April 19, 2014

Repeat offenses plague Cavs in another heart-breaking loss

DSC_0469Kyrie Irving is a superstar. He led the Cavaliers with a 40-point effort on 17-of-33 shooting that included 9 assists and a barrage of mid-range jumpers and confident takes to the hole. Mr. Fourth Quarter scored 22 points in the final 22 minutes against one of the best teams that the Eastern Conference has to offer1 In a double overtime loss, there is no one play that truly “loses” the game. However, there were several correctable mistakes in crunch time that could be directly attributed to the Cavaliers’ point guard. Poor shot attempts when better shots can be had with offensive movement, turnovers off extremities when a key possession needs to be secured, and inopportune pick-and-roll switches are listed among the violations. Between their headliner and their director, the Cavaliers have a real problem, and it’s bigger than a 127-125 double overtime loss against a team that’s better than them right now.

It’s a tangled web we as fans can weave at times when the star player is criticized. There’s undoubtedly some hangover from the last All-Star player the Cavaliers had who had a seemingly blank check with fans, teammates, coaches, and media pundits not named Skip Bayless. I think the mistake some make is the belief one cannot criticize a star player unless you’re also saying he’s not the answer and the future. The reason I’ve been so hard on Kyrie is that I’ve seen him excel on offense, take good shots to his heart’s content in said offense, and carry this team for an entire fourth quarter. Then, in the final minute, the movement grinds to a screeching halt, the defensive vice tightens, and Kyrie more often than not doesn’t give the ball up to either get it back or allow someone else to score. The maddening thing is that the Hawks couldn’t stop Irving attacking the basket or his offensive assets, but Irving did.

Kyrie had two teeth-gnashing turnovers at the worst possible time. At the close of the first overtime, about 40 feet from the basket, Irving allowed Teague to reach in and poke away the ball. It wasn’t enough to call a foul, and Irving lost the handle out of bounds. It gave the Hawks 2.4 seconds to try and win the game when Jeff Teague misfired. In the second overtime, it was a defensive rebound nearly secured with the Hawks heading back up the court that Kyrie fumbled out and onto the baseline that gave the Hawks new life on the possession with 39 seconds remaining. The Cavaliers had a season-high 24 turnovers, and six of those belonged to Kyrie2

As for his shot-making abilities as the game winds down, I’ll let the numbers speak for a minute. When the game winds down in close affairs, Irving’s field goal percentage plummets, and it does so in a much more drastic manner than one would expect.

kyrieunder5m

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There’s no denying that everyone’s knowledge of Kyrie holding onto the ball for shots in the final minute is killing his effectiveness down the stretch. That’s why it’s more difficult to think of key situations where he gave the ball up and it didn’t work. Anderson Varejao’s had key end of game buckets twice this season (the Brooklyn opener and the Portland heart-breaker) due to double or triple teams on Irving. Thompson had the key offensive rebound because of all the attention on Irving in the Milwaukee game last week. This isn’t the first time that Dion was hot in the first 3 1/2 quarters, only to be forgotten once Kyrie re-enters the game for the stretch run. That’s flat-out wrong and awful team basketball. Irving’s shown the ability to share the ball enough for most of the game, but right now, it’s coming off as a lack of trust in his teammates as the seconds tick down.

In a game that could have been won three or four different times, it’s difficult to lose a game like this when there were so many good signs from several players. Dion Waiters, returning from a three-game absence due to a wrist injury, scored 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Tristan Thompson made key plays at both ends of the floor and scored 22 points of his own on 8-of-13 shooting. Matthew Dellavedova had 9 of his own, hitting four key free throws in the first overtime session and drawing two offensive fouls. When the Cavaliers have movement without the ball, they can get contributions from all five players out on the court when you factor in offensive rebounding and wide open looks at three pointers. Waiters in particular had a couple of phenomenal first half plays where he got himself buckets by cutting to the hoop and posting up and pinning his man respectively. I’m not saying Irving shouldn’t take the tough shots at the end of the clock. What I am saying, however, is that he shouldn’t do so after dribbling in isolation, with no particular purpose, for 20 seconds of the shot clock while his teammates stand and watch.

