IND 99 > CLE 94
Well, this was rather disappointing. The Cavaliers played three quarters of solid defense and opportunistic offense, gaining a twenty point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And then it unraveled as it always does, the lead picked apart by George Hill fastbreak after George Hill fastbreak, topped off by a pair of Paul George three-pointers. People will complain about the calls agains the Cavs (the offensive foul call was a close one), but this one came down to a defensive collapse that doomed us against a suddenly effective Pacers transition offense.
First Quarter: For what the first time in what seems like forever, the young Mr. Irving started out this game on fire, knocking down jumpers and feeding Tyler Zeller for easy buckets. But the Pacers did what the Pacers do, playing ugly and effective basketball to hold off the Cavs. Tyler Hansborough in particular has perhaps the least aesthetically pleasing game in the NBA. He sort of flails around everywhere, throwing elbows with reckless abandon. And in perhaps the upset of the day, Omri Casspi played in the first quarter– and played well. He defended Paul George as best he could, and even scored. IND 29, CLE 26
Second Quarter: Kevin Jones did his best to usurp Luke Walton’s job as the second-string power forward, showcasing an offensive versatility reminiscent of Bernard King in his prime (joking, calm down). Shaun Livingston hit another midrange jumper. He’s money from 10-15 feet. Lance Stephenson got to the line a few times, and David West scored a few. Kyrie dished some nice passes at the end of the first, and the Cavaliers were up five at the half. CLE 53, IND 48
Third Quarter: The third frame started out with two straight Lance Stephenson offensive boards, followed by an easy putback. That’s gotta be a failure on the part of the Cavs frontline. Tyler Zeller continued to ball out, hitting his jumper with ease. However, his rhythm from midrange pulled him out of the paint, leading to only three rebounds for the game. Tristan Thompson looked good out there, but he was only 4-12 from the field. I honestly thought he played much better than that, but you can’t fight the boxscore. The Cavs controlled the quarter on both sides of the floor, opening up a huge lead by the fourth. CLE 84, IND 64
Fourth Quarter: Ugh. The Cavaliers were flat on offense, lazy on defense and seemingly okay with losing the game. The Pacers chipped away, and when Kyrie re-entered the game with six minutes left, Indiana had whittled the deficit to 15. Kyrie started scoring, but he gave it right back on the other end. George Hill was getting easy buckets in transition, and he’s not exactly Penny Hardaway– the issue was that no one felt like getting in front of him. The intensity disparity between offense and defense for Kyrie is truly remarkable. He has to be one of the worst defensive players in the NBA. Paul George hit a three to give the Pacers a two-point lead, and then Kyrie got whistled on a very, very, very close offensive foul call. As close as it gets. But after review, the call went against Cleveland. Pendergraph then hit one of two at the line, and Ellington back-rimmed a three pointer to end the game. IND 99, CLE 94
I don’t have any specific complaints about Byron Scott tonight. For the first three quarters, he had the Cavaliers scoring well, defending better and running the Pacers out of the gym. But once again, it all fell apart in the fourth. The players quit this game, and that has to come back to the coaching. NBA teams should not give up 20 point leads in nine minutes; that’s for March Madness. Kyrie Irving, in particular, needs to start trying on defense if he wants to earn that top-12 player status that ESPN assigned him in #NBArank. For all the talk about Scott’s ability as a point guards coach, he apparently has no idea how to convice Kyrie to defend. That was a crucial factor in this loss, as George Hill dived to the rim without resistance again and again. Disappointing loss tonight.
P.S. This was not tanking. The Cavs didn’t try to lose this game.