Cavs vs Timberwolves Behind The Box Score: Another Blowout

Kyrie Irving

They say box scores don’t tell the whole story. Behind The Box Score is a new series where from time to time we will attempt to look behind the box score and tell more of the complete story of what happened in the game.

Kyrie IrvingI’ve been staring at a blank page for about 10 minutes trying to figure out how to start writing about a game like this. I rarely second guess myself when it comes to basketball. I watch a lot of basketball and it generally makes sense to me. That’s not to say I’m never wrong about things. I most certainly am. But I never doubt my understanding of why things happen and how I came to the conclusions that I have.

Yet tonight I find myself questioning a lot. I don’t have any answers for what’s wrong with the Cavaliers this season. I can’t figure out whether this is just a young team going through some early season growing pains, or if this is a serious problem. I find myself questioning if I was wrong about Byron Scott. Is it possible that this is just a collection of players who don’t care and who give up at the first sign of things going sideways?

I generally try to trust my instincts, so here’s what I think after a game like this. I think outside of Indiana and probably Miami, the Eastern Conference is filled with nothing but flawed basketball teams. I think making the playoffs is still something the Cavaliers will be fighting for all season. I think the Cavaliers will eventually start playing better basketball and go through some stretches of winning basketball. I think Mike Brown is doing everything he can to get through to this team. Whereas Byron Scott was content to sort of just let games like this play out, Mike Brown was continuously calling time outs, mixing up lineups, and searching for anything to spark this team.

None of this is to ignore what happened not just tonight, but for much of this season. Lets face it, this team is an absolute mess right now. But there are no fixes on the horizon. These players are who the Cavaliers have to work with. The answers are going to have to come from within, and I believe that eventually things will start to turn around. I think Mike Brown is an excellent basketball coach and in time his philosophy will start to get through to this team.

Or maybe I’m just completely wrong about this team. That’s a scary thought, because if this is as good as it gets, then not only is this season ruined, but so is the future of this team. And it is just way too early in the season to be thinking that way. The Cavaliers may not turn things around, but to write them off completely in the 2nd week of the season just doesn’t work for me.

So, unfortunately, lets look at the numbers:

– 62.5% – The Timberwolves came out scorching hot in this game, shooting 62.5% from the field. Some of it was poor defense from the Cavaliers, but the Timberwolves offense, when clicking, is a thing of beauty. And boy was it clicking. The Wolves seemed to be knocking down everything and they were moving the ball with grace and confidence and a fluidity we can only dream about seeing in Cleveland. This Wolves offense is good, and they are going to give plenty of teams fits this year.

– 12 – I wrote in the preview to this game that the Cavaliers bench needed to really take advantage of the Wolves bench to keep the Cavaliers in this game. But the Cavs could only muster 12 bench points in the first half, to 10 bench points for Minnesota. When playing a team like this on the road, you simply have to have better bench production to beat them. The Cavs would get a little more bench scoring in the later part of the 3rd quarter and all of the 4th quarter when the team was already down 30 and the game was basically extended garbage time. Too little, too late.

– 29 to 6 – The Wolves scored 29 fastbreak points to just 6 for the Cavaliers. Now, to be fair, it’s hard to get any fastbreak opportunities when your opponent isn’t missing anything, but the Cavaliers once again did a horrible job getting back in transition. Teams are routinely finding it easy to get out on the break against the Cavs and find a wide open lane for an easy layup or dunk. The Cavaliers are slow getting back, and even when they do, they tend to be late picking up the attacker and nobody is offering help to cut off the drive. It’s not just that teams are scoring in transition, it’s that they don’t even have to work to finish the break.

– 96 – The Timberwolves starting five scorched the Cavaliers for an astounding 96 points. All 5 starters scored in double figures, with none of them shooting worse than 58% from the field. Kevin Love led all scorers with 33 points and Corey Brewer added 27 points, picking up the slack for Kevin Martin who missed this game due to illness. Conversely, the Cavs starters managed just 54 points. Kyrie Irving was the only Cavalier to score more than 13 points, finishing with 20 for the game.