This was a bizarre game that had a little bit of everything. Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll both left with injuries in overtime after Horford scored 25 points being the focus of the offense. Teague hit a Lillard-range deep three near the end of the first overtime3 and the game-winner in double OT. Tyler Zeller played key fourth-quarter minutes and played well while Bynum, Miles, and Clark did not find the floor again.

Mike Brown doesn’t escape this game without blame either. The Cavs couldn’t get any better than a kicked ball and an Anderson Varejao heave from 30 feet at the end of regulation in two tries as Irving and Waiters could not get open on the inbound play. On the game-winning shot by Teague, why, when the ball is likely going to Teague with Horford out of the game, do you leave Kyrie, one of the team’s worst perimeter defenders on him? Alonzo Gee sat on the bench and Matthew Dellavedova, who had sparked the team, sat on the bench in favor of Irving and Jack who both struggle at keeping their man in front of them on an island. The point also should have been hammered home that Irving should have fought through the pick instead of switching, because Thompson never had a chance of properly contesting that Teague jumper. Teague nearly matched Kyrie’s output with 34 points and 14 assists of his own.

You get the feeling that Mike Brown has been in constant scramble mode with his rotation all season long. Alonzo Gee, the team’s best perimeter defender, did not get off the bench as Earl Clark regained his starting spot at small forward. Brown went with four small guards (Irving, Jack, Dellavedova, and Waiters) along with Tristan Thompson for a couple of overtime possessions. You talk about playing Gee or Clark, Bennett or Bynum or Zeller, Delly or Miles? Brown can’t settle on a consistent lineup, and I think it’s preventing the team from getting the familiarity it needs to execute late. It’s obvious Irving doesn’t trust his teammates, and it’s even more evident that Brown isn’t going to call Irving out on it.

You can’t build the foundation of this team as one with multiple options and champion it as different from the past if you’re only going to tolerate and encourage one man trying to do it all in the game’s final minutes. You can’t have a defensive-minded coach running the ship if you’ve decided you want to play every single game in the 100′s. Right now, the Cavaliers have so many more questions than answers. Turnovers, Mike Brown’s inability to get his team to play his style, and Kyrie’s inability to trust his teammates late: the themes continue to repeat in this tumultuous season. Something’s got to give sooner or later.

(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)

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Footnotes:

  1. Insert joke here. []
  2. They kept saying 25 turnovers post-game, which would’ve given Kyrie 7 turnovers. However, the NBA.com stats called the play described above as simply a team rebound, implying that Kyrie did not have possession. I beg to differ, and the end result is the same as a turnover anyway. []
  3. On another play where the Cavaliers’ defense failed them. Kyrie got trapped down hard by a double screen, and the Cavs were so concerned that Korver was going to get loose that Teague filled the spot that Korver vacated at the top of the key. Delly needed to switch it, and he noticed it too late. []

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Me + Matthew Dellavedova = Forever.

    Absolutely loving that guy. Mike Brown can’t give him enough minutes to sate my appetite.

    Everything else makes my stomach turn. The small forward position is an absolute mess. If Chris Grant is counting on LeBron James to see the need and come riding in on his white unicorn, he’s going to have his heart torn asunder when LeBron James rides in on a gray hippo and sprays feces all over the Q before going back to Miami and signing his next contract.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Another thought… if you’re Chris Grant, do you cut Bynum before that 6 million dollar deadline in January? I would. I know he’s given the Cavs an offensive post game that they haven’t had in ages and he can alter shots in the lane on defense like no other player I can remember wearing the wine and gold (or orange and blue), but there are too many ways for teams to easily game plan around Bynum. When he has to guard centers or power forwards who can shoot the ball with range, he’s just about worthless on defense. If he comes all the way out to guard the shot, he’s too slow to stop anyone from driving right by him. If he backs off a little bit to prevent the drive, players can get their shot off with ease. He’s only effective when you put him on a lumbering big guy with no outside shot like Robin Lopez. He’s also nowhere to be found in transition on either the offensive or defensive end of the floor because of his knees. The Cavs are built to move the ball quickly after a made basket or defensive rebound… it’s quite obvious that this is what they want to do as they are pitching the ball ahead to Irving, Waiters, Jack, Gee, Delly, Miles, etc… doesn’t matter who, they are pitching the ball forward to get a quick look before setting up the half-court offense. Bynum doesn’t arrive to play until there is 15-16 seconds left on the shot clock. About half of his shots are jump shots and he’s shooting those at a sub-40% clip. The Cavs are 9.9 points worse per 100 possessions when he’s on the court. Let the big man go off to pasture.

