July 31, 2014

Cavs do it again…

164761565_10When taking into account the playing field that is the National Basketball Association, it is relatively easy to see how the Cleveland Cavaliers can blow a large lead to the New York Knicks. Even clearer, the way that an injury-ridden version of the same team could cough up a historical lead to the defending champion Miami Heat. But when the Boston Celtics come to town without All-Stars Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett and find themselves down double-digits late — the Cavaliers with a boat  load of timeouts and a rabid base of 20,000 fans willing them to the final buzzer — it is difficult to envision just how the Wine and Gold found themselves losers once again.

Certainly, the players who were tasked with winning said game played a factor; even when you strip away the injured stars for both franchises, the Celtics have a deeper roster. Yes, the lack of Garnett allowed Boston head coach Doc Rivers to deploy a smaller lineup, (allegedly) forcing Cleveland’s Byron Scott to play Luke Walton in points of the game where he would otherwise be a casual observer. And yes, the final 2.1 seconds were a complete farce — the Celtics, out of timeouts, were allowed to reconvene for a final play while officials reviewed Alonzo Gee deflecting a ball out of bounds after some incredibly stout defense on Boston’s Paul Pierce. But in the end, it is the Cavaliers who were on the wrong side of the ledger as the clock struck zeros.

They had led by 14 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.

This recap by Nate Smith over at Cavs: The Blog is tough to ignore. Not only is it masterfully done, it’s a topic that has reached taboo with some and applauded by others. Smith calls Byron Scott the “Tanking Grandmaster” for benching Tyler Zeller despite starting the game with seven points and six boards in the first quarter against a depleted Boston frontcourt; for having Luke Walton on the floor (a -14 +/-) during crunch time when the wheels were obviously becoming unhinged; for preferring to hold on to timeouts and trade them in for 1-up mushrooms post-game. It’s all tough to ignore. For all of the games that this team should have won this season — it was not long ago when the team was supporting themselves by saying they had led the league in games lost by six or fewer points; now that number has just grown to absurd proportions — it is tough to ignore that there has to be more behind these contests than just a slower, older and less cohesive unit falling victim to a better opponent. What looked like several black swans may in fact be a gaggle of white ones that had merely been doused by a vat of opaque paint.

[Related: Ben Cox talks Cavs, Browns and disc golf – WFNY Podcast]

“I feel like at this point, we have to hold ourselves accountable,” Wayne Ellington said post game. “We’re all professionals here and should all be communicating with each other and helping each other on the defensive end of the floor. I think that’s something we have to take on ourselves and we have to get better at it.”

Scott would say that his team stopped being aggressive; many fans may counter that it was Scott who stopped being aggressive by merely reacting to what Doc Rivers was doing with his lineups instead of forcing him to go big by creating mismatches with Zeller. Scott says that he did not call a timeout because the Celtics were going to switch on every screen regardless of play; fans would counter with the fact that there are no “1-up mushrooms” to be had and that a Shaun Livingston fade-away may not have been the ideal play as the clock ticked down. Scott made it a point to disclaim his disdain for the final review — the one where Gee clearly stripped the ball from Pierce, sending it to the Cavaliers’ bench; fans will say that the team should have never allowed themselves to have just a one-point lead with 2.1 seconds remaining given the lead eight minutes earlier.

In the end, as Jacob laid out so eloquently earlier this week, that third spot in the NBA Lottery seems pretty important given the logjam of equally bad teams. This loss undoubtedly helps the Cavaliers in this regard. It’s a shame, however, the Lottery does not allow for style points as the Cavaliers — given how they have lost games this season — would be the clear-cut favorites to land whomever they desire.

With just 11 games remaining, the only question will be if they can find a new way to make the morning after that much more baffling.

  • MrCleaveland

    I don’t care what anybody says, this team has no heart. I don’t want to hear about injuries.

    The Cavs need to get a real psycho who will not allow his teammates to curl up and die all the time.

  • tamaimbo

    Oladipo.

  • Harv 21

    so Scott, no sarcasm intended, but trying to determine if you really think:

    1) Byron has made a devil’s bargain to retain his job next year, or for a special buy out, the type of tank job guys like Fratello absolutely reject, and/or

    2) Certain players, including some with careers next year up in the air (Walton, Boobie) are in on it and throwing plays in return for some tangible benefit that overcomes their natural in-game competitiveness.

    Or maybe you’re just saying that we can declare that these end-game collapses can no longer be considered coincidence without having to think through exactly how this gets arranged. Why a guy who “only knows winning” as Byron was praised on arrival purposely tanks and faces the press nightly, has no prob morphing into the hilariously incompetent John Lucas. Maybe he is tanking. Good coaches like Fitch made it famous, but I’ve only seen it in the coaches desperate to keep every last paycheck or so confident that they’ll be retained they play along. Byron seems to me like a guy who better keep winning at every job to be employed – not a Larry Brown or Carlisle or Adelman who will work somewhere- and shouldn’t be so secure that he can tank and know he’ll get be retained or get another job because he’s Byron.