– 39 – The Wolves’ biggest lead in this game was 39 points. A lot was made of Byron Scott’s teams giving up 20 point leads and also having far too many 20+ point losses. For a while, it seemed like this team was going to lose by 40. The Cavaliers ended up losing by 29 points, but it truly didn’t even feel that close. This was about as ugly of a loss as I can remember a Mike Brown team suffering (the Cavs did lose by 29 or more 4 times in Brown’s first stint). I guess the good news is things can only get better from here.

– 7 – Because I don’t want to go this entire post without mentioning a single positive for the Cavaliers, I’ll just mention that Sergey Karasev got his first extended playtime of the season, and he scored 7 points with 2 assists and 4 rebounds in 14 minutes of play. It was mostly garbage time and much of it was against Minnesota’s bench, but on a night when so much went wrong, including a spectacular Anthony Bennett uncontested missed dunk, Karasev seemed to show some life in trying to make the most of his minutes.

Most games you try to look for things to build on. There’s not much to take away from this one, unfortunately. It was just yet another lifeless blowout, the type we’ve grown all to accustomed to in Cleveland. You can only hope it’s something that galvanizes the team, rather than tears them apart. The Cavaliers return to Cleveland for a much needed home game Friday against the Bobcats. It’s extremely important the team not get too down on themselves and remains focused on getting better and trying to improve incrementally with each game.

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Image: David Sherman/NBAE/GettyImages

  • Conrad Kaczmarek

    For all the lifeless blowouts that we’ve become accustomed to in Cleveland, you’d think Cavs twitter wouldn’t implode in on itself in a panic every time it happens.

  • hashish

    I was at the game. Boy was it embarrassing! The team looked turrible. It almost looked as if the team was not even bothering and giving up a loss. It sucked because I spent my hard earned money just to see my team purposely loose. It really looked like a college team against an NBA team.

    Bennet looked so awful, like a chicken with no head. He was hurting the team more than helping. He was subbed in and after just 3 trips across the court he had his hands on his hips and his head down sucking wind. That kid needs time in the D-league, we almost felt bad for him. Then at the end of the game with a few seconds left he tried to steal the ball and dunked. Oh and his missed dunk was hilarious.

  • Yup

    It’s crazy on the blogosphere too, as you know, Conrad. Missed dunk and a couple of rookie blunders aside, I like what I saw from Bennett offensively tonight. He gas a damn good touch and when he puts it all together, he could be unguardable. You can see the skill set.

    I picked Karasev to be a dark-horse rookie contributor thus season. Might my somewhat silly prediction come true? Tonight makes me think it is more possible every day.

    Relax, everyone. The East is terrible so far. We’re gonna be fine…

  • Kildawg

    There was more hope and hype at the beginning of the season. 2013 is that kind of year for Cleveland sports. Early disappointment, followed by some fans ‘giving up’, then teams look good. Cavs need to start looking good.

  • boomhauertjs

    “These players are who the Cavaliers have to work with.” I disagree. This team is playing like a team that is screaming for a trade to change the chemistry. When is Chris Grant going to parlay all of his “assets” into something that contributes in tangible ways on the court?

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Well, right now it would be a panic trade. Come trade deadline, the Cavs might be active, but that’s months away. The Cavs can’t wait until then to figure this out. Hence, for the immediate future, they need to figure out to get the most out of this group of players.

  • mgbode

    yeah, so if you turn the game on and it’s halftime and you see the score; you tend to just find different things to do that night. sort of glad that I missed the beheading.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    How dare you!

  • mgbode

    I know. I’m a terrible fan. I accept it :)

  • Harv 21

    Only saw a few minutes so these comments are very general impressions:

    – Cannot tell what they are trying to do on offense. We were told Igor the Offense Coach favored guard-friendly offenses but not sure what I’m looking for or what Kyrie or his floormates are doing to run it. Spacing is odd, players end up next to each other. Looks like under defensive pressure Kyrie tries to default to what he knows he can do: score at will, while the other dudes stand around.

    – Team may just be going through early shell shock of new coach and system. Stopping and thinking leading to tentativeness leading to overall passive effort because they aren’t sure where/how/when to direct full effort.

    – MIKE BROWN HAS NOW HAD MORE THAN 7 GAMES: FIRE HIM!

