Overview: The Cavaliers were unable to escape Memphis with a lackluster effort on Tuesday night, losing 111-109 in overtime. Mike Conley made the game-winning layup with three seconds left to play.
Sigh. This is one of those games where you forget that 53 minutes of basketball occurred and just start ranting about the final few plays and their implications, but there was a lot more to this game than that.
The first half was really nice for the Cavaliers, especially on the offense ends. As Windhorst noted, the big story of the first half was how good of a job the Cavaliers did freeing up LeBron James off the ball. Seeing as to how LeBron is all but unstoppable when he catches in on the weak-side, this is a welcome development. 6 of LeBron’s 8 field goals in the first half came off of assists, and most of those were alley-oop finishes or opportunities right at the basket. Mo also tallied 7 assists in the first half because of this.
The third quarter did not go quite so well. When the first bucket of a quarter is Zach Randolph banging in a three, it’s a bad omen. LeBron wasn’t assisted on any of his baskets in the second quarter, the team started trying to force-feed Shaq, Rudy Gay got hot, and all of a sudden it was a tight game down the stretch.
Down the stretch, the Cavs got more than a little bit predictable. LeBron scored the team’s final 13 points (only using 9 possessions, for a TS% of 70%, and that includes the final 30-foot heave), but something has to happen to get more offensive balance, either with different guys initiating plays or guys focusing on getting open and hitting their shots rather than standing around and watching LeBron.
But, as excruciating as “LeISO” can be to watch last time, the defense down the stretch was much more of a problem. Memphis’ last 12 points of the fourth quarter came from 6 feet in or closer. On Memphis’ final play of regulation, LeBron James cut off Rudy Gay’s outside drive, then stared at him like he’d never seen anyone change direction after picking up the ball, while a rotating man was nowhere to be found. (It also looked a bit like LeBron was conceding an early MEM basket so that he would have a chance to hit a game-winner.)
In overtime, the Marc Gasol hit a 7-footer, Zach Randolph hit two free throws and a tough 17-footer, and then Lionel Hollins attacked Shaq on his last two possessions. First, he used Gasol to back-screen Delonte, and Shaq didn’t get above the screen, giving O.J. Mayo a look at a three. (Although Mayo deserves many props for hitting that one.) And on the Grizzlies’ final possession of the game, Shaq correctly sagged back when Mike Conley came on the pick-and-roll. Then he bit on a nice pull-up fake from Conley, got left at the free-throw line, and watched as Conley laid the ball in, as JJ Hickson rotated off of Zach Randolph too late to stop the shot. Not a great crunch-time defensive showing from the Cavs’ new starting frontcourt, and you hope Andy fouling out down the stretch will be a rare occurrence.
-The Cavs, as a team: 18 assists to 20 turnovers. That’s not going to get it done.
-The three new starters: a combined -31 in 75 minutes. The three starters from last year they replaced: +19 in in 85 minutes.
-Good night from the floor for Boobie, but his defense kept him off the court for most of the game.
-Before you say that 11 threes is too many for LeBron, consider that if he was taking those shots from midrange, his 4 makes would be the equivalent of 6, and the best midrange shooters in the league don’t average a 6-11 night from midrange. I don’t mind threes from LeBron so long as they’re decent looks and the situation calls for it.
-Delonte came back to earth tonight, with only 2 points on 5 shots. Even when he plays well, it’s apparent he doesn’t have his outside shot back yet, and he missed all three of his shots from outside of 20 feet tonight, including a wide-open corner three in overtime that would’ve been huge.
-Bottom line is this: these are the kind of losses you hope happen in December, rather than it really starts to count. The Cavs were AMAZING in tight games like this last season. What did it get the team? 2 of its 4 playoff losses were of the down-to-the wire, razor-thin, devastatingly winnable variety. As much as people like to talk about a game like this in November reveals a team’s “true soul,” or whatever, winning a game like this in December does not grant the team a magic cookie of intangibles that they get to give to invisible clutch elves in May and June. It’s just one more loss out of 82, even if it feels worse than that.
-The other good news: The Cavs get to try and wipe this taste out of their mouths in less than 24 hours against the Rockets. See you then.
-Also, I had to listen to this after the game to remind me that Grizzlies can, in fact, bring happiness and relaxation. (Note: I did say “listen” and not “watch,” as this video kinda creeps me out.)