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.