August 15, 2014

Cavaliers Film Room: Crunch-Time Crumbling

In last week’s Cavalier Film Room, we dissected the Cavalier defense from the point guard position. This week, we’ll address the Cavaliers’ lack of execution at the end of three close games this past week. The Cavs lost three heartbreakers on the road to Orlando, Miami, and Memphis. In all three of these games, the Cavaliers led for a majority of the first three quarters, but their offensive execution and defensive awareness let them down in the end as the more talented and experienced teams were able to hang around and pull out the wins. Let’s dive in and see what we can analyze from these end-game sequences.

Let’s start with the Orlando game. The Cavaliers were up by as many as eight points early in the second half. The game was much tighter near the end, however, and while there were some horrific offensive moments (most notably, the off-balanced turnaround shot from Alonzo Gee after he thought he was fouled), it was the defensive lapses that prevented a win in this one. Let’s look at the the defensive sequence that began with 48 seconds remaining and the Cavaliers down just one. Jameer Nelson is at the point, and he’s just passed it to J.J. Redick (being guarded by Dion Waiters) on the left wing . Nikola Vucevic (covered by Tyler Zeller) moves from the low post to the high post, and appears to be getting ready to set a pick on baseline side. Glen Davis is also flashing to the left high post to set a screen. He’s being guarded rightly so by Anderson Varejao. Aaron Afflalo is opposite ball-side on the right wing.

Both Vucevic and Davis set up to offer picks to Redick. Waiters makes the right guess in my opinion and anticipates Redick using the Davis screen as Big Baby is their second leading scorer and had 16 points in the game at this point. Dion is completely prepared to fight over top of this screen, and Varejao is in great position to hedge it to give Waiters time to recover. However, look at where Zeller is standing in relation to Vucevic and the basket.

Redick jab steps to fake the action with Davis and Waiters sells out on it. Then, J.J. changes his focus and heads back to his left where he has Zeller in the vicinity and Waiters who is in the process of recovering. All Vucevic needs to do is roll to the basket and he probably has a layup. Alonzo Gee is keeping an eye on things, but he’s a step outside the paint to avoid defensive 3 seconds. If he is the one that has to stop Vucevic, he likely won’t have time to setup for a charge and it will probably result in a foul with both rushing toward the basket.

Andy does an admirable job leaving Davis and trying to stop Vucevic, but Redick slips the pass in to the rookie big man, and Andy’s too late. Alonzo Gee does make a nice challenge, but the 7-footer finishes over the top of Gee to put the Magic ahead by 3. A pretty good play design by Orlando, and Zeller was just a little overanxious on the pick-and-roll action. Great slip and finish by Vucevic. That coupled with the barrage of Redick free throws down the stretch did in the wine and gold.

Moving on, the Cavaliers dominated the Miami Heat for three quarters. They had ten first half threes characterized by great ball movement and led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter. They even led 108-101 with 1:58 remaining. Here’s for all intents and purposes the game-winning bucket by Ray Allen. It doesn’t take much explanation other than to show you that Dion Waiters got severely burned on this play. Allen imbounds the ball, LeBron eventually cuts across Gee’s face heading to the right side of the key where Varejao helps out Gee.

Waiters rotates down to keep Chris Bosh occupied, but in doing so, he allows Ray Allen to leak out to the right wing where he has all day to set his feet and deliver the trifecta. Call me crazy, but I’ll take my chances there of Anderson Varejao recovering three feet back to Bosh over letting the best three-point shooter of all-time set his feet and comfortably shoot a three.

The Miami Heat, meanwhile, ratcheted it up on the defensive end and made life miserable for the Cavaliers offense. Here’s what Byron Scott answered with following the Allen three. Jeremy Pargo has the ball in his hands at the point, covered by Mario Chalmers. Alonzo Gee is flashing to the free throws circle, covered by Dwyane Wade. Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, the two players who should actually be involved in this play, are standing out of harm’s way on the left side of the court. Daniel Gibson, covered by Allen, is in the right corner waiting for a kickout.

Gee slips the action, and both men temporarily stay with Pargo. Chalmers eventually goes to follow Gee, and Wade switches on to Pargo as he drives right side.

Pargo does a blind side spin move which fools nobody. Wade is still firmly in between him and the basket.

