April 19, 2014

Cavs 101, Bucks 98: Free Throws Deciding Edge

No matter who came out on top in this one, the difference was going to be from the free throw line. The Cavaliers ended up winning because Mo Williams was able to knock down four crucial freebies to seal the game. (LeBron’s steal didn’t hurt either.) Had the Cavs lost, free throws would have been the reason also because of another dismal performance from the stripe. The Cavs made only 29 of the 45 foul shots they attempted. I emphasize here that they shot 64% without Shaq in uniform.

There was a comment left after the game in the preview about whether the officiating was fair as the Bucks only attempted nine free throws. Truth be told, Milwaukee probably intentionally fouled Cleveland 10 times for 20 of those shots. The Cavs also played a more aggressive attacking game, where as the Bucks took and made a good amount of jump shots. When they did get to the rim it usually wasn’t contested well because of defensive lapses.

The Cavs looked like they were in control towards the end of the third quarter, pushing the lead out to 10 with under a minute left. Two poor defensive plays later the lead was cut to six. The Cavs would then have a monumental scoring drought for them going five minutes in the 4th quarter without a single point. Fortunately the defense kept them in the game

LeBron didn’t have a great shooting night, hitting on 7 of 17 but only 1 of 7 outside the paint. He finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Ho-hum numbers for LeBron but a career night for many.

Despite rumblings from the booth and on twitter that the Cavs weren’t moving the ball enough, I thought the offense was very balanced and attacked the defense hard for the majority of the game. Delonte, Mo and even Parker were pointing the ball on the floor and driving the lane before kicking to open shooters. LeBron attacked the rim (and was mugged when he did) Hickson attacked the rim (when he could catch the ball) and Jamison did a nice job of cleaning the glass and adding put-backs.

Here’s your scoring balance- James 23, Williams 21, Jamison 12, Hickson 14, West 12. Nothing wrong with that. Had the Cavs made a few more free throws nobody would even be upset about this one. Even Mo Williams played decent defense against Jennings, forcing the rookie to the bench for the majority of the game. Jennings played only 19 minutes and scored 5 points. He also had 2 turnovers.

Stackhouse and Salmons found themselves wide open way too often as the Cavs were forced to double Bogut when Hickson was guarding him. Zydrunas held his own against him, which we expected. Give the Cavaliers Varejao and Shaq and this game is completely different. I’d much rather face this Bucks team in the second round than the Hawks. Atlanta may not have much confidence against us, but they have the better players. And I’ll take the weaker team thank you.

The Cavs reduced the magic number over Orlando to two games, and with a loss the Lakers are also just two games away from being in Cleveland’s rear view mirror. Those two are not gimmes however. The schedule the rest of the way isn’t light. We are at home for four of the seven, but only one game is against a team without playoff chances (Indiana). There are two against the Hawks, one against Boston, Orlando, Toronto and Chicago. Orlando has four games out of  against teams with eight winning records. The Lakers have quite a difficult schedule.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Ron from Akron

    The disparity in FT’s was due to intentional fouls at the end and throughout the game. The Bucks (and their fans)can clammer about it all they want but this game was not about the officating. Fouls actually called was 12 against Cavs 29 against Milktoast.

  • LeBron Burgundy

    Would anyone be upset if Cavs beat the Raptors and then ‘rested’ versus the Bulls in an attempt to tip the scales in that 8-seed race?

  • Jack

    The FT disparity was also way less about the Cavs attempting to get to the rim, which they failed to do for long stretches, settling for jumpers, especially at the outset of the 4th, and more about stupid fouls from Milwaukee. Rick and Ron already mentioned the intentional fouls, and not just at the end of the game, but fast break warp-ups.

    There were also at least 9 FTs from jump shot fouls. Delonte was fouled shooting a 3, and on another jump shot, as were Lebron and Mo.

