April 19, 2014

Through the Looking-Glass, and What the Cavaliers Found There

kyrie_fannight

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a degree of order in life. Certain things fit together in ways that make sense. There are laws of math, and physics, and biology. Unbreakable truths. Anyone who has been watching the recent reincarnation of the show Cosmos on FOX has been able to look on with awe at the sheer depth of scale to the universe and life on earth. From observable galaxies that are billions of light years away to the beautiful complexity of life at the sub-molecular level, there are rules and order. The same laws of physics that govern our world apply to those billions of light years away.

None of those unbreakable rules of consistency apply to the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers. In a world of order, the Cavaliers are outlaws. They are agents of rebellion flying in the face of matters of consistency and basketball truths. Or, should I say, they “were” outlaws. The 2013-14 Cavaliers are no longer a fluid existence in the present, but instead are now frozen in time as a part of history. And when basketball scholars look back and study this team, what will they find? They won’t find answers, but more questions. That’s something everyone who lived through this season knows from personal experience. No matter where things go from here, this will always be remembered as one of the most confusing seasons in Cavalier history.

[Read more...]

Cavs vs Pistons Behind the Box Score: Trees falling without making a sound

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Don’t get me wrong…that was a fun game. The Cavaliers played some of the best team basketball we’ve seen this group play as they came out and just crushed the Pistons 122-100. But as fun as it was, it unfortunately didn’t matter. The Pistons quit a long time ago. They’re the same team who played a 76ers team on the verge of breaking the all time losing streak record. And the Pistons got killed by that Sixers team. So it wasn’t surprising that the Cavs were able to take care of business.

The fact is, the playoffs are gone, the Pistons are a team tanking as hard as can be, and so there’s just not much to take away from this game. Winning a game like this just doesn’t really mean much. You would like to think that the ball movement, spacing, and team scoring were all functions of a team developing and figuring things out. Unfortunately, it could just as easily be about playing a team that just doesn’t care anymore. And because I don’t want this to be coming across as too negative, I’ll point out that the Cavs legitimately deserve credit for caring. Or at least caring a lot more than the Pistons, anyway.

Now lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Magic Behind the Box Score: Signs of a fun April?

AP Photo/John Raoux

AP Photo/John Raoux

Talk about a boring game. But boring in the best way ever.

The Cavaliers were ready to play from the start in this one, and they never let up as they absolutely crushed the Magic by a 119-98 score. This one had a little bit of everything and everyone. Kyrie Irving came back and played well, Dion Waiters just kept doing what he’s been doing, Spencer Hawes had his best game in a while, and Tristan Thompson had a double-double. So yeah, it was a good game.

With every win the Cavaliers continue to keep the playoff hunt interesting. The Knicks and Hawks are virtually tied for the 8 seed, with the Cavs lingering just two games back. The Cavs’ chances would be a lot better if they were only chasing one team instead of two of them, but still, with six games left to play, this thing isn’t over yet.

Now lets look at a few numbers… [Read more...]

Cavs vs Pistons Behind the Box Score: A game-winner for Dion

dion_winner

The Cavaliers were on the road, playing the second night of a back-to-back. For the first three quarters the team more or less played like it. The Cavaliers fell down by 16 points and it looked like that would pretty much be it.

But the Cavaliers got a surprise offensive explosion from Matthew Dellavedova, Anderson Varejao was his old rebounding-machine self, and Jarrett Jack had an enormous fourth quarter to lead the Cavaliers back to within striking distance.

The Cavs got a couple huge stops in the final minutes setting up the finale. With the Cavs down four, Jack converted an and-one to bring the Cavs within one with 53 seconds left. After tough defense forced a bad Josh Smith shot, the ball went out of bounds off Delly’s hands, giving the Pistons the ball with 28.5 seconds left. Rather than fouling, Mike Brown chose to trust his defense and Brandon Jennings missed an off balance jumper. Luol Deng grabbed the rebound and the Cavs called a timeout with 3.2 seconds remaining. That set up the real fun stuff.

Once again the Cavaliers found themselves in a critical inbound situation. After the initial Cavs timeout, the Pistons used two consecutive timeouts in a bit of gamesmanship. Then Luol Deng once again couldn’t find anyone open and had to use a timeout of his own to avoid the 5-second call. On their second try, Deng found Dion Waiters cutting to the corner. Dion took a quick dribble, stepped to his left and pulled up for a 19-foot jumper. And he drilled it. The Cavaliers erupted in joy and this team pulled off one of the more improbable victories of the season.

