Live by the three. Die by the three?
Surely, partaking in what was the second night of a back-to-back slate on the road against what is proving to be a terrible matchup for the Cavaliers plays a large role. A team comprised of largely inexperienced players taking their first trip down NBA Schedule Lane, less than 24 hours removed from the final whistle of a high-possession game against the Charlotte Bobcats, looking to keep the momentum going only to fall a bit flat on both ends of the court – the narrative is still very ripe and is not without merit.
But just as it was troubling prior to Wednesday night’s 92-77 loss to the Toronto Raptors, it’s troubling afterwards: The Cavaliers are relying largely on low-percentage shots. Forty-one percent of the Cavaliers’ shot attempts on Wednesday evening were either spot-up attempts (16 of which were three-pointers) or pick-and-roll situations in which the ball handler maintained possession. On nights like Tuesday where Kyrie Irving is of the utmost efficient, this is a net positive. On nights like Wednesday, or any of those played against the Toronto Raptors, it’s a large net loss as it net the Wine and Gold a mere .36 points per possession.
A 19-year old point guard being used 36 percent of his time on the floor is bound to have the occasional backlash. The aggression and ease displayed by Irving one night earlier was replaced with tentativeness and apprehension and exhaustion; he was 2-of-5 on layups. But to Irving’s credit, even when he did relinquish possession, his teammates were doing little but provide weak legs; Alonzo Gee and Daniel Gibson, two of the key three-point contributors mentioned just one week ago, combined to go 0-for-8 from the three point line.
Antawn Jamison, the team’s leading scorer once again, needed 19 shots to net his 19 points. (At least said lack of efficiency provided us with this brilliant metaphor.) As bad as the Cavaliers were from the three-point line, it was actually this level of the floor that provided the team with their highest conversion rate – lede notwithstanding – as they were 6-of-21 at the rim, 5-of-15 up to 10 feet, 1-of-8 between 10 and 15 feet and 5-of-14 from there to the three-point line. Brutal, regardless of how one opts to slice.
To Toronto’s credit, they forced the Cavaliers to play at their pace. The Cavs pushed the ‘Cats to 101 possessions a night earlier. On Wednesday, Jose Calderon and Company pumped the brakes on the running and subsequent gunning, griding the game down to 89 possessions, representing a complete swing of the pace-of-play pendulum. Those missed threes discussed above? Potentially a product of a complete lack of transition-based play.
This, my fellow Clevelanders, will be your Cavaliers team this season. Anyone who thought this road trip was going to be littered with Wine and Gold-clad unicorns certainly is simply too enthralled with six-game samples. This is a very young team that’s going to have a ton of ups and downs; the ups will be extremely exciting, providing a deluge of hope, the penchant for impulse visits to FlashSeats and insanely premature water cooler murmurs of postseason play, while the downs are a basic, blunt-force strike to the rods and cones which serve to remind us of the work these kids still have to put in in order get better.
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)