“There’s problems everywhere. We were nonchalant, didn’t have the effort… I just think they’re tougher than us… They’re using their energy somewhere, and it isn’t on the court.”
That’s just a snippet of what Cavaliers coach Byron Scott had to say following his team’s third loss to the Pistons this season, a 117-99 drubbing that was headlined by yet another A-plus Brandon Knight performance against the Cavaliers, a common theme in his short career. Knight’s 20 points and 10 assists outshined Irving in a head-to-head battled once again as Byron Scott made a statement to his starters and did not play them in the fourth quarter, despite the second unit getting the deficit to just 10 points.
You really could stop and start with the fact that the Cavaliers didn’t come close to playing good enough defense to win this game. Against a fairly pedestrian Pistons offense (ranked 17th in offensive rating), the wine and gold allowed 62 points in the paint and 22 fastbreak points. They allowed 54% shooting, including 61% shooting in the second half. They allowed 30 or more points in each of the last three quarters. They let Kyle Singler reach his career high in scoring with 20 points. I could go on and on, but it all points back to the same undeniable fact, the Cavaliers suck at defending right now.
In seven games against Cleveland in his career, second year point guard Brandon Knight is averaging 22.6 points, shooting nearly 59% from the field and nearly 63% from three-point range, all career bests when compared with other teams’ splits. His career numbers overall? 13.3 points, under 42% shooting, and 38% from three point range. It seems as if Knight takes his showdown with Kyrie and the Cavaliers that passed on him twice more seriously than Irving does. Kyrie in four Detroit games is averaging 18.8 points on 49% shooting. He had 14 on this night on 4-of-10 shooting, adding 5 assists and 2 steals. But, the Cavalier All-Star took just one shot and had one point in the second half, playing all 12 minutes of the third quarter before sitting the fourth.
The lone bright spot for the Cavalier early was Tristan Thompson. Thompson repeatedly slipped through pick and rolls and was making short floating hooks in the paint. In just 29 minutes, Tristan was 9-for-11 for 19 points, adding 8 rebounds. It was the effort of the other three starters besides the sophomore duo that really did in the Cavs. Gee, Zeller, and Waiters combined for 4-of-19 shooting and 12 points. In his last eight games, Gee is averaging just 5.5 points and is shooting under 32%. For Zeller, it’s 34% shooting and 6.8 points in his last five. Add that in with Waiters’ one good game, one aloof game pattern, and you have a Cavaliers starting unit that may be in need of a shake-up.
Enter Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, and Wayne Ellington. The three new arrivals were the ones putting forth the offensive efforts in this one. For Livingston, it was closing the deficit from eight to five while Irving sat in the second, scoring 8 points and recording 3 blocks. Speights and Ellington each added 10 points in the fourth quarter. Speights finished second in scoring with 17 on 6-of-15 shooting, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks. Ellington had three treys for his 13 points. Add that in with C.J. Miles and Kevin Jones removing themselves from their respective milk cartons, and you suddenly have a crowded bench that has a lot of similar players. And that’s with Daniel Gibson and Luke Walton not making the trip.
As I mentioned earlier, Scott ran with the Livingston-Ellington-Miles-Jones-Speights crew for the entire fourth quarter with the exception of a late Omri Casspi experience. The group cut the lead to 11 with 8:11 remaining and to 9 with 4:43 left, but Scott kept his starters off the floor, either sending a message or resting them up for tonight’s home matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s hard to say the Cavaliers wouldn’t have a better shot overcoming a 10-point hole against the Pistons than beating the Thunder at home, and it’s a little strange that Scott didn’t even try it.
Tonight, it’s the Thunder, who sit near the top of the West. If the Cavs don’t make a concerted effort on the defensive end, they can look for Durant, Westbrook, and company to hang triple digits easy on The Q board.
Kirk Lammers grew up on the Marblehead Peninsula and is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. He now lives in Northeast Ohio, and you can find him at the ballpark, at the Q, or far too often on Twitter (@WFNYKirk)."