Cavs vs Spurs Behind the Box Score: What defense?

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Well, for 12 minutes this was a fun game. The Cavaliers had one of their better first quarters of the seasons, jumping out to a 23-13 lead in the quarter. Unfortunately, that would be about the extent of the fun this evening.

The Spurs roared back with a 37-17 edge over the Cavaliers in the 2nd quarter. The Spurs went from being unable to make anything to not being able to miss a thing. The Cavaliers’ offense was pretty good in this game, but the Spurs’ role players were simply too much for the Cavaliers to handle and the Spurs left the Q with a 122-101 win.

We knew March was going to be a brutal month, and nights like this show why. The Cavaliers really didn’t play all that poorly. The defense obviously wasn’t great fundamentally, but the Spurs just ran their offense to perfection and they overmatched the Cavs. The Cavs shot 48.1% from the field and 52.6% from three, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome San Antonio.

The Cavaliers already slim playoff odds are shrinking even more with every loss. So while the Cavs played decent basketball, there’s just no room for moral victories. At this point in the season, only actual wins and losses matter.

So lets get into the numbers:

  • 23.8% – Ok, we’ll start with a positive. The Cavaliers limited the Spurs to 13 first quarter points on 23.8% shooting from the field. Kawhi Leonard was the only Spur with more than 2 points. He had 3. Some of it was just bad shooting, sure, but the Cavaliers were really active on defense and forced 5 turnovers in that first quarter, held the Spurs to just 2 points in the paint, and no second-chance points. Unfortunately, the 2nd quarter would tell a different story…
  • 59.1%/66.7%/83.3% – In the 2nd quarter the Spurs absolutely lit up the Cavs defense. They shot almost 60% from the field and made 6 of 9 threes. For comparison purposes, the Spurs only turned the ball over twice in the 2nd quarter, had 8 points in the paint, and 3 second-chance points. Six Spurs scored more than 2 points in the 2nd quarter, with 10 from Patty Mills and 8 from Manu Ginobili.
  • 24, 24, and 20 – The Cavaliers problem certainly wasn’t with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, or Spencer Hawes. Dion wasted no time picking up where he left off on offense before his injury. He and Kyrie led the Cavaliers with 24 points each. Dion was 11-of-18 from the field and showed the same mix of attacking the rim and knocking down open jumpers that he displayed before hurting his knee. Spencer Hawes chipped in his third double-double since joining the Cavaliers with 20 points and 13 rebounds. I’ll be the first to admit I strongly disliked the Hawes acquisition, but to his credit, Hawes has been superb since joining the Cavs. He’s playing hard, getting involved in the offense, and has already seemed to adapt better to the Cavs than Luol Deng has. The Cavs other players were a pretty big letdown. Deng had 9 points, Tristan had 5 points and 10 rebounds, Jack had 4, and Zeller had 1 point. The only other Cavalier in double digits was Anthony Bennett, who scored all 14 of his points in the 4th quarter when the outcome was already decided.
  • 3-of-10 – Another horrid shooting night for Deng. He was 3-of-10 for 9 points with 2 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. This one is puzzling. Adding Deng made all the sense in the world. It seemed like the perfect acquisition who would fill several of the holes the Cavs were lacking. But it’s just not working out. Deng often looks lost in the offense, looking unsure of what he wants to do when he gets the ball, and just seems completely uncomfortable. To beat teams like the Spurs, the Cavaliers simply need more out of Deng.
  • 24, 18, and 16 – If you would have told me before the game that Kyrie, Dion, and Hawes would all have excellent games while Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were mostly held in check, I would have given the Cavaliers pretty good odds on winning the game. Duncan had 7 points, Parker had 7, and Ginobili had 11. That means the Cavaliers trio outscored the Spurs trio 68 to 25. And they lost by 21 points! So how did this happen? Well, the Spurs role players played the roles of stars in this game. Danny Green scored 24, Kawhi Leonard had 18, and Patty Mills had 16 points (4-of-6 from three).
  • +1 – Here’s why +/- is such a fascinating stat in basketball. I talked about how Irving, Waiters, and Hawes all had great games, right? Well, Waiters was -24, Irving was -17, and Hawes was -7. Meanwhile, Luol Deng, who I said looked clueless, was +1. Even though Irving was -17 for the game, Deng and Irving played 30 minutes on the floor together and the Cavs were +3 in those minutes. In 19 minutes together, Irving and Waiters were -21. The 4 worst pairings in this game from a +/- standpoint all featured Dion Waiters. But when you watched this game, it sure felt like the team played better with Dion on the floor. The moral of the story might be that despite Dion’s recent growth in offensive play, his defense still leaves an awful lot to be desired. Or else the moral is just that +/- can be a confusing stat and might not have much causation tied to it. I really have no clue.