    I still think the Cavs needs to dive to the rim with more persistence. Every time they did, it was a foul or an easy bucket. That’s the aggression that can separate us. All the top teams in the league are “pretty teams.” The Bobcats beat these teams because they ugly up the game, get to the rack, force guys to play defense. The LAL, Cavs, and Magic in particular, as well as the Nuggs, Mavs, and Celtics look for pretty shots–clean drives, back-door cuts, ball rotation plays. Sometimes, you just need to beat a man off the dribble and create and get to the line when shots aren’t falling. And I don’t mean out of the stand-still Iso. Swing the ball once and just catch’n’go. You don’t need 15 jab steps, LBJ…

  • stin4u

    This team needs to do nothing but shoot free throws in practice for at least a week going into the playoffs. In close games shooting 64% isn’t going to cut it.

  • Vare-A-Jay

    I’m kind of glad this was a nail biter. It’s exactly how playoff games are played, and won. Good clamp down defense at the end of the game (and Bogut’s missed lay up didn’t hurt either). Free throw shooting has been nothing short of horendous over the last few weeks. That needs corrected before April 17th. It’s a totally different team without Varejao. There’s no energy off the bench. I laughed at Jennings 2 quick fouls. He had an awful game. Austin Carr did everything but go over and punch Jennings when talking about how much he felt personally disrespected by the rookie. I’m glad the Cavs won, and I think our tough remaining schedule will only help in the playoffs.

  • Chris

    That play they ran at the end of the game to get the winning bucket was incredible. Mo to the baseline, Lebron counting to 3 and jetting up the lane.

    I WANT MORE OF THIS PLEASE!

  • Matt#2

    Jack, up there,

    Agreed, the Cavs need more hand to hand kombatsu down low. My pet Cav (I call him JJ), for instance, must learn to clear a path with something other than the ball.

    Maybe after the Andy show returns the paint shyness will be an odd memory.

  • http://www.twitter.com/azv321 Amin

    @Chris: John Krolik of “Cavs: The Blog” has dubbed that name The Kracken. He’s had his eye on it for a few months I believe. But anyway, I totally agree. That play was awesome.

  • Jack

    Let’s hope so.

    This is a new era of athlete-fan relaishes…isn’t there a way to like Tweet @ theez doods or sumthin.

  • phil m

    Rick: fine write-up. I would quibble with the question of whether home court advantage in the East or overall is a gimme. On the one hand, nothing is a gimme; teams don’t forfeit games due to lack of interest or domestic squabbles or for any other reason. But if we are going to suggest that the Cavs have some kind of arduous task before them by saying that neither case is a “gimme,” I think we’d be putting drama into a situation that effectively has none left. Yesterday’s results all but sealed the deal. If the Cavs win only a single game of the remaining 7, it would force both LA and Orlando to win out in order to wrest home court advantage from us.

    Let’s admit it: that ain’t gonna happen. The Cavs will not lose 6 games if all are needed.

  • Matt#2

    If they tweet back, I’ll bury my head in a pillow and scream like a fanboy.

  • JNeids

    I definitely like that the rest of our games are not sleepers (save for Indiana) – I think this team needs to be ready for the playoffs, and playing somewhat of a pre-playoff schedule will do us good. Yes, rest is always nice, and we probably won’t have to play anyone in the final game. But until we clinch anything, we need to be out there playing like we will hopefully be playing in a couple weeks.

    Speaking of that last game, that game could have some implications on the 3/4 seeds, so it’s a shame Atlanta will get to play the Boobie Gibson All-Stars. Personally, I would love to see Atlanta in the 2nd round as opposed to Boston. I think Boston would be an easier team to beat for us, but that Atlanta would be the easier team to beat for the Magic. I don’t see us losing to Atlanta, so I would rather the Celtics rough up the Magic a little bit before the ECF.

  • Jack

    Yo, that was a great play Chris and Co. And we’ve seen it before. But LBJ just doesn’t count to 3 and rim dive…

    …let’s not overlook the solid, “gently moving” weak-side, back-side screen set by Antawn. He freed up LBJ with a great screen on Salmons and provided a solid pump fist at the top of the key after the finish.

  • phil m

    @2′s question: “Would anyone be upset if Cavs beat the Raptors and then ‘rested’ versus the Bulls in an attempt to tip the scales in that 8-seed race?”

