Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Right now the Cavaliers are absolutely insane. A lack of urgency and being ok with letting their opponent dictate the style of play caught up to the Cavaliers in this game as the Bulls won 108-106 to get themselves back into the series. What follows is my analysis in numbers and words.
– This game reminded me of the Steven Wright quote “Right now I’m having amnesia and deja vu at the same time.” At this point I’m pretty sure the Cavaliers are incapable of learning lessons and lack the desire needed to win the NBA Championship. And before you think this is a reaction to just one game, I remind you to look back at some of the things we’ve been saying about this team for the last few weeks. The habits they picked up while sleepwalking through March have ingrained themselves into the team’s DNA. The Cavaliers have forgotten who they are and how to give full effort, and they just keep playing this sloppy, lethargic style of basketball game in and game out. We thought it was just effort and a lack of interest in the regular season. I don’t know how to explain this series away. With the exception of the 1st quarter of game one, the Cavs look like an average basketball team at best.
– Remember how during the regular season the Cavs could count on at least one role player stepping up and making an impact, and we all lauded this as a sign of the team’s depth? Well, the Cavs have a problem. Playoff-itis or Playoff-phobia, whatever you want to call it, has struck this team. Once again, the big 3 all played their game for the Cavs (LeBron had 39-10-8, Antawn had 19-10, and Mo had 21-3) but absolutely nobody else stepped up whatsoever. Parker had 8 points and Shaq had 6, and the Cavs bench took a combined 8 shots, 5 of them coming from Delonte West.
– Meanwhile, the Bulls starters continue to slice apart the Cavs defense. Remember, the Bulls were 28th in offensive efficiency this season and Cleveland was the 7th best defensive team. So explain why the Cavaliers have now let the Bulls score 102+ points in each of the last 2 games. The Bulls had 5 players in double figures again, and again had 3 players with 20+ points. It’s easy to say the Bulls were “just hot”, but we could have said the same thing about the Orlando series last year. At some point, you have to look at how Derrick Rose continues to get whatever shot he wants all game long and how many wide open shots Kirk Hinrich was getting despite the fact he was 4-4 from three. When are the Cavs going to get to start putting Delonte West or LeBron James on Rose sooner in the game? When are they going to start taking it personal and putting bodies on the shooters who are killing them?
– Mike Brown needs to start adjusting his rotations. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was –8 in 5 minutes and Shaq was –5 in 20 minutes. So why is JJ Hickson still getting just 46 seconds of playing time? We all know that the Cavaliers are going to need their big lineups against Orlando and Los Angeles, but there’s no way to ignore the way the Cavaliers small lineup just destroys teams like the Bulls and Celtics. Mike Brown needs to put his stubborn pride aside and let this team do its thing and demoralize teams like the Bulls. The versatility of this team is supposed to be a strength, so stop treating it like its the plague.
– In 3 regular season games, the Cavaliers held Derrick Rose to 17 points per game. In 3 playoff games, they are letting him get 27.33 points per game. That’s quite a defensive letdown. On the other side of the coin, the Cavs bench averaged 29.8 points/game this year, but are averaging just 19.67 points/game. It’s normal for teams to see their bench production drop in the playoffs when playing time shrinks and rotations tighten up, not to mention Playoff-itis setting in for role players, but when your bench is dropping 10 points in production and you’re letting your opponents’ star increase his output by 10 points, that’s a 20 point swing that needs to be made up in the margins. When you’re not dominating the glass and you’re letting your opponent routinely outscore you in the paint (the Bulls edge was “only” 38-32 in this game), that’s a good way to lose those said margins. So the only way for the Cavaliers to be competitive and win in this series is for LeBron to singlehandedly make up the difference. Thankfully, LeBron is doing just that.
– What does Anthony Parker bring to this team that warrants playing 28 minutes? It’s pointless to bring up because it’s never going to change, but when what you have is so clearly not working properly, why not at least try giving Daniel Gibson some meaningful minutes? Maybe he’s still hurt, I don’t know, but even if he is, I don’t think it’s the injury that’s keeping him from playing. But in 28 minutes Parker was 2-7 from the field for 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, and a lot of mediocre defense that led to a –4 rating. During the season Anthony Parker was a Net –0.3 defensively while Daniel Gibson was a Net –1.9 defensively. You can say Parker is bigger as the excuse for him getting so much time, but when Gibson has so clearly outplayed Parker when given a chance this year, there’s no reason they shouldn’t at least be splitting those 28 minutes.