Despite the lopsided Diff in this game, I will still contend the Cavaliers are playing better basketball overall. It’s just probably too little, too late. Now the Cavaliers travel to Charlotte on Friday and then come back to the Q on Saturday to face the Knicks on Z Night. After those festivities, which should be a blast, the Cavs then begin the gauntlet of games at Phoenix, at Golden State, at the Clippers, vs Miami, vs Oklahoma City, and vs Houston. So yeah, these next two games are more than just a little important.

  • Harv 21

    Cavs are playing better than in the Grant Era (fwiw). But the playoff run kind of ended when they decided to mail it in against Washington at home, no?

    I do see guys attempting to perform the fundamentals of defense, even if not all that well and not always with total commitment. At least it doesn’t look like the player rebellion of 6 weeks ago. They have to give Mike Brown another year. Maybe there’s been no “Annie Sullivan/Helen Keller at the Water Pump”-type breakthrough, but it’s possible something is happening.

  • BenRM

    “Or else the moral is just that +/- can be a confusing stat and might not have much causation tied to it. I really have no clue.”

    I am coming to believe this more and more.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Honestly, the playoff run ended in Novermber and December when they Cavs lost games by 20+ points to bad teams. All teams have off nights, and that’s what the Cavs have now. Good nights and some bad nights. But nothing compares to the absolute mess that was those first 2 months. The hole was just too deep to get out of.

  • RGB

    “Never mistake movement for action.”
    – Ernest Hemingway

  • steve-o

    The playoff run won’t end unless Atlanta figures out how to win games. Otherwise, the eighth seed is up for grabs.

  • Harv 21

    “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — E.H.

    (My advice to Dan Gilbert regarding his public playoff and championship promises)

  • Dave

    “All teams have off nights, and that’s what the Cavs have now.”

    Also, the Spurs are consistently one of the best teams in the league, in large part because they have a system and a culture that makes unheralded role players key contributors to their success, and rewards them for that.

    Leonard, in particular, is actually in the running for best player on the Spurs. He shoots extremely accurately from the floor (52.4% FG, 59.3% TS, 36% 3PT) and is a good rebounder for a wing player.

    Shutting down the Spurs is harder than shutting down Duncan, Parker, Ginobili. If you stop that generation of Spurs, the next generation of Spurs (Leonard, Green, Belinelli, Splitter, Mills) will run you over. This isn’t new for them: Back in the day, if David Robinson didn’t beat you, Tim Duncan would.

  • RGB

    That’s my favorite Hemingway quote.

  • Harv 21

    can’t argue. I’m really speaking of the hope one holds when staring at an historically bad set of competitors – if yo can just sustain mediocrity for a couple of weeks you’re right there. But the Cavs couldn’t.

  • Harv 21

    yeah, it’s eternal truth puts it right up there

  • Harv 21

    agree. The Spurs are so ruthless in doing what they do, without panic, that an opponent better execute. This is the time of year SA settles into its playoff mindset and they’re going going to dismantle you, at least until the last few games when Pops says it’s time to rest the regulars.

  • Ezzie Goldish

    Jason Lloyd noted that the Spurs assisted on 91% of their baskets, 7th highest all time, and it was 4th highest until a late basket. Prior to that they’d assisted 29 straight buckets.

    Wow.

  • RGB

    Honestly, did anyone expect a different outcome?
    The Cavs couldn’t hang with SA when they had the King.
    Learn some lessons, look for improvements, but don’t get too worked up on the result. We still have along way to go…

  • MoreGolfLessWork

    That is a “wow” stat. The Spurs have such great passing and basketball IQ it really does show how far ahead of teams like Cleveland they are in that regard.

  • MoreGolfLessWork

    Cavs guards and wings have to quit cheating in to the elbow area and beyond when they are “guarding” their man off ball. Absolutely killing the team defense right now.

  • mgbode

    they are ahead of EVERY team in that regard.

    the crazy thing about the Spurs is that apart from inbound plays, they run the same basic 2-3 sets (w/ mirror images). everything in the set then is just based on reads (like QB in football). and everyone just stays in motion and continually makes the reads. Pops has shown that simplicity with smart tactics is supreme.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    The problem is, that’s how Mike Brown coaches them. He wants his guards at the elbows so they are always in position to grab long rebounds and to offer any necessary double teams. I don’t think this is really going to change as long as MB is coaching.

  • Pat Leonard

    Cavs have lost two straight, but are playing better. Not sure if it’s enough, though. March 12-22 will tell us what this team is made of in the post-Grant era.

  • MoreGolfLessWork

    But he can’t possibly prefer them to cheat in that far and leave 8 feet in between them and their man, right? I understand he wants to pack them in somewhat, but you aren’t getting long rebounds on swished threes.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Leaving guys open for threes has always been the weakness in his system. This is just the style he prefers. Make it tough in the paint, grab long rebounds, live with the threes.