A bizarre thing occurred through the duration of Monday night’s telecast of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their home contest against the Indiana Pacers: The wonderful individuals at FOX Sports Ohio began tabulating how many dunks had been executed by each team. Dunks have become the go-to highlight for NBA fans; above-the-rim play is the reason why driveway-ready basketball hoops come with adjustable heights. But in the same, said shot type is worth two points. Kyrie Irving’s 416 field goals this season carry no less individual weight than any converted by Blake Griffin or LeBron James simply because Irving has only been credited with two dunks on the season.
Yet every time the Clippers come to town, someone — obviously fascinated by ”Lob City” — inquires as to who on the Cavaliers could replicate such a feat. And each time, Byron Scott is forced to say that outside of Alonzo Gee, his team is comprised of face-up players who thrive on ball movement and positioning rather than mid-air theatrics and exclamation point conversions. Nevertheless, as the Pacers recorded dunk after dunk — transition slams, a posterization of Tyler Zeller by All-Star forward Paul George — the ticker kept inching upward as if signaling that one team is better than the other simply because they had made physical contact with the rim more often than their opponent.
Yes, this statistic may be indicative of one team’s aggression on offense or another team’s weaknesses on the defensive end — a dunk, after all, is the hightest of percentages in terms of conversion rate. But when one would have to scroll all the way down to No. 43 to find a member of the San Antonio Spurs — Tim Duncan — on the list of the NBA’s dunk leaders, all of the overlays in the statistical world would have trouble finding any sort of correlation between success above the rim versus success in the win column. The Spurs, after all, are the most talented team in the league.
Over the course of time, fans have begun to mysteriously equate dunks as means of figurative possession — the would-be defender on the other end of the poster gets “owned,” and should subsequently be ridiculed and embarrassed. Top plays are often ones where a giant human being utilizes said size to put the ball through the orange cyllinder from point blank range — this opposed to the pin-point accuracy of a well-contested three-point shot or stout wing defense. Masculinity abound. The most recent high profile account of this would be when Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (your NBA leader in dunks!) converted one on the significantly smaller Brandon Knight. On Monday night, Paul George threw down an otherwise emphatic right handed slam on as Cavaliers center Tyler Zeller stood with both arms extended upward.
The final tally: Indiana 5, Cleveland 1. Following the contest, the operative word “embarrassed” was thrown around in the post-game press conference with Scott — a reference the head coach quickly shot down.
“I’m not embarrassed,” said Scott of the 111-90 loss to the Pacers. “We played a very good team that’s obviously playing for something special. They came out and took it to us right from the get go, and I told our guys that we’re going to face that again in the next 10 games probably eight more times. It’s more of how we react to it.”
Scott added that the Pacers — like the Jazz a few weeks ago — provide an exponentially more physical style of play as compared to his younger (and thinner) Cavaliers. At one point in the contest, a cutting Tyler Hansbrough displaced a veteran Luke Walton with a mere flick of his elbow. While Walton would claim that this was a blatant push-off, the foul went uncalled and the Pacers recorded two more points. Zeller would later find himself planted on the floor underneath the Cavaliers’ hoop after Pacers center Roy Hibbert took once step backward. Hibbert, in transition, received a pass from his teammate and converted one of the many Indiana dunks with nary an impediment.
This is not to say that the Cavaliers’ interior defense has not been anything short of atrocious after losing Anderson Varejao for the season. Zeller has a defensive rating of 110 1 . The newly-added Marreese Speights is not much of an upgrade, slotting in at 109. Varejao, however, continues to lead the team in this category with 104.
As Scott intimated, the Cavaliers were on their heels from the onset. Once the Pacers were able to build a comfortable lead, they were able to dictate the way the game was played. The Cavaliers managed to get to the foul line 21 times, but were forced to take a significant amount of jumpshots due to the large-bodied defenders 2 . Tristan Thompson played one of his better games of his still-young career, notching 20 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots. CJ Miles played well off of the bench, logging 21 points on what was his 27th birthday. But this would not be enough to counter the lack of production from the rest of the shell-shocked team — the off-guard triumvirate of Daniel Gibson, Wayne Ellington, and Dion Waiters combined to shoot 4-for- 26.
“We have to come out and throw the first punch; be men about it,” said Thompson. ”We have to come out and play hard.”
Being “men,” per Thompson, equates to playing hard. Not letting the other team dictate pace or style of play — pushing back when pushed, throwing the first (assumed to be figurative) punch. If this leads to a slam dunk or two, so be it. Defending the opponent and keeping their total down is an added bonus. In the meantime, a two-or-three-foot floater over an outstretched arm does just the trick. Just ask Kyrie.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
- Meaning that, for every 100 possessions, he allows 110 points [back]
- Fifty-seven of the team’s 92 field goal attempts came from beyond 10 feet wherein the team shot 35 percent [back]