  • 240

    Agree 100%. Especially about Bynum arriving later in the shot clock. I’ve seen enough.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If the team actually won with him playing more minutes okay but he does nothing for me. Watching a professional work hard means nothing especially in this town where there’s no such thing as success.
    And cut Bynum? Yea that’s exactly what this team needs. I’m sure it would really inspire the always inspired Dion Waiters and crew.

    The Cavaliers aren’t built to run no matter how many times Austin Carr laments it. The simple fact is they have no clue what they can do and it starts with the head coach. They get the ball to Bynum I mean when they get the ball to Bynum and the rest just stand around. It’s the same thing that happened when LeBron James was here and it’s the same thing that happens when Irving decides he has to take over a game.

    Meanwhile you watch Atlanta and how they move with and without the ball. Coaching first!

    Finally Gilbert can afford that $6 million all I’ve heard for three years is how well Grant has positioned the Cavaliers with cap flexibility. Like the Indians we’ll see what that amounts to in the off-season because frankly the talking has gotten old at least for me.

  • mgbode

    that’s pretty harsh for a guy still getting back to basketball whom many thought this is about the time we would first even see him on the court (if at all). you are correct in your assessments, but for 18-22min/game I think he is incredibly useful and we are not going to find a replacement for what he gives anywhere.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I mean, you’re not wrong about Bynum. He’s much more useful when he gets the ball deep in the post and he can either take his guy 1-on-1 or pass out of the double team. I really do wish the Cavs’ players were better at feeding him the ball. It’s on defense where he gives me the most concern. Everybody loves the 4-5 plays per game where he rises up and either blocks a shot into the 10th row or alters a great player’s shot forcing a miss. What I don’t understand is why nobody faults him for the 10-12 plays per game where he just can’t get into a position to be useful. He can’t offer help defense unless he’s within 5 feet of the play. He gets absolutely torched everywhere except the low block. And yes, that’s what the Cavs signed up for with his bad knees and yes he’s rounding back into form, but he’s not going to get to a point where that doesn’t happen. He’s Cleveland Shaq with better post moves, and it changes the entire style of play of the team when he’s in the game. Mike Brown certainly has his faults, and I’d write a novel on them if I had time, but I’m not talking about Brown right now… just Bynum.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Not sure I get your take on Delly. I’m not saying he’s going to replace Kyrie Irving or even Dion Waiters as a star. I guess you’re saying that you don’t care about a particular player unless you can put him in that bucket? Man, you must not care about very many players in the NBA then :)