  • Lunch

    Well Kyrie, Dion, and Anderson are injured. INJURIES!!

    But seriously, which psycho do you think the Cavs should bring onto the team that won’t break any chemistry that could be formed between teammates?

  • mgbode

    I don’t care about this year’s team anymore. I just cannot get myself to click on the “Cavs” channel when the guys who matter most next year are sitting (Irving, Waiters, Andy) and there are so many entertaining games on elsewhere.

    I’m more inclined to see how we are positioned to “escape” the bottom feeders in future years compared with other teams:

    Charlotte – what is their identity? should be a defensive team (built around MKG and Biyombo), I think, but they are just a mess and have the least amount of overall talent in the NBA (Gerald Henderson being their only real offensive guy who can play some defense).

    Orlando – they are earlier than we are in the rebuild cycle. Harkless, Harris, Vucevic, and Nicholson are an interesting start, but they are all secondary pieces to the equation.

    Detroit – Monroe and Drummond. Maybe Knight as a backup. That’s about it from guys to build the team around. Singler certainly could hold a role as a backup as well, but I’m not very impressed with Dumars post-championship team building.

    Toronto – should be one of the most fun teams to watch in the next couple of seasons. they are not built to actually contend IMO, but man, they are athletic and frenetic. the Eastern Golden State Warriors (of the past 20yrs – they are trying to shed that now to some degree).

    Philly – the tirefires. man, that Bynum trade just devastated their roster and they are stuck in limbo until that gets sorted out. best case: he comes back and they can then try to start building around him. worst case: they max deal him, and he’s never the same. alternate worst case: they lose him this summer and have to build from scratch again.

    Washington – and here we go. they wanted to be our rivals when LeBron was figuring things out, but they may really become our rivals moving forward. They have Nene, Okafor, and Ariza as their veteran presence, so I would think that they are a little ahead of us on roster building (at the moment). However, they are also much more inflexible about how they can continue to build into the future. Should be fun. Not to mention:

    John Wall v. Kyrie Irving
    Beal v. Waiters

  • mgbode

    a guy like Kenneth Faried who can score would be nice.

    oh, wait that’s Andy :)

  • MrCleaveland

    They did not lose in the last few seconds because Kyrie, Dion, and Anderson are hurt. They lost because they didn’t want it. Because they don’t have the will to win.

    I have no idea who would be a good choice for the psycho spot. It’s not my job to know.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    That used to be Andy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Watching the lane part like the Red Sea allowing Green to get all the way to the basket was inexcusable echoing what many have already posted.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If you replaced Scott this team would be just as bad it can’t all be on him not when you look at the roster of names currently on it. Scott is definitely benefiting from the doubt cast from all of the injuries in fact he’s probably been given the longest leash of any head coach in this town that I can remember.

  • Lunch

    Maybe the Cavs did have the will to win (well maybe not in the 4th quarter), but the Celtics wanted it more, perhaps?

  • Steve

    Scott has to have a guarantee for next year, which kind of scares me. This team has made zero improvement defensively under his leadership. Sure, that works when the goal was what it was last night. But if we’re expecting to make a playoff run next year, the defense is going to have to become at least respectable.

    Maybe they’re counting on Noel to come fix that, or hoping that Oladipo or Porter can at least put a solid dent in fixing that, but they’ve dug themselves quite a hole at that end of the court.

  • mgbode

    and it’ll be Andy again

  • Harv 21

    well, the personnel would be as bad since Scott is not the GM. But there are aspects that are effort and coaching-related, things that contribute significantly to winning within the limits of the talent and contribute to creating a culture where legitimately pursuing a ring can occur when talent is introduced. Having said that I still want Scott to be the guy. As I’ve commented too often elsewhere, I just can’t point to any positive single thing that Byron has stamped on any of the teams in 3 years.

  • cmm13

    While adding a solid defensive rookie can help, if Byron ain’t preaching it then they ain’t doing it.
    I think it’s also on Grant to hire a defensive assistant coach to compliment what Byron is doing on offense.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I hope you are right but I don’t think so certainly not to the level of a much younger Varejao and certainly not to the point of the Manimal.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    “What looked like several black swans may in fact be a gaggle of white ones that had merely been doused by a vat of opaque paint.”

    This seems like you had to make a metaphor out of a bunch of disparate words, possibly with a gun to your head. Scott, if you are in trouble, post twice.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Injuries, inexperience, individual player shortcomings including perhaps a real lack of desire or will as someone mentioned earlier in addition to perhaps Scott not being able to completely coach could all be factors I don’t know. Whatever it is it’s definitely gotten old.

