The Cavs just can’t seem to string together four good quarters. Versus the Bucks a week ago, the Cavs started flat, scoring just 17 points in the first quarter and forced themselves to play catch-up the rest of the night. On Tuesday night against the Raptors, Cleveland gave up 35 points in the fourth quarter, turning a one-point game into a double-digit laugher.
Against the Pacers on Friday night, it was the third quarter that doomed our young Cavaliers.
The wheels actually didn’t fall off until midway through the third period. Six minutes after halftime, the Cavs trailed just 59-54. With four minutes to play in the period, they were down 71-57. Tyler Zeller, starting in place of Anderson Varejao, played a large part in that two minute implosion. Twice Zeller grabbed defensive board and immediately threw the ball away off the outlet pass, leading to two easy baskets by Paul George. Those turnovers just killed the Cavs and destroyed whatever energy was left in the crowd (not that the atrocious offense and the whole giving-up-offensive-boards-off-of-free-throws thing helped either). After heading into halftime with a 45-44 lead, the Cavs were down double-digits after three quarters and never got closer than eight during the fourth.
Despite having six players score in double figures, no one looked good in the wine and gold. Kyrie Irving needed 16 shots to get his 17 points and finished with more turnovers (6) than assists (5). Dion Waiters was 4-12 for 11 points and CJ Miles backed him up with a 4-11 for 10 points. Alonzo Gee managed to play 32 minutes without grabbing a rebound. And while Tristan Thompson finished with a double-double (12 points, 13 boards), his +/- was a team worst -21.
No doubt about it, this was an ugly game. The offense was disjointed (too many jumpers), the defense came and went (Indiana consistently fed their bigs, overwhelming Cleveland’s inside D) and the body language was… not encouraging. The Cavs lost their sixth in a row and have now lost 17 straight versus the Central Division (you know, that murder’s row of a division with the Bulls, Pistons, Bucks and Pacers… yeesh).
This was not Kyrie Irving’s best performance. If the Cavs are going to be without Anderson Varejao, Kyrie simply must play better. Many of Kyrie’s six turnovers were simply lazy passes (trying to thread the needle or force the issue) and the majority of his shots were from outside the key (whether Roy Hibbert factors in to that, I dunno). These Cavs aren’t good enough to win without Kyrie playing aggressively.
Byron Scott’s rotations drive me nuts. After averaging 27 minutes for the year, CJ Miles only received 15 minutes of court time versus the Pacers (although he managed to get up 11 shots in those 15 minutes, which is pretty impressive). Samardo Samuels played six minutes in the fourth quarter1. Kevin Jones plays five minutes in the first period, two minutes in the second and didn’t see the floor in the second half until garbage time. Omri Casspi and Jeremy Pargo, both contributing players a few weeks ago, only got a minute apiece. Look, I know if I’m arguing for Omri Casspi and Kevin Jones, things aren’t in a good spot. But still. With an extremely young team, I can’t imagine Byron’s, um, flexible, rotations are doing anyone any favors.
Speaking of… With Irving sitting, the Cavs entered the fourth quarter trailing 77-67. By the official time out with nine minutes to play Cavs had pulled within eight (81-73). Down eight, nine minutes to play, great time to put Kyrie back in, right? Nope. By the time Kyrie returned to action with 6:20 remaining, the Cavs were down 85-73 and the game, for all intents and purposes, was out of reach.
Also, the fundamentals need work. Guards have to give the big men good options for outlet and inbound passes. Veterans like Daniel Gibson and CJ Miles have to start fouling hard and not give easy up and-ones. Dion can’t be allowed to dribble the ball for 15 seconds and hoist a long two. They can’t give up offensive boards off of missed free throws. The Cavs don’t have enough talent to overcome dumb, fixable mistakes. Also, from here on out, every time Alonzo Gee leads a fast break where he doesn’t pass the ball, he needs to be fined $100,000. Enough is enough.
The Pacers are pretty good. The Pacers are well coached (although the entire game I kept thinking how much Indiana coach Frank Vogel looks like Colin Cowherd), they play hard and they have a bunch of solid rotation players. The Pacers went inside relentlessly, feeding both Roy Hibbert (18 points) and David West (15 points) throughout the night. Third year swingman Lance Stephenson also had a monster game, going 7-8 from floor and finishing with 16 points and 7 assists. They also got a nice performance off the bench from Gerald Green, who scored 14 points and received a technical foul for staring at Samardo following a monster dunk (pictured above).
The Cavs face the Bucks for the second time in eight days. The Cavs will be without Anderson Varejao when they travel to Milwaukee to face the Bucks (14-11) at 8:30 pm on Saturday night. Milwaukee is coming off a 99-94 overtime win versus the Celtics, with Monta Ellis going off for 27-7-5 and Larry Sanders submitting a 17 point, 20 board performance.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
- while Austin Carr and Fred McLeod informed us that Samardo has a chance to make an impression with Varejao out. As if Samardo Samuels has lacked chances on this team [↩]