“To be honest I do not think you can make up for it.” — Byron Scott, 12/3/12
It wasn’t all that long ago when a Cavaliers-Pistons match-up was must-watch television. If you need proof, just ask Tayshaun Prince, Jason Maxiell, Anderson Varejao or Daniel Gibson — the only four men to play in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals who happen to still be playing for their respective teams.
Making matters worse, at least on this night, where the Palace at Auburn Hills had more seats vacant than not: the Cavaliers would be traveling up Interstate 75 without their entire starting backcourt. The two players who have the best chance of holding the keys to the future would be sidelined, forcing Byron Scott to start 6-foot-9-inch Omri Casspi, a player who was not even a part of the rotation when the 2012-13 season tipped off.
The result was a 10-point loss for the Wine and Gold, but it was a game where the final score was not indicative of what transpired. Without their two leading scoring options, the Cavaliers shot just 33 percent for the entire contest; a 25 percent conversion rate in the first quarter quickly put the team down by 13 after just 12 minutes of play. Even Anderson Varejao, Cleveland’s All-Star Guy, started things off by shooting 1-for-5 from the floor. Even when the defense would lock the Pistons down in the fourth quarter, limiting them to 22 percent shooting, the most the Cavs could muster were six field goals of their own.
It was just that kind of night. It will be that kind of stretch.
The Cavaliers, without Irving, have been relatively lucky. Certainly, the wins are not piling up in the point guard’s absence, but what could have spiraled into a situation deemed not rectifiable has actually provided a team that plays hard any given night. Fourth-quarter collapses against the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies are nothing to be ashamed about. Beating the Atlanta Hawks on the road is that much better. Jeremy Pargo has been a huge surprise. Varejao hasn’t skipped a beat despite missing his pick-and-roll dance partner. Tristan Thompson has even joined in on things, recording a double-double and blocking shots. But the safety net, Irving and his fourth quarter magic, is gone. One misstep can lead to Humpty Dumpty-like proportions, with Scott left to stare at the rubble, arms fully crossed.
“There is definitely an assessment period that has go on when you insert a new guy into the starting lineup,” said Gibson following the loss. “I do not want to make any excuses. I just think we did not come out with the right focus and we did not play the way we needed to play in order to keep the game close and try to pull one out at the end.”
Following the Cavaliers’ start, it was Scott who had a few choice words for his team, questioning their attitude and desire in this short-handed situation. While the talent gap may not be as wide as the Cavs’ record shows, this is a team that can ill afford to not play any given minute as if it was the last. Certainly, the team deserves some credit for not simply rolling over after falling down early, but the flat-line play that got them there deserves every ounce of ridicule.
Dion Waiters could be back sooner than later. Kyrie Irving is still two weeks away. When Byron Scott opted to keep three point guards on his roster, it was evident that he did not ever expect having to play a game — let alone several — without his consecutive lottery selections watching in street clothes. The depth at the guard spot will continue to be of wading pool proportions. The Cavaliers will have to continue to fight. The results will likely fall in the not-so-pretty column, but there is bound to be the occasional surprise.
Unfortunately, for at least the next couple of weeks, “surprise” may be all fans have to cling to.