Metaphors are a funny thing. In the National Basketball Association, seven seconds can turn a prince in to a pauper. It was the “seven seconds or less” offense that ultimately earned Mike D’Antoni two large market jobs. Reggie Miller used the large part of seven seconds when he drained two consecutive three-pointers against the New York Knicks in 1995.
And it was the same seven seconds that turned Cleveland Cavaliers’ rookie shooting guard Dion Waiters’ bold-faced pimp walk into a charlie-horsed limp. The kid would need a cane.
As their contest against the San Antonio Spurs was winding down, Waiters — one of the main reasons the Wine and Gold found themselves knotted up with the best team in basketball during the game’s final seconds — slowly brought the ball up the court. Once the rookie hit the three-point line, he morphed into a chubby version of Allen Iverson, dashing to his left before a massive jab step to his right created space for a 20-foot step-back jump shot that found nothing but the bottom of the net. Waiters, in the heat of the moment would gallop back on defense even though the Spurs would call a timeout following the conversion — his facial expressions were full-on Scarface. Seven seconds later, it would be the same Waiters who would overcompensate on defense, leaving his individual assignment — San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard — alone in the corner where he would sink a three-point field goal to put the Cavaliers down by one point where they would ultimately reside as the team packed up for the All-Star break.
Waiters would call it “terrible.” He accepted responsibility. The second he took one too many steps to his right in order to help on a driving Tony Parker, he knew it was too late. As unfortunate as the entire sequence was, it perfectly encapsulated the six-game homestand that the Cavaliers had at their disposal heading into the mid-season hiatus. Goals were in place, a target win total was established. But the Cavs, who would log consecutive wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic, would then go on to lose three-straight to the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs. Metaphors be damned.
Waiters and rookie teammate Tyler Zeller played very well. Second year power forward Tristan Thompson was just a few rebounds shy of another double; teammate Marrese Speights was one point and one board shy of a double-double off of the bench. But for all of the good as there is to extract from the Cavs’ most recent defeat, there’s reason to pause for concern. While All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving would coin the recent loss a moral victory — as the Cavaliers were in lockstep with the Spurs through the entire contest — it was he who would have (admittedly) his worst game as a professional basketball player, going 2-for-15 from the floor. It was Irving who recently stated that his last game, the loss to the ‘Wolves, where he felt like he was playing his third game in three nights. It’s also Irving who will not get much rest this weekend as he will be a part of three different events — the Rookie Challenge, the Three-point contest and the actual All-Star game — as well as the ancillary festivities that accompany being one of the best basketball players in the world.
It was Irving who, once again, was tasked with attempting to be the hero. This time, with 2.9 seconds remaining. But on a nigh where fans were encouraged to vote for their favorite Irving ‘finishing move,’ it was the point guard who would find himself lateral with the playing floor as San Antonio’s Tony Parker sealed off any move to the 20-year old’s left side. Irving hoisted up an off-balance attempt, hoping for a whistle, but would lay on the floor with his team down by one point when the buzzer would sound.
Less than 12 hours later, Irving, Waiters and the rest of those who will participate in the Houston-housed All-Star activities were boarding planes to head south. Irving has played the high school circuit. He’s played a very well-documented 11 games in college. His rookie season was cut short by labor disagreements and injury. This season is, as he will be the first to admit, his first “full” year of professional basketball. The interviews and appearances alone are enough to exhaust a typical human — Irving is one who could ride a wave of adrenaline from being named to his first All-Star game, but the fear of crashing is very real.
“Kyrie is human,” Byron Scott said following the Wednesday night loss. “I’m a little concerned [about the All-Star weekend], but we’ll deal with it on Monday.”
For all of the talk regarding the rookie wall with Waiters and teammate Tyler Zeller, the Cavaliers would not be out of line to grow wary of Irving’s fatigue. As documented in last week’s Diff, Irving has the ball in his hands very often — he’s asked to do even more with it, especially given the recent demands for full-on 48 minutes of aggressive play.
As Irving was sprawled out on the floor with the Spurs celebrating around him, it was eerily similar to a late-round knockout blow in a prize fight. All he could do was put his arms above his head and grit his teeth. The metaphors are rich, but the fatigue is real. And the Cavaliers, while losing two close, hard-fought games to very tough opponents will now limp into the All-Star break with a three-game losing streak. One that will take a lot longer than seven seconds to get back on track.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)