    I’m saying he’s a useful piece, that’s all.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    That’s the biz, my man. Produce or find a new career. I think Bynum will definitely continue to improve on the offensive end, which is cool, but I think he’s going to continue to be a liability defensively… moreso than what he gives on the offensive end. I’d be more cool with keeping him on the team if he could play in matchup situations. Keep him on the floor versus Andrew Bogut at center, but take him off the floor versus David Lee at center… that type of thing. But the stubbornness of Mike Brown to play him against guys like Al Horford and Chris Bosh who can get whatever they want against him is infuriating. I think he wants to believe that when you have Andrew Bynum, you force the other team to adjust to YOU. I don’t think that’s true anymore.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You got me on his defense to be honest I haven’t really paid all that much attention to his positioning. Perhaps a lack of mobility is hurting him frankly I don’t know. I don’t think Bynum was ever a defensive force though even when healthy. I do know I hate watching them force him the ball then just stand around. It’s a duplicate of when LeBron was here. Is it a coincidence that Mike Brown is the head coach? I doubt it. I know one other thing Tristan Thompson isn’t the Thompson of a year ago. More like two years ago. Perhaps all of the righty vs lefty stuff has occupied more of his mind then should be needed. Just go out play hard, rebound and do the little things.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    What I am saying is a player like Delly is nice to have and discuss when you are winning. When you are not and you are having to play him as much it tells me that your team either has a lack of talent or is either lazy and unintelligent. The Cavaliers possess entirely to much talent for not only Delly to be playing as much as he does but for this team to be playing the way it has been. So I start with Brown and go from there.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Mike Brown is in over his head that’s the underying fact. He could never adjust in his previous stint here why anyone would think he could do it now is beyond me. He is a great assistant particularly on the defensive end what he isn’t is a head coach. He’s been outcoached numerous times this year already by first year head coaches too. The Hawks last night I mean even Brad Stevens with the Celtics outcoached Brown.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Gotcha. I think there are plenty of playoff teams who could use Dellavedova or a guy like him for 20+ minutes per game (the Clippers, Mavs, and Pistons, for example). Offensively he’s useful because he moves the ball, can play the point in a pinch, and hits open 3-pointers (he’s not useless going to the hoop, either). Defensively, he’s been a big surprise to me. Honestly, he’s the best perimeter defender on the team. With that said, the question I have for Mike Brown is “Why can’t you see this and why do you continue to force Alonzo Gee on us in crunch time?” The Cavs have plenty of young, athletic talent. I think they need more intelligence on the court… they need more leaders. That’s Delly.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yeah Thompson started hot and has really tailed off over the past several weeks. He’s usually such a terror on the offensive glass, and it just seems like he’s being taken out of the play rather easily now. With Bynum, Thompson, and Varejao, the Cavs should be decimating other teams on the glass. I can’t figure out why that’s not happening. Mike Brown is back to his usual habit of constantly tweaking his lineups to no avail. I wish he’d hand over the offensive reins to Kokoskov. I can’t figure out why he thinks he needs to run that side of the ball… his plays coming out of timeouts are miserable and his offense overall is brutal. I remember watching that game recently where MB got kicked out of the game and I was thinking, “Well, at least now we’ll get to see what Kokoskov can do.” Nope, it was Jim Boylan on the clipboard. What the heck does Kokoskov do for this team?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thompson has dropped off the most in my opinion which could explain some of the continuity issues. We know the Irving-Waiters dynamic but maybe when that dust up happened back five weeks or so part of it could have related to Thompson. No idea just speculating. You are right about the three-headed monster. Bynum and whoever else is at PF should rule the boards but it doesn’t happen. Personally I wouldn’t be against seeing someone or someones traded for a more serious post threat. Ideally I’d like to see Varejao traded even though he plays with the most guts and spirit.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Delly would never see the light of day with the Clippers not even close. I seriously doubt he’d see anywhere remotely close to 20 minutes anywhere and that is even in the East where almost every team is alive for the playoffs. Brown still can’t find a lineup. Karasev is a rookie Brown hates rookies so he’ll never play enough to learn. You see what is happening with Bennett. If he hadn’t been the #1 overall Brown wouldn’t even play him. Gee is a much better defender then Delly certainly more athletic he just lacks the commitment for some reason. Then again maybe it’s playing under Mike Brown.

  • rbj

    I think Kirk summed it up just right along with some of these other comments. Simply put, something has to give now not later. Brown is just as much the problem as some of the players. He is handling Kyrie just as he James. What everyone is missing beside the poor defense they are playing is they are not a really good shooting team. They’ve had a huge hole at small forward to start the season and still do, Grant hasn’t addressed the issue. Gee nor Clark is the answer and Grant has to do something before the trade dead line is gone. Right now no one knows what to do or we they are going. What a sad state of affairs. If I was the owner the crap would have hit the fan a long time ago.