We begin halfway through the second quarter with the Cavaliers already down 13 to the Nets. Our look at the possession begins with a pass from C.J. Watson out at the top to Jerry Stackhouse in the left corner.
C.J. Miles rushes out to close out on Stackhouse, because the vet has the ability to knock down that corner three. It’s not clear why Miles was so far away from Stack and had to rush out to prevent the shot. However, he does get out there and influences him to take it to the baseline if he’s going to dribble it, as he should.
Stackhouse feeds it into Brook Lopez on the block, covered by Marreese Speights. Speights is giving up a couple inches and a few pounds in this matchup. Lopez does catch the ball outside the paint. If he catches it inside the paint, game over.
Notice that Stackhouse begins to cut as C.J.’s attention turns to helping on Lopez. Given the Cavaliers lack of size, helping to chip down on top-caliber centers is something the Cavs have had to do most of the season without Anderson Varejao.
Stackhouse keeps moving into the soft spot of the defense, and nobody picks him up. Ultimately, it’s Miles’s fault for not staying in between his man and the ball, but the Cavaliers’ help defense is inattentive here.
Lopez dumps it to Stackhouse, and Irving finally comes in to lend a hand, but Jerry is already on the move past him. Tristan Thompson remains on Reggie Evans instead of stepping up and challenging Stackhouse as he gets to the rim. Evans is an extreme non-factor scoring the ball, but Tristan feels obligated to stay with him because of his offensive rebounding prowess (18 total boards in this game). Tristan eventually makes the decision to challenge, but he does so far too late, and it’s a slam for Stack.
That sequence was a joint effort breakdown. Miles needs to sag in more and keep the ball-man-you triangle intact. Tristan needs to be willing to rotate up to stop the drive quicker. At that point, it’s up to Ellington to slide down and account for Evans, leaving Marshon Brooks on the wing.
On the next possession for the Nets, Brooklyn rebounds a missed floating hook from Brook Lopez and kicks it back out. Marshon Brooks gets the ball against Kyrie Irving at the foul line. Here again, we see Coach P.J. Carlesimo taking advantage of his team’s size advantage in the backcourt with the 6’5″ Brooks looking to take Kyrie down to the post.
Deron Williams is incredibly deep in the backcourt, allowing Ellington to help off of him and onto Brooks. He doesn’t fully commit, however, and Brooks turns the corner on Kyrie, whose only defense is to make two separate attempts at swiping the ball away unsuccessfully.
Kyrie loses his balance, and no one is there to help Kyrie recover. Once again, Tristan is not willing to leave Evans.
This time, it’s even more egregious than the last. Tristan doesn’t provide even late help, and Brooks waltzes into the lane for an easy floater that falls.
Here, about two minutes later in game action, we see a transition breakdown. Deron Williams is picked up by Wayne Ellington. You can see that the Cavaliers have four defenders back accounting for only three Brooklyn players. C.J. Watson is in the right corner with Tristan Thompson rushing toward him, and Keith Bogans is on the left side with Alonzo Gee in the vicinity. Tyler Zeller, who is guarding Lopez, makes it up the court well before Lopez does.
Williams has already made one three in this game, and given his star status, he’s certainly not going to shy away from a transition three if he is allowed to step into one. Ellington realizes that, as you can decipher from his location out beyond the arc initially. Williams gives a great head fake and crosses over, completely fooling Ellington.
The way that Wayne reacts to the play, I think he anticipated that he would have help behind him. The only problem is that he doesn’t. Zeller’s more worried about Lopez and fails to get the rest of the way down the court. Consequently, he’s in no man’s land when Williams throws the fake on Ellington.
No one defends the rim, and Brooklyn gets another easy driving dunk. A center’s job is to patrol that paint and be an enforcer when required to prevent easy layups, dunks, alley-oops, etc. Tyler Zeller has failed miserably in that area all season long. Teams know they can get whatever they want inside on the Cavaliers, and it has only been amplified in this current 10-game skid.
The last one we’ll look at is a really well-run play drawn up by the Nets. It’s an early in the shot clock read, and it ends up making the Cavs look foolish. I often wonder in these cases if the defense just gets stunned more than anything because a play with multiple screens and cuts is being run outside of two minutes to play. Bogans has the ball on the left wing, and Williams cuts straight down the middle with Evans setting a pick on Ellington. Brook Lopez, who is also involved in this play, is out high drawing all Cavaliers defenders away from the basket, making this look like it may be a read on an alley-oop.
Williams (you can only see his head here) sets a screen on Zeller so that Lopez can flash to the ball side. Evans remains out high where he set the screen on Deron.
Tristan switches with Zeller and takes Lopez as he flashes (hard to tell here, but it looks like the Cavaliers are in a matchup zone), fronting him in the post and doing a pretty good job at it. Ellington gets caught too low though, also helping on Lopez as he flashes.
Deron Williams runs back out from where he came, and Evans is waiting at the foul line to deliver a solid screen on Ellington. The only player who can stop the action is Zeller, and he stands back and watches it happen. This is the downside of playing a zone. If no one’s in your area, you’re left doing nothing and contributing nowhere. A well-executed play with several screens like this in quick succession can really junk up a zone.
Ellington shoves Evans, trying desperately to get through, but it’s no use. Williams buries the open look, and the Nets go up 25.
I mean, what more can you really say about the team’s defense that hasn’t been said before? They lack size and strength on the inside. They have a smaller backcourt that can’t stop dribble penetration and keep things in front of them. They’re failing to communicate in halfcourt isolation, transition, and on set plays. The only player on this team that would probably be considered a plus defender at this stage is Alonzo Gee.1 They allow a 52.6% effective field goal percentage (still worst in the league), and they allow way too many offensive rebounds (25th in defensive rebounding % at 72.4).
One of former Cavaliers coach Mike Brown’s greatest strengths was taking below average defenders and making them buy into a team defensive concept. Sure, the Cavaliers had LeBron, Varejao, and Delonte West who were great defenders, but they had to fill plenty of gaps with below-average defenders. I’m not sure whether it’s a lack of coaching ability on that side of the ball, a lack of elite, impact defenders on D, or both. Man or zone, big or small, shorthanded or not, something’s got to change in the team’s defensive intensity.
Until next time, the film room is closed!
- C.J. Miles and Wayne Ellington both are normally fine, but I’m not sure if my opinion of them is elevated a little given some of the downright terrible defenders on this team. [↩]