Now, look at what we have above. Any of Pargo’s four options are potentially better than putting this shot up against the taller, stout defender in Wade. Waiters is open as a release valve at the top of the key (there are currently 5.3 seconds on the clock). Pargo might be able to bounce it by Allen to Gibson in the corner with a good enough fake. Gee and Andy are standing underneath the basket, but you could potentially lob it up to Andy, who seems to get a hold of anything within reach. Gee could have leaked out and popped a 10-footer in the left corner too. Instead, none of that happens, and Pargo is already determined to take the shot. The result isn’t pretty.

Poor decision-making by Pargo, and a pedestrian play call by Byron Scott (I mean, can you even put this playcall on the same level as Jacque Vaughn’s for Orlando or Erik Spoelstra’s for Miami shown above?!) lead to Wade rejecting the shot. I’d show you the last possession with 0.6 seconds remaining, but the Cavaliers failed to even get off a shot. Tsk, tsk, Byron.

Finally, let’s take a brief look at the last four meaningful offensive possessions in the Memphis game. We’ll start with the ball in Tristan Thompson’s hands, in a fastbreak, Cavs down 2, with 1:50 remaining. Dion Waiters has inexplicably thrown this ball ahead to Thompson with his only teammate Gee all the way across the court. Marc Gasol is back on defense and in good position to stop whatever Thompson is going to attempt. This is me getting angry. In no form of existence, not even in the seventh circle of hell, should Tristan Thompson have the ball in his hands with under two minutes to go in a meaningful game more than four feet from the basket. Because this happens.

Thompson actually makes a decent move for a jump hook but plows over Gasol in the process. Offensive foul, Grizzlies ball.

We join the next possession with the Dion Waiters-Anderson Varejao pick ‘n roll I requested two days earlier and 300 words ago in Miami. Andy sets the pick on Tony Allen so that Waiters can try to blow by Marc Gasol for a shot.

It doesn’t work, however, because Dion takes the wrong route. The sideline is in play, but there appears to be enough room for Dion to take Gasol that way. Allen recovers thanks to Dion taking the path closer to the pick and the ball is poked away to the Grizzlies.

Daniel Gibson actually chips the ball out at the other end, and the Cavaliers have another chance, down four with just over a minute to play. Gibson brings the ball up the court, but who wants to shoot it here? Gibson at the foul line?

Nope. Varejao from 20 feet or taking the slow-footed Gasol to the basket?

Nope. Waiters can’t really do much here because he has Tony Allen tightly guarding him and Jeryd Bayless and Gasol closeby ready to make a move on him if he tries to drive.

Eventually, we are subjected to an Anderson Varejao three point attempt with 5 seconds on the shot clock which misfires, but Alonzo Gee springs up and slams down the putback. Good offensive rebounding bails out a nightmare of a possession.

Finally, the Cavs are still down four with just under 24 seconds left. Waiters inbounds to Varejao at the top of the key.

After two cuts and attempts by Dion to get the ball behind Varejao (Tony Allen is about the best perimeter defender out there, remember.), Varejao tries my earlier suggestion and drives on Gasol. But, he spins back toward the left side, probably to find Dion. Tony Allen strikes again.

A couple more observations here. Why did Dion go to the basket to clutter things? Tony Allen isn’t likely there to pick Andy’s pocket if he’s worried about Dion setting up for a kickout three. Also, notice the terrible spacing in general. Boobie is the only one outside the three-point arc. I understand wanting the offensive rebound, but who knows if Andy is actually going to shoot it at this point? He’s a willing passer that’s proven he can find the open man.

Overall, three tough losses that could have been prevented with a little better defensive execution and a lot better offensive sets being run. Obviously, Kyrie Irving makes improvising plays and sets so much easier, and I think Dion Waiters will too in time. But, if the Heat with their immense talent and ability to create commit to running plays at the end of the game, like the one that freed up Allen, maybe the Cavaliers should too.

Until next week, the film room is closed!

  • ThatAlex

    It’s been said repeatedly, but once Irving returns, his unstoppable drives to the basket should really help with the crunch time scoring. Waiters needs to work on his spacing to provide a Plan-B scoring option when the defense crowds around Kyrie. I’m not worried. These skills will come with time and with more games under his belt.