    Oh and to your point about Walton and Gibson, yes, they both need to be gone and I have to believe they will be next year.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I completely disagree. Black swans are outliers, rare events that wind up being rationalized by hindsight—in this case, injuries, mismatches, opponent will. But what should be an outlier is reoccurring. Thus, the swans are only ostensibly black. The metaphor works perfectly.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I’m admittedly wrestling with this very thought. I hate tanking, but I understand why teams would do it. That said, I don’t necessarily know if these guys *are* tanking. They’re rag-tag at its best; the starting point guard was released by one of the worst teams in the league, their defensive stopper was in the NBDL two seasons ago. But then I find myself trying to justify via confirmation bias.

    But I’ve seen these guys play hard and play well. I know they’re not as bad as their record would show. I know that they should be winning these games. I know that Byron Scott will be back next season—the expectations will, rightfully, be playoffs. What I don’t know is what the heck is actually going on. Are they losing games they should be winning or are they in games they have no business being in? It’s quite the issue and I hate speculating.

  • mgbode

    Andy has played better each season. Faried has never played at the level Andy was early this year.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Varejao has only played 25 games in each of the last two seasons and the one before that just 31 games so your data pool to say he’s played better is very limited.

    In nine years Varejao has played 76 or more games just three times. Only from 2008-2010 did he ever play back to back full seasons. Enough said.

  • JRS19

    Part of maturing as a team and hopefully taking that next step to the playoffs is learning to win games like this. They’re not going to win many, but man, losing these leads over and over again is demoralizing.

    Tanking vs. winning is such a tired argument. Pinning all of your hopes on largely unproven “projects” coming out of the lottery is a dicey proposition. Look at how inconsistent Zeller and Dion have been. Look around the league and you’ll see the same. No one is gushing about Davis, Beal, MKG, Barnes, etc. lighting things up. Same thing that I’ve thought all along: the OKC model may have been a once in a generation type thing. I can’t get excited about guys like Porter, Oladipo, and Noel coming here when they’ve still got so much adjusting to do.

    I don’t know what the alternative is though, since the league is so superstar driven, and superstars are driven away from the CLE market. The NBA is maddening.

  • http://twitter.com/oldseaminer Nate Smith

    Thanks a lot for the shoutout, Scott. That game was an anathema to the concept of competitive basketball.

  • http://twitter.com/oldseaminer Nate Smith

    Thanks for the shout-out, Scott. That game was an anathema to the concept of competitive professional basketball.

  • mgbode

    the earlier OKC model was SA. Robinson then Duncan/Parker/Ginobli all homegrown.

    and, even beyond that, what recent champion doesn’t have a self-drafted star leading them to a championship?

    Lakers w/ Kobe (yes, he was a draft-day trade, he counts)
    Spurs w/ Duncan/Parker/Ginobli
    Celtics w/ Pierce
    Miami w/ Wade
    Dallas w/ Dirk (again, he counts)
    Detroit is always the outlier as I don’t think anyone will argue that Prince was “leading” them.

    Now, each of these teams also imported important and/or star players from outside the organization. But, the model is there to build from within and let it breathe over time.

    It’s not easy and it sure doesn’t guarantee a championship, but I don’t think it’s a 1time thing either.

  • mgbode

    ok, so over those 3 seasons, he’s played 81 games. taken at the “full season” sample size he had a 18.5PER, 54%TS% 7.6WS 20%RB%.

    and, we will see about his injuries. it sure seems like the organization decides to just hold players out rather than bring them back when injured during the past 3 seasons when winning games could hurt their lottery odds.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t choose which seasons to look at then average I just go by the fact that he hasn’t played a full season in three years and that over his nine year career only three times has he played something close to a full season.

    I go by his nine year average and then the facts above.

  • mgbode

    and if you cannot see that he has improved from early in his career when he is on the court, then I don’t know what to say.

    yes, he has had injuries. whether or not those would have kept him off the floor if we were contending is a question. i don’t know how to answer it.

    his career:

    first 2 seasons: partial years because he wasn’t good enough to crack the regular rotation the whole year and was receiving DNP-CD.

    next 4 years: played nearly all games. 48/66 games the shortened year, which is 72%.

    last 3 years: barely 33% games played. how much is the FO keeping him out is a huge question (to me, at least).

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    I agree with your point about the swans, but the “vat of opaque paint” doesn’t fit. Something along the lines of:

    “What looked like several black swans may in fact be a gaggle of white ones, and our overly-tinted glasses as Cavs fans made them appear darker than the actually were.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I just disagreed with the Varejao to Faried comparisons is all. I pointed out that Varejao over his nine year career has missed more games then he’s basically played. In his last three seasons Varejao has played 31, 25 and 25 games respectively. If you compare Varejao’s first two seasons which you want to place an asterisk to that of Faried’s you see Faried has better numbers. That’s all.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    The paint provides a considerably larger mess.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    Haha….true enough. Despite my comments, I would like to make clear how much I appreciate you and the rest of the crew for your work. As a group, you are the best and most well thought-out people covering sports that I have seen after watching/listening/reading in multiple cities.

  • Chucky Brown

    in what capacity?, no way hes an nba 3