These three names would be the only ones that a visually preturbed Scott would list off following his team’s recent loss to the Brooklyn Nets, one which included a solid first quarter coupled with three quarters of defense that would best replicate that of the All-Star game or an And1 mixtape. A young roster, full of upside and excitement and YouTube-ready highlights, all ignored with the focus on three players.
With 15 bodies filling the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers, head coach Byron Scott claims that only one-fifth of those who are afforded Cavalier uniforms have proven to be worth their weight on the defensive end of the floor on a nightly basis, posessing the passion to provide a hinderance to their opponent, showing that there are, after all, two sides to the game of basketball and going into each game in attempt to merely out-shoot the opposition is by no means a recipe for success.
Heading into the contest, the Nets averaged 93 points per game on 43 percent shooting. Against the Cavaliers and their marks were elevated to 114 points on 55 percent shooting. These marks were enough for Byron Scott to completely ignore the fact that his 20-year-old point guard provided a career-best 34 points to go with eight assists; it was even impetus to not discuss Varejao’s 35-point explosion, output that demolished his previous career-high. Shooting back at a member of the New Jersey
“It’s a team game,” quipped the frustrated coach.
Scott admitted that this team undoubtedly has weapons who can fill up the box score each time they take to the floor. The only thing keeping Irving from having his named etched in stardom is the likely ascent to superstardom. Rookie guard Dion Waiters has already had multiple evenings of high point totals. Even Tristan Thompson and the aforementioned Gibson have had their share of double-digit outings, but that is essentially the end of the rope — four players, five coutning Varejao, who can consistently put the ball through the rim.
The other option? Play efficient basketball on the offensive end while defending the absolute hell out their own goal.
“We’ve got to get more guys who are going to be competitive and passionate about the defensive end,” Scott said.
Not exactly a shot across the bow of one Chris Grant as much as it is the calling out of 12 other players in the Cavalier locker room, but the message remains: this team cannot expect to win basketball games if it is not going to play defense. If Daniel Gibson is on the floor, that means either Irving or Waiters is watching him play. If Alonzo Gee can’t find his stroke on a given night, he becomes one-dimensional and is often tasked with chasing around the best athlete on the floor. When the Cavaliers opted to trade JJ Hickson during his contract year and draft the athletic Thompson, they were doing so knowing that his offensive game was raw, but he was an athletic post defender who could run the floor — on Tuesday night, Thompson managed to pull down five rebounds and block zero shots. In fact, of every Cavalier to take the floor on Tuesday, nary a one managed to block a shot despite the Nets taking 29 shots at the rim.
The difficulty lies in the fact that players simply do not become better defenders overnight, if at all. If Scott is not going to alter his defensive scheme and chooses to rely on improved effort, the impact may be marginal at best. Waiters is a hard-nosed player, but was a part of a zone defense in college. Irving has long had defense listed as his biggest weakness. And while Donald Sloan finds himself watching back door passes zoom past his head, the cost of punshing backcourt tandem may be more than the benefits of the message being sent.
The Cavaliers now find themselves in the midst of a three-day break from in-game play, their longest stretch of “off” days until the mid-February All-Star break. They’ve been away from Cleveland for roughly two weeks and will likely have alot to catch up on with friends and family. However, if Scott’s post-game message was any indication, there will not be much a break to be had.
“We’ve got three more days before our next game,” Scott said. “I can promise you we will work on it a hell of a lot the next three days. A hell of a lot.”