to harnessing his physical abilities, it’s fun to watch a guy as athletic and eager as Eyenga challenge shots. And offensively, he seemed more in tune with things then I expected him to be. He used the Cavs’ ball rotation to set up some of his penetration, and he was even able to set himself up for some high-ish percentage mid-range looks. So far (granted, 2 games), he’s kind of reminding me of a longer, lankier early-Shannon Brown, in that he has completely superior athleticism, a passable shot and improving awareness, but he doesn’t really seem to be much of a playmaker, and thus will often be without a way to use his aforementioned strong points. So the more we can get him comfortable in the offense, the more he becomes aware of ways to get his shot, and the less he’ll have to be reliant on creating plays himself. It was fun to watch him tonight.
“It is what it is, I missed a practice.”
Requisite J.J. Hickson bullet. I don’t want to give up on the guy (and I won’t), but he’s making it awful tough lately. If there’s one thing that rarely ends well, it’s the disgruntled player act. In J.J.’s defense, the full quote is a little more benign then the partial above, but I think it’s time J.J. stopped acting like he’s none to blame for his struggles. I didn’t really think the Cavs missed him at all tonight, and that’s got to change. I don’t want to see J.J. on the back end of a trade like Earl Clark, a similarly talented, similarly challenged PF. J.J. has already been productive in the league, but he has to stop acting as though he’s done more then he has. In the past, I’ve wanted the team to baby him a little more, but A) that’s not going to happen, and B) it shouldn’t need to happen. From this point on, J.J.’s career is on J.J.. I’ve given up on ‘athletic Paul Milsap’, but there’s plenty of room for productivity beneath that distinction.
3 Random Thoughts I Had While Watching the Game:
1) Cavalier-Raptor super-team. Let’s say Dan Gilbert and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (apparently the Raptors owner?) get together and, as some kind of a ‘lovers scorned unite’-type move, combined rosters to form the best team possible. Here was the starting lineup I came up with:
PG-Calderon or Mo
That team doesn’t sniff the playoffs, does it?
2) In the post-game show, Austin Carr referenced that the Cavs had 10 fast break points in the first quarter, then ended the game with 10. He worried that they can’t run consistently because they’re not in elite running shape. I would argue something else. It’s because they’re the least athletic running team in the history of the NBA. They’re kind of a running team in name only. Similar to those the high-flying Utah teams of the mid-90’s.
3) Byron Scott has been wearing a WWJD bracelet. My guess? Rig the draft.
It’s been a pleasure everyone :) Off the Cavs go to the West Coast for the next 5. May their luck change out there. I’m off to read about Perry Jones.