– For all of this negativity, though, once again the Cavaliers came storming back from 20 down and had a shot at the buzzer that would have won the game. One major culprit was an old nemesis, the free throw line. The Cavs were 20-31 from the FT line (64.5%) and that’s the reason the comeback bid fell short. If the Cavaliers would just play their A Game (or even their B Game) defensively, they wouldn’t need to worry about FTs. But when you play down to your opponents and consistently let lesser teams battle with you down the stretch, those FTs suddenly become enormous. And it’s not Shaq (100%) or Jamison’s (100%) fault this time. Mo Williams was 2-5 from the line and LeBron was 7-13 from the line. Both missed crucial FTs in the 4th quarter.
– There are some major positives from this game (Mo’s overall play on offense, LeBron’s loaded output, and Delonte’s intangible timing on big momentum plays), but I’m not going to focus on them because I hope the team isn’t doing so either. My hope is that this game serves as a wake up call and snaps this team out of it. Having said that, I’m tired of writing like a broken record. I keep waiting for the Cavs to turn the Playoff switch on, but it’s not happening. They’re not in danger of losing to the Bulls. The Cavs can beat the Bulls on talent alone. You can’t say the same for the Celtics and/or Magic. Trouble is looming on the horizon for the Cavaliers.
What The Internet Is Saying
I am spitting mad right now. Remember how I used to say that you wanted these kind of games to happen in February? Well, now it’s the playoffs. I don’t buy the “wake-up call” thing either. This team got upset in the playoffs last season. Their best player is a free-agent this off-season. Boston had 2008. LA had last year. Orlando has the future. No team has more pressure on them than the Cavs do, and they’re acting like they don’t need to take every playoff game seriously.
Like I said, if they run through the Bulls in the next two games, I’ll buy the “wake-up call” thing. Right now, all I see is a team that hasn’t won a playoff game on the road this season giving up a playoff game against a 41-41 team to put them three losses away from an unthinkable collapse. With LeBron scoring 38 points. If the Cavs don’t pull it off this season, this is the kind of game that will make LeBron look at his options. If that doesn’t make you terrified, I don’t know what will. [Cavs: The Blog – John Krolik]
Instead of realizing that this was the Bulls’ last shot to make this a series and that they’d come out fighting for their season with the injection of energy playing at home, the Cavs eased into Game 3 like it was a game in February. They played at something less than full speed for three quarters and hoped it worked and then turn it up in the fourth quarter. Questionable as it is, it works in the regular season but it is a bad habit. Seeing the way the Bulls’ attacked and the Cavs literally fell over themselves — Anthony Parker back pedaled once and actually went to the deck playing passive defense on Derrick Rose — highlighted this perfectly.
Perhaps this will serve as one of those “wake up” games that higher seeds sometimes need in the playoffs. It didn’t help that the Cavs played this same way in Game 2 and got away with playing a great quarter to win. That doesn’t work on the road, even against .500 teams. It must be assumed that Bulls’ non-stars will step up and have better games, that is what happens at home. Just look at what Jamario Moon did in Game 2.
As the Cavs break down film and go over lineup situations and fine-tune the game plan, attitude is going to be just as important. They will have to arrive Sunday ready to play a playoff game. They did that in Game 1 and then talked about how their focus was sharpened and how Shaquille O’Neal was leading by example. All of us in the media lapped it up and it was easy because you could see that the Cavs had that edge. It was vanishing in Game 2 and it was gone in Game 3. [Plain Dealer – Brian Windhorst]
Derrick Rose made 13-of-26 shots for 31 points and Kirk Hinrich hit 9-of-12 for 27 points Thursday night, resurrecting the Bulls’ hopes in this first-round series.
Rose arrived averaging more than 25 points in the first two games. But Hinrich had scored a total of 13 points before Monday, making just six of 18 shots.
