During last night’s 111-109 overtime loss in Memphis, something was made abundantly clear to me: The Cavaliers under the radar signing of PF Leon Powe will pay big dividends later in the season and into the playoffs.
Late in the fourth quarter and into overtime, the Grizzlies and the Cavs were back and forth exchange leads. It seemed as though neither team could get the necessary stop they needed. That is a disturbing trend considering Mike Brown likes to hang his hat on the defensive end. While his team is going to be a work in progress while he sorts through the Delonte West situation, what to do with Shaquille O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and keeping the offense flowing, Brown has to be concerned abut what is happening on D.
During the 66-win, 08-09 campaign, it seemed that anytime the Cavs needed a big stop, they got it (minus the Magic series). So far this year, we have seen way too many average teams pick apart the Wine and Gold on the defensive end. Last night was no exception.
The Grizzlies attacked the Cavaliers slow big men with the pick and roll throughout the second half with both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Anderson Varejao did the best job of anyone in attempting to stop Randolph (32 points), but the lack of a second option killed the Cavs. Varejao fouled out early in OT and with Jamario Moon in street clothes due to injury, Brown had no choice but to go to the defensively challenged JJ Hickson.
Grizz coach Lionel Hollins immediately called for the offense to flow through Randolph every time down the floor. The left-handed power forward made a field goal and two free throws, but it was the double teams that opened things up for Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo on the perimeter. Brown was left searching for answers.
The answer in that situation later in the season will be Powe. Sure, the undersized PF will be coming off of knee surgery, but he plays with the kind of energy, desire, and smarts on the defensive end that Brown craves. He was such a valuable part of the Celtics title run two years ago and when he got hurt during last year’s playoffs, Boston was clearly not the same (it also didn’t help playing without Kevin Garnett, but I digress). You can bet that if Powe was healthy and ready to go right now, he’d have been on the floor at the end of the game and during OT last night, with Varejao sliding over to the five.
Even with the defensive breakdowns, the Cavs needed one stop to win or force double OT, but again failed. This brings me to Shaq and his D. With the Cavs up one, The Grizz ran a high screen roll with Gasol and Mayo at the three point line. Shaq failed to make the switch and get out in front of Mayo, who drilled a three for a two point lead with 17 seconds to play. After Lebron James’s two free throws tied it, Memphis PG Mike Conley ran a 1-4 low set which cleared the floor. Gasol came up to screen Mo Williams, leaving Shaq to body Conley. The former Ohio State Buckeye blew right past Shaq for an easy deuce, which won the game for Memphis.
“It was late in the clock and I thought he was going to shoot the jumper,” O’Neal said. “He gave me the Allen Iverson carry, “hesi” move and he got me.”
Said Grizz coach Lionel Hollins “I was hoping [O'Neal] would still be in the game, so we could use him in the pick-and-roll.”
I know Shaq is no spring chicken at 38, but he is looking slower and slower on the defensive side of the ball each week. Without Powe and Moon and Andy fouled out, Brown had to have Shaq on the floor in those situations and was exposed for it. It was either Shaq or Z, neither option would have worked.
That is why I say, bring on Leon. When Powe is ready, make sure you remember this night and thank Danny Ferry for the shrewd chance he took on a recovering savvy, but still young veteran.