    I wouldn’t be upset, but then how would anyone ever know they had done that? I wouldn’t know how not to be upset about it, because I could not verify it had happened, especially not with the single scare quotes around ‘rested.’ I might look at the results and suspect that they deserve scare quotes, but I couldn’t be sure about it.

    Of course, I get your point. This kind of thing is argued when playoffs approach in any sport. Generally, while some people suggest it’d be good strategy, no coach or player will ever embrace such a strategy openly. If someone knows a case of a team that did ‘rest’ (with scare quotes, of course), then chime in. I’d be interested to know about it.

  • DCBucks

    They need an added incentive for free throws. If you miss, you owe every fan in the arena a beverage.

  • DK

    it never ceases to amaze me when they stop moving at the Offensive end of the floor and wait around for LBJ to hoist up a 20 foot jumper…they should just have all 4 standing along the key like a free throw when this happens…typically theres no chance for a put back slam from underneath on LBJ’s jumpers..most of his jumper misses are off back iron so theyre long rebounds it seems…

    dunno why they stop the motion…even if its just to confuse or pick others, it seems silly to stop moving and become stagnant…isnt that what lost us the Magic series? depending on fouls being called on drives by LBJ or settling for outside jumpers and not rebounding?

  • Jack

    @DK – Because LeBron tells them too. He comes and demands the ball, usually on an awkward-as-hell post-up about 25 ft from the basket. And then waves everyone to the 1-4 or to the Iso positions to free-up the key.

    It’s all LBJ. I really don’t think Mike Brown calls that play. I think we can stop blaming him for that (not that you were, but many do). LBJ has to realize that the “Homerun Formation” is not going to cut it in the 4th qtr of playoff games. This formation
    is what I just described and is run with the belief that LeBron can either shoot over the top successfully or drive-n-kick for a guy to make a shot out of rhythm, i.e. one pass and/or one shot = homerun.

    No, your Highness. No.

  • Matt#2

    DK

    “it seems silly to stop moving and become stagnant…isnt that what lost us the Magic series?”

    ‘Tis. ‘Tis.

    My take: There is a haunting memory of a younger ‘Bron (can there be such a thing?) who would just as soon drive the lane with the 5 on 1 (Thus, there would be scoring of one kind or another). He’s too smart (aware of his mortality) to play like that now. The coaches are still living in the highlight reels of yore and have not adjusted to “smart” Lebron.

  • Matt#2

    Jack,

    Even if it is all Lebron, at whose doorstep does one lay that? I say it’s the coaches. Don’t they have to marshal something? Imposss?

  • DK

    @Jack – I tend to agree with ya, but I dont always think its LBJ as much as its the other guys not wanting to Szezeezzeezezerbiak it and airball a 3 in crunch time…but all that this has been doing to them is making them more timid…its why i love when DWest does his thing and doesnt care if he makes or misses…cuz he will shoot you if you talk smack to him (bad joke, and dont get me wrong, i have a man crush on DWest)…but LBJ seems to know that everyone else has the deer in headlights look when he has the look of determination in his eyes..

    @Matt#2 – agreed…I think they tend to not want to run the motion because “they’ve seen him do it before”…although if you are a one-trick pony (like Howard), eventually, there’s bound to be another one that is similar to you, or can guard you to the point of not allowing you to do what youre used to doing…you need to adapt – Shaq or other big men can hold Howards low-post game in check…as well as Artest (in his hey-day) being able to slow Kobe or LBJ down…

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  • Matt#2

    “Homerun Formation”

    did you coin that? I likes it.

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  • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

    @Jack Mike Brown hardly calls any plays that part of the problem. Like I said before I can’t begrudge LeBron taking those awful shots despite my dislike for them simply because his teammates just stand around. Austin Carr had a field day last night commenting on this and I loved what he said about Anthony Parker. Parker missed a wide open three, just his second shot attempted in almost 3 quarters and Carr made note of it. He said a SG can’t wait around for 3/4 of a game and then miss a wide open shot. He also said Parker needs to be more aggressive and go to the hoop – a frickin men brother AC! Parker is annoying me with his play if he doesn’t pass on a shot he hesitates, same result.