  • Ben Frambaugh

    This was one of those games where I am glad I live in NC and they don’t show much NBA basketball here. This was horrendous.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I decided to keep watching just in case Anthony Bennett would happen to miss a wide open, uncontested dunk.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Right now, teams are basically running a “spy” defense on Kyrie. They are trailing a defender to cut off his drives to the lane with a double team. But when he’s outside the lane, they are sagging off him and giving him space. Because he’s not shooting well right now, he’s struggling to figure out how to beat this defense. As a result he starts a drive, and then has to spin away from a double team which is causing some of the spacing issues. Basically, when a team dribbles too much, it opens all kinds of opportunities for bad spacing. Kyrie could probably be a little quicker in his decision making. Either attack quickly or move the ball quickly.

  • mgbode

    ah, but that is why the good Lord invented GIFs :)

  • mgbode

    Mike Brown’s teams were never all that good as a fastbreak team w/ their defensive focus. But, I have long-wondered why he hasn’t at least tried to employ the Roy Williams secondary-break. Just some quick-hitting action in the half-court set to see if the opposing defense is truly ready. LAC, Indiana, and, this year, Philly all employ the secondary breaks quite liberally. I’d love to see us try it.

  • whosevelt

    I’ve been able to watch the Cavs more regularly this year and the following sticks out at me:
    1. They are talented enough, especially compared to previous years. Last year, even when they were doing well, you kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. This year, success seems more natural.
    2. They have a better offensive plan (or maybe it’s talent again?) than the last time Brown was here. The problem is they don’t seem to realize it. They seem fine moving the ball, getting the defense to be reactive, and then the result is a pull up 21 foot jumper.
    What they should be doing is following the offense to its logical conclusion – easy inside buckets or kick outs for open threes. But that’s not happening. Kyrie starts to drive, and the minute he sees daylight he pulls up and shoots. Jack does the same, except he does it without seeing daylight. Waiters has no trouble driving to the basket, especially when a second defender is shadowing Irving, but then Waiters just drives right out again for an off-balance fade-away.
    3. During the game last night, the WFNY writers, whom I respect a lot, were mocking people who would criticize Brown. I am fairly optimistic, but I don’t get why they feel that way. We’ve seen enough from the rotation players to know what we can expect, and we haven’t seen that kind of production. Why is the coach not responsible for that?
    4. On the other hand, I am optimistic. Bynum is at the high end of what we could have expected from him (compare with, e.g. Oden). Waiters has shown excellent flashes, especially if you count unfinished drives, and TT has been better than could possibly have been predicted. The pick and pop with Irving and Varejao has looked so easy that it could be the cornerstone of a great offense. If the people in control stay patient and let the players get comfortable, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some nice win streaks in January/February.

  • whosevelt

    I watched most of the season so far, and I don’t see chemistry issues so much as comfort and consistency issues. Jack will be a great addition once he stops handling the ball. Once everyone gets comfortable playing off of what the others do well, the team will be a solid contender.

  • whosevelt

    I’ve noticed that when teams do that, Waiters can just waltz into the paint. The problem is that he never seems to shoot from there or even find an open man, he just waltzes right back out again.

  • Harv 21

    was just about to type this: this should open lanes for Waiters to attack the rim like a mad bull. We’ve had 4 top picks in the last 3 drafts: someone has to make an opponent pay dearly for playing 5 defenders on 4 guys.

  • whosevelt

    I have seen a few things on offense this year that looked far better than the Lebron years. The Irving/Varejao pick and pop (or pick, kick and pop) can get even better if they try it with someone who can roll and finish. Waiters has all kinds of space when Irving is doubled on the perimeter. Jack has hit the kick-out three more than any of the other “shooters” we’ve brought in going back to Donyell Marshall. TT has shown shocking levels of assertiveness in tiny flashes. And if/when Bennett becomes a good shooter, we may even have someone who can do more than pop a three when they get a kick-out.

  • whosevelt

    And we’ve seen him do it more this year, but once he gets in the lane he does some really curious things.

  • Harv 21

    agree. TT shocks me with his confidence as, you say, in tiny flashes. If I’m Brown I run actual plays for him and let it flow, right now.