But Parker knew Hinrich would be trouble when he made two of his first three shots in the first quarter. [Plain Dealer – Mary Schmitt Boyer]
The Bulls for some reason took something away from Game 2 that they felt they could build on. I wrote, and said during the Wine and Gold Podcast earlier today, that I didn’t know what those takeaways could be. There wasn’t anything from an x and o standpoint that I could see the Bulls were particularly doing that the Cavaliers couldn’t adjust to. The only thing that happened in Game 2 was, for a stretch, the Bulls just played harder than the Cavaliers. If the Cavs just came out and played hard tonight for 48 minutes, that would’ve pretty much wrapped it up. Only they didn’t. Not once but twice they left their sense of urgency laying next to their ipods and twitter accounts in the locker room. They allowed the Bulls to close the first quarter up 11, and got down by as many as 21 during the opening minutes of the third, and you can’t dig holes like that in the playoffs…no matter how many whistles go your way, or inbounds passes you execute properly. [Stepien Rules – Brendan Bowers]
The Cavs weren’t at their best — 43.9 percent shooting and 20-of-31 from the line — but they got the requisite solid games from their top three players in LeBron James (39 points on 14-of-26 FG, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks, two steals), Mo Williams (21 points on 5-of-11 from deep), and Antawn Jamison (19 points and 11 rebounds). The problem, as it usually is on the road in the playoffs, is that their secondary players were far worse. [The Baseline – Eric Freeman]
Cleveland didn’t do themselves any favors with the way they started the game, as poor perimeter defense (Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were getting into the paint at will) and iffy shot selection gave Chicago a comfy lead. It was enough for the Bulls to ride their momentum through the second and third quarters before sealing the win at the line in the fourth. Not that the Bulls were spotless from the stripe when it counted; out of their eight free throw attempts in the final minute, Chicago made just four of them, leaving the door open for a potential tie on several occasions. [ProBasketballTalk – Rob Mahoney]
And though James made shots, and his team shot 40% from 3, so the real issue for Cleveland wasn’t King James or his court, it was that they couldn’t stop the Bulls from scoring. The Bulls, of all teams! It was especially rough for the Cavs in the frontcourt, and it was highlighted in one sequence: old-ass Shaq blowing a dunk, and Noah beating him down the court on the other end for a layup. Varejao battled foul trouble all night, and the Cavs actually had their best success when they went without any bigs (Jamison and James as the frontcourt) and forced the Bulls with Noah on the bench (foul trouble of his own) to go without him or Brad Miller. The Cavs were able to scrape back into the game by owning the offensive glass and exploiting mismatches (the Cavs ‘small’ is better than the Bulls ‘small’), but then Noah returned, and Rose took over. Both instances of a fine (if only in a get-out-of-the-way) coaching job by Vinny Del Negro. With no game until Sunday, he essentially went 7 deep (James Johnson got 5 and half minutes), and Rose had the ball in his hands to end the quarters and end the game. [Blog-A-Bull]
What The Players and Coaches Are Saying
Right now, we’re not playing good defense. We played just good enough to win the last game and almost stole one tonight. Chicago earned the win tonight. We need to be more physical on the defensive end. We made mental errors out there tonight leaving guys and letting them get dunks. Our defense just has to get better. [Mike Brown]
They do a good job of exploiting what we do defensively. We are a spread the floor team. But they did a good job getting into the paint and they’re hitting jump shots right now. Derrick Rose is hitting a lot of jump shots, Kirk is hitting a lot of jump shots. 104 points is not our M.O. Shooting over 50% against us is not our M.O. Coming into game 2 and coming into this game we said we couldn’t give up a lot of offensive rebounds. We only gave up 7 offensive rebounds which is really good. We said we couldn’t give up a lot of fast break points and we only gave up 11 so we cleaned that area up. They just shot the ball really well from outside. They shot the ball particularly well. We made some adjustments from game 2 to game 3 but they just hit some open shots. Not all of them were open. Some were certainly contested. [LeBron James]
We’re a team that has a lot of different weapons. How I approach it, is the same every game. I come out and let the game come to me. I’m the point guard on this team and I feed off my teammates. I feel like if it’s a situation where I need to be aggressive, I’ll be aggressive. But if it’s a situation which we’re going to play through Shaq or play through (LeBron) then I’m always there and stretch the defense and do things in some different ways and parts of the game where I’m not taking shots. A lot of times on offense when a defender doesn’t leave me, I’ve done my job. If that man can’t help on (LeBron) or can’t help on Shaq, I’ll go through stretches where I don’t shoot and don’t get shot attempts but that’s fine because I’m doing my job. I’ll just try to find a way to be effective. This team, we have so many weapons. It just depends on how we play at that particular moment. [Mo Williams]
Cleveland is the No. 1 seed for a reason. We’re going to have to play our best basketball on Sunday to even the series up. We put a little pressure on them but just because we’re at home doesn’t automatically mean we’re going to play that much better. We have to have the right mindset, the right focus, and come in here hungry with a sense of urgency. We know we’re going to have to play our best basketball of the year. [Vinny Del Negro]
Derrick Rose was huge for us. I’m glad he’s on our team. Those floaters were huge for us. They need to get the ball out of his hands. [Joakim Noah]
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)