Overview: After a close, ugly game, the Cavaliers lost their 2nd home game of the year when a LeBron James was stuffed with the Cavaliers trailing by a point.
First things first, and by that I mean the first quarter. Last year, the Cavs’ opening unit absolutely destroyed people and set the tone, whether it was Wallace or Varejao in the starting lineup. The Cavaliers were the best 1st-quarter team in the league by a huge margin, and it was a huge reason they were able to cruise to so many victories. And it wasn’t just that they got results-that first unit played some of the prettiest basketball I’ve ever seen the Cavs play. They worked from the high post, cut from the weak side, utilized LeBron off the ball, moved the ball from side to side, freed up shooters on the weak-side with screens, worked cutters from the top of the floor, and played egalitarian basketball wonderfully as LeBron set up teammates and worked on the weak side.
This season, the starting lineup has gotten off to one sluggish start after another, with the exception of the Boston game, which was more about the Cavs hitting shots than good offensive sets. The energy isn’t there, and with the poor Shaq/Andy spacing, the starters are trying to force-feed the ball into the post and watch Shaq or LeBron go to work rather than playing 5-man basketball and working the entire floor. Shaq can still punish teams when they single-cover him, but the team has looked incoherent and confused during the opening stretch instead of controlling the flow of the game.
Thursday night, in the first quarter, the Cavs scored 12 points in the 8 minutes Shaq and Anthony Parker were on the floor and 15 points in the 4 minutes the Cavs played their starters from last season. The current starting unit is just too much about one-on-one basketball to get the team into the kind of flow it wants to be in out of the gate. This has to change, and soon.
More fun with completely baffling rotations: twice in the game, Mike Brown went to the “giant” lineup, which is the one that makes me start throwing things. This lineup does not work. This is not a state secret. And the Bulls have nobody in their frontcourt that can score down low. Eventually, MB did figure out that going small was a good idea, and by “eventually” I mean “with 2:50 to play in a tight game.” The Cavs then scored 7 points in three possessions, and set up a wide-open Mo Williams three in transition on the next one. Mo bricked the go-ahead three, then compounded the problem with a horrible floater the next time down. Not a good finish, but the small-ball works a whole lot better than the Day Of The Lineup.
Z is not good off the bench. This is his first season playing there, and it just doesn’t work. He went 0-9 tonight, and 1 of those shots was from Z’s comfort zone. The rest were forced shots that he didn’t take when he was in the starting lineup and could count on being set up. I know Shaq’s feelings would get hurt on the bench, but Z gets a lot worse at basketball when he comes off the bench. Priorities, I suppose.
Shaq is not making the other 4 players better right now, so when he needs 13 shots to get 14 points, he’s not helping much. He worked in the fourth, when he was out there in a non-LeBron lineup (WHICH IS WHAT BENCH PLAYERS DO), but he needs to hit his shots to be effective.
Just to finish my daily gripes, Anthony Parker is fantastic at hitting open threes and did move the ball better tonight, but his scoring game inside the arc is hot garbage. His 1-6 performance from inside the arc tonight brings him to 17-54 on twos this season. This is the thing that is not good. And Windy touched on this tonight, but how does Parker get 35 minutes while the still-immolating Boobie only get 17, during which time he scored 8 points?
Alright, onto the good: Andy was the Cavs’ best big on the floor tonight. He was everywhere (boy, that’s something you say about Andy a lot), showing on pick-and-rolls, fighting for every rebound, slashing from the top of the key for some tough finishes, and was a game-high +11 in his 35 minutes. That means the Cavs leaked 12 points in the 13 minutes he sat. But hey, he’s no Zydrunas Ilgauskas at the four.
Of course, JJ Hickson went ahead and played like he’d been lit on fire, forcing 4 shots in 3 minutes and blowing some defensive rotations for good measure. Yipes. At this point, I’m willing to volunteer any ligaments Leon Powe may need from me to get him back on the floor as soon as possible.
Also, no Jemario Moon at all when the Cavs should have been going small-ball aggressively. That’s just peachy.
3 good games for Mo Williams, 3 wins. 3 bad games for Mo Williams, 3 losses. Tonight, it was just the open threes not going down-he was 3-6 from inside the arc, and had 6 assists against 1 turnover. That’s something you just have to live with from a shooter, although that go-ahead three would have been nice. That forced floater, however, is not something you live with.
As for LeBron, another nice game within the offense, getting a lot points on weak-side cuts (including two off counter-movement plays initiated by Mo and Delonte, which are my favorite thing ever), some transition finishes, and open opportunities. But I would’ve liked to see him grab the reigns a bit more at different points, although with his jumper not working so well that would’ve been tough. Still, it wouldn’t have hurt to establish some LeBron off the pick-and-roll with the floor spread with the offense struggling as badly as it was.
As for the last play, there were 4 seconds left, and he went to his highest-percentage play: damn the torpedoes and make a hard, decisive drive. The real issue was that Noah was there waiting for him because we’d parked 320 pounds of a guy who can’t shoot or screen directly under the rim, and Hinrich made a nice rotation down to cut off that pass. Shaq shouldn’t be out there in those scenarios. Period. And no, there was no foul on that play-Noah was in perfect position, and LeBron tried to crash into him out of desperation. Not a pretty play, but at least it happens on November 5th. Get the bad ones done early, I suppose. Yeah, there’s the ticket.
Good news: defense. The only Bull with more points than true attempts (FG attempts+FT attempts/2) this game was Kirk Hinrich, and he had 9 points on 8 attempts. For the 2nd game in a row, Shaq looked fine defensively, and even had some very nice blocks late in the game. There’s your silver lining.
Bullets of Randomness:
Well, the Bulls’ spacing looked just as crappy as the Cavs’ so there’s that.
Hinrich should be a Delonte West-like starting two, Salmons should be a scorer off the bench. That’s just how it should work.
I always thought Taj Gibson would be a solid NBA player. Good to see him catching on.
Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully we give the Knicks a whoopin’ tomorrow. Because right now, I hate people. But, campers, I like you. See you tomorrow.