    Cavs right now reminds me of a little kid soccer team, with the one skilled kid who tries to just take over, a bunch of promising kids who don’t quite know how to anticipate anything and the real physically talented littlest one (Bennett) who’s still so confused that when the ball comes his way he can’t help but panic and throw himself right on it while the other kids kick at him and his teammates scream.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    There’s plenty of time for Dion to develop a feel for working without the ball. It’s important to remember that at Syracuse, he handled the ball a lot and working off the ball is new to him. Factor that with the new offensive system everyone is learning, and it makes sense. That doesn’t mean Dion will get it. It just means it’s too early to say he won’t or he can’t. We just don’t know yet, we have to give this team time to figure it out.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Re #3: I am not one of the WFNY writers who were mocking people for criticizing Brown, but I’ll still try to address this matter. To me, you somewhat answered your own question in #2. You acknowledge that the system is better, but the players simply aren’t executing. To a degree that’s on Brown, but at the end of the day, the players play and the coaches coach. The coaches can implement any system they want, it’s up to the players to grasp it and to execute it.

    Now, if these offensive problems still persist 2 months from now, or a year from now, or whenever, then we can start to talk about Mike Brown being part of the problem. But to blame a coach 9 games into his tenure for a team not gelling 100%, well, that seems a little silly to me. I try not to criticize or mock anyone for having opinions. If people want to blame Brown, that’s fine…that’s their issue. But I think that stance is a little ridiculous this early in the season. I simply do not believe that Mike Brown is what is making this team worse. I think it’s 3 seasons of hardly any coaching taking a little while to work itself back out of the system.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I think his struggles finishing drives are affecting his confidence in them. Plus, while I’m the last one to complain about refs, I do think for whatever reason he just doesn’t seem to get hardly any calls, and I think that is frustrating him as well.

  • whosevelt

    I guess it depends on how one interprets the tweets. I agree with the “don’t panic” advice, but implying that there’s someone to blame but it’s not Brown makes me think that they’re not just saying to give it some time, but that there’s someone at fault and it’s not Brown.
    If there is something wrong, then even if it’s not Xs and Os it goes back to Brown. Even if his players are at fault, that’s his fault too. The only question at that point is whether someone else could have done better.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Well, like I said, I wasn’t writing those tweets, so I don’t want to put words in their mouths. I can only explain why I, personally, don’t think it’s fair to blame MB right now.

  • Harv 21

    yeah, I get the plenty of time thing. I’d even say in less than a month team efforts like last night will be forgotten. But I’m a big Dion fan and disappointed that he’s seemingly taken a step back in his aggressiveness and confidence. Tells me he’s not as cocky and mentally tough as I thought he was and as the Cavs need him to be. He has to be Robin, the offensive dagger, to Kyrie’s Batman. If he isn’t the player that forces the opponent pick their poison, if he’s just a guy, he was a blown pick.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    It’s worth noting that Russell Westbrook (who I still think he should model his game after…they’re actually quite similar in a lot of ways) only increased his scoring from 15.3 to 16.1 ppg from year 1 to year 2. It was until year 3 that he really took the leap and things clicked for him. I think you’re being a little too hard on Dion right now, to be honest. He’s wildly inconsistent right now, we just have to hope that he’s able to keep developing and gains a little more consistency at some point. You’re dead right that the Cavaliers need him to eventually be a 20+ ppg scorer for this team.

  • Harv 21

    Concern, not passing final judgement. Just think Dion’s greatest asset is his aggressive attitude, that Philly swag street thing, that I’ll Take that Big Shot/Bull Through You to the Rim thing. In the second half of last season out came the swag and up went the production. Now we’re back to rookie tentativeness. Didn’t follow early Westbrook closely enough to know whether he gained but then lost confidence. I want to see Dion make mistakes at 80 mph, because to me without that aggression he’s forever average. Let’s re-visit this in a month, when he should no longer be talking himself through offensive and defensive positioning.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Russell has/had so many things in common with Dion. Questionable shot selection, impeccable ability to get to the rim, struggled to adapt to playing with another great player in Durant, couldn’t seem to figure out how to coexist in the same offense, etc. I don’t know about his confidence….Russ has always exhibited no shortage of confidence in himself and his game. But he struggled with many of the same things Dion has, and it took he and Durant a long time to figure out how to play off each other….something Dion and Kyrie are working through now.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    And none of that is to say Dion Waiters = Russell Westbrook, by the way. Just a comparison of playstyle and how these things take time.