    The free throw shooting is a downright embarrasment. For a professional basketball team to be so pitiful is a reflection on the coaching. It starts with the players but I think it’s time for the head coach to step up and be a head coach. If poor free throw shooting proves costly in one playoff game I promise there will be plenty of people discussing it. Meanwhile Brown can make excuses.

  • Jack

    @DK, Matt#2, Boogeyman, et al:

    1) Yes, I just coined “homerun formation” via this post…it’s not bad.

    2) I lay it at the feet of LeBron. We can all pretend that Mike Brown is Phil Jackson…orrrr…we can be realists. Fact is, this is Lebron’s team. You heard them last night saying that the players were taking care of things in the huddle. If LeBron has the hoops IQ everyone raves about (not saying he doesn’t) and he wants to be the leader, it’s HIS job to call a play or direct bodies where he wants them. And he does. To the corners to open up space for him.

    Boogeyman, I don’t LeBron gets the ball and his teammates just stand around. He directs them to do so. I find it hard to believe that LBJ would accept that many possessions of static offense if he desired otherwise. The team responds to him; if he said, “C’mon fellas, get moving when I have the ball,” I think they would. He loves that ISO. I just think we have to look at the flow of events.

    B-man, when you say, “Like I said before I can’t begrudge LeBron taking those awful shots despite my dislike for them simply because his teammates just stand around,” I have to differentiate and see what we are talking about. It’s one thing to take an ugly late-shot-clock-trying-to-bail-possession shot because a couple perimeter upfakes and passes don’t free anything up or AP passes up a shot late in the clock. It’s another thing to post up outside the arc, demand the ball, turn, face, wave the first man who tries to move back to his corner, jab-step 3 times and jump, throw your weight to the right, kick your leg, and flick sans extension.

    LBJ HAS to put the onus on himself in this regard (IMO). The coaches trust him to make the play, so he needs to.

  • Matt#2

    It all comes down to Boobie’s hair-tat.

  • Vare-A-Jay

    @ DC – We used to have to do push ups when we missed a free throw in prcatice. Maybe Mike Brown can implement that. Then we could have a potential “Willie Mays Hayes” situation where a player actually does the push ups during a game.

    @ JNeids – “The Boobie Gibson All-Stars” is the perfect name for the bench unit! That’s fantastic!

  • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

    @jack What, LeBron directs his teammates to just stand around, you honestly think that? I couldn’t disagree with this more it’s one thing to run isolations it’s quite another for the other 4 guys to just stand still. Every team with a superstar has isolation plays but I can’t honestly think of another team other then the Cavaliers who are nearly as bad at running them.

    Besides this if you were somehow correct this doesn’t say alot for LBJ’s teammates or more importantly his head coach. But this is just my opinion.

  • Jack

    @boogeyman – There is no other logical explanation. Even when a guy comes to set a screen he waves him off at times.

    If he is holding the ball, he’s calling the play. I don’t think he calls a play, even an iso set, and the players just choose to ignore it. How would that make sense. LBJ calls for a triangle iso but his teammates just decide to ignore him? I can’t imagine that would last more than two plays without LeBron throwing a fit right?

    You think they just run Iso sets and the team decides not to “run their routes?” I think not. They stand as far away from the basket as possible because that’s what LeBron wants. It gives him the most space to drive…AND…it makes it’s easier for him to see where the help is coming from so he can kick it out.

    No other explanation is plausible. Unless they are constantly on dopamine or something. They are supposed to be a championship caliber team and you think they are just “bad at running [iso sets]?” That’s silly. Poor execution might mean lazy cuts or ineffective screens, but not completely ignoring their responsibilities. And no, it doesn’t say a lot about Mike Brown, but the onus falls predominantly with LeBron for thinking he should do what he did in Game 5 at the Palace in every 4th qtr of a close game.

  • http://www.msblsim.com boogeyman

    @Jack to many things to debate your entitled to your opinion I just disagree. Your making alot of assumptions but even if your right Game 5 at the Palace ended pretty well didn’t it? Last time I checked Mike Brown was the head coach it’s not my fault neither he or LeBron’s teammates want to ever step up like the MVP. I mean I can’t blame Brown he’s riding LeBron for all he’s worth.