April 24, 2014

Cavs can’t keep pace with Nuggets, fall 111-103

4_45Eight.

That’s the number I take away from the Cavs’ 111-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets came into Cleveland riding an eight game win streak, Denver had eight players score in double figures, and the Cavs started the night by spotting Denver an 8-0 advantage. Eight was also the final margin of victory, although it seemed like much more.

Also, Alonzo Gee went 8-8 from the floor, which I’m betting will never happen again.

This was a frustrating game to watch. While the Cavs say they like running and pushing the ball, the Nuggets actually do it. They run at every opportunity; missed shots, made shots, turnovers… every change of the possession it seemed the Nuggets had two guys behind the Cavalier defense. The speed that the Nuggets play took the Cavs out of their comfort zone, defensively as well as offensively.

Kyrie Irving paced the Cavs with 26 points and Alonzo Gee finished with 20 (after scoring 16 in the first period). While a sub-par game for the 20-year old All-Star, Kyrie still finished with 26 points (though just 10-24 from the floor), seven assists and six boards. Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19 points and nine boards, Kenneth Faried finished with 17 points and seven boards and JaVale McGee made his presence felt off the bench, notching four blocks to go with his 13 points.

Even though the Cavs blew their chance for their longest post-Decision win streak, there’s no shame in losing to this Denver team. The Nuggets are currently fourth in a loaded Western Conference and, as we saw on Saturday, they’re a much deeper team than the Cavaliers.

After Denver jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead, Alonzo Gee caught fire and the Cavs fed the hot hand. That’s all well and good when Gee goes 6-6 for the quarter and get you back in the game. Maybe Gee’s hot start set the tone or maybe it was Denver’s aggressive defense, but the Cavs never found an offensive flow. It felt like four quarters of ‘hero ball’ from the wine and gold; the offense stagnated, no one moved and their good looks were few and far between. It didn’t help that they were literally playing catchup from the opening minutes.  The Cavs never got comfortable.

Random Thoughts.

The Cavs must get more production out of their bigs. A night after making Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson look like All-Stars, I was looking for a bounce back game from Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson. Nope. Zeller looked overmatched against Denver’s front line and Tristan managed to finish the game with zero defensive rebounds. Denver outrebounded the Cavaliers 46-38. For all the potential in Cleveland’s young front court, there’s a reason the Cavs are eyeing Greg Oden.

Not that he was anywhere near alone, but Dion Waiters had a bad night. Waiters hit his first shot of the night but proceeded to miss his next five (he had the lone non-Gee points during the initial six minutes). Dion finished just 1-6 from the floor, didn’t provide much defense, and never made it off the bench during the fourth quarter. In case you were wondering, I highly doubt that the play of C.J. Miles (3-7 FG, 1-5 3pt) was the reason Dion sat the final period.

Obligatory Byron Scott complaint. I get subbing out Kyrie at the end of the first half. He had three fouls. But the Cavs had the ball to the half and Byron let Dion go 1-on-5. Kyrie couldn’t come back in for that last play? The larger issue is that the Cavs end quarters horribly. In the final 60 seconds of the first three periods, the Cavaliers were outscored 15-2 (and it could’ve been worse, they waived off McGee’s final basket in the third quarter). The Cavs lost by eight points and were outscored 15-2 during the final minutes of the first three periods. That’s a lack of focus and this isn’t the first time it has cost the Cavs a game.

The refs stunk. Look, in no way am I saying that the refs are the reason the Cavs lost this game (Cleveland had zero interest in rebounding or getting back on defense). But this happened. Also, offensive three seconds, is that still a thing?

Marreese Speights is human after all. This was Speights’ first clunker as a Cavalier, as he finished 1-10 from the floor for five points and three boards off the bench (for what it’s worth, he blamed himself for the loss on twitter). Speights had scored in double figures in all of his previous Cavalier appearances.

and finally…

Minnesota on Monday. The Cavs continue their six-game home stand when they face the Minnesota Timberwolves (18-29) at 7:00 on Monday night. Ricky Rubio and the Wolves will be on the second night of a back-to-back and a win for the Cavs would ensure an above .500 record for the home stand.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    “While the Cavs say they like running and pushing the ball, the Nuggets actually do it.”

    I love that sentence. I’ve been saying it for years…..for all the talk Byron and the Cavaliers do about being a running team, they sure don’t run very often.

  • stryker1121

    Defense, defense, defense. Was at the game last night and the Nugs must have had 70 points in the paint (they had 36 at halftime). Transition D has been horrible all season and was a particularly glaring issue yesterday, even on made baskets. Even Gilbert tweeted last night something to the effect of, “When were are in the top tier of the NBA again, it will be because of defense!” I like TT and Zeller but they need to toughen up, rebound better and play D. Coach Scott probably has half of next year to get this sorted. The Cavs are at the tipping point of respectability again; I just don’t know if Scott will be here when the team is a playoff contender.

  • SDA

    Yeah I don’t really understand why we suck so bad defensively. If your an athlete you should be able to defend. When I watch games it just doesn’t seem like its a priority. They don’t put the effort in like they do on offense. I think that’s why the second unit has been so good, they play hustle defense. Defense is all about effort and our first team isn’t putting in the effort.

  • Harv 21

    Nice summary. Defending a team playing like Denver is now would have been a defensive challenge for a Mike Brown team, so the current Cavs had zero chance. What’s a little ominous for the coaching staff, however, is that the players not only don’t know how to defend, effort is the exception rather than the rule. That crunch time offensive rebound on a missed free throw(!), dribble back and uncontested 3-pointer by Gallinari essentially ended the game. Pure absence of effort, and disheartening. If 2 bigs can’t box out on a free throw, why does the rest of the team then also stand there and leave him unguarded? And opposing coaches are clearly instructing their players, regardless of size diff, to challenge every defensive rebound from Zeller. Like they know if they can get anywhere near the ball they might very well get it.

    Offensively, hopefully that was a hiccup rather than something more systemic like the defensive problems. But it does seem like the more Kyrie plays Fourth Quarter Superman the more his teammates freeze and just watch, so the harder he tries to beat collapsing defenders himself, so the more they stand there, so the more he forces things. If defense is not Byron’s strong point, he must at least demand that everyone run his movement offense. Even Kyrie.

    Now let’s go beat up a bad team and wash this one away.