Now lets look at some numbers: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Raptors Behind the Box Score: One ugly way to win a game

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

The Cavaliers started out playing great basketball on both ends of the court. In the 3rd quarter they extended the lead to 18 points at 81-63. Then they turned the offense switch to the “Off” position, and with with just under 7 minutes remaining in the game, Greivis Vasquez hit a three point shot to put the Raptors up 95-94.

The Cavaliers would quickly take the lead back and would lead the rest of the way, but it took a little luck down the stretch. The Raptors missed a couple good looks and the Cavaliers held a three point lead with 12 seconds left. DeMar DeRozan then drove and was fouled by Alonzo Gee. DeRozan only made one of his two free throws and after a Cleveland timeout, the Cavaliers were inbounding at midcourt with 7 seconds left.

This is where the Cavaliers’ inbounding issues would strike yet again. First Luol Deng was handed inbounding duties, and when nobody was able to get open, he called a timeout. Then Varejao was given the job of inbounding, and once again with nothing really developing, he tried to throw it in to Deng along the baseline, but the ball sailed out of bounds. It looked like the refs missed a foul on the play, but regardless, its embarrassing that the Cavaliers still can’t operate an inbound play in late game situations.

Thankfully, though, the Raptors decided to return the favor with a bad turnover of their own on their last possession and the Cavaliers hung on for the 102-100 win over a playoff team in the East. The Cavaliers continue to play hard without Kyrie Irving, CJ Miles, or Anthony Bennett, it’s just a shame it’s happening now that the playoffs are but a minute possibility.

Now lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Heat Behind the Box Score: So close

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The Cavaliers came into this game against the Heat without Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, and CJ Miles (for the most part, anyway…CJ played just 2 minutes). A lackluster performance could have been expected. Instead, the Cavaliers played a great all around game and took the Heat, who were without Dwyane Wade, down to the wire.

The Cavaliers had their chances down the stretch, but a ridiculous no-call on a Dion Waiters drive, combined with LeBron James hitting all six of his free throws, proved too much to overcome. Waiters hurt his hip on the play as he landed squarely on it, which made things even tougher for the Cavs. Yet Jarrett Jack, who had a season high in scoring, hit a couple late threes to keep things interesting, but LeBron just wouldn’t miss any FTs and the Heat came away with the win.

But still, the Cavaliers deserve a lot of credit for the heart they showed in fighting right down to the wire against one of the NBA’s best teams.

Now lets get into the numbers. [Read more...]

#CavsRank: No. 9 Anderson Varejao, the Wild Thing

varejao

The date was July 8, 2004. It was a Thursday night, and the Cleveland Cavaliers were reeling. It seemed impossible, yet the outcome was simultaneously probable. Some would argue even likely. The Cavaliers took a major risk, and they were burned in a big way.

It was that Thursday night when restricted free agent Carlos Boozer informed the Cavaliers that despite their wink-wink arrangement, he had verbally agreed to an offer sheet with the Utah Jazz. To this day there remains plenty of blame to go around to everyone involved, but the simple fact is that Cavaliers GM Jim Paxson didn’t have to let it come to this.

[Read more...]

Cavs vs Spurs Behind the Box Score: What defense?

(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: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Magic Behind the Box Score: The wins keep rolling in

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

It wasn’t as easy as it could have, and probably should have been, but the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic to extend their winning streak to six.

The Cavs came out in this game picking up right where they left off in Philly, jumping to a big lead early, and eventually extending the lead all the way to 21. But in the 3rd quarter the Cavs starters stumbled a bit on both ends and let the Magic crawl back into the game. Orlando would hang around the rest of the game, eventually getting within 2. But then Tyler Zeller grabbed a huge offensive rebound and converted an And-1 and the Cavaliers never looked back, coming away with a 101-93 win.

This was by no means a perfect game, but it was a game the Cavaliers needed to win and the bottom line is, they made the plays they needed to in order to get the job done.

Now lets get into some numbers… [Read more...]

Cavs vs 76ers Behind the Box Score: Five in a row

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

(AP Photo/Michael Perez)

Cleveland took a four-game winning streak into the All-Star break, and in their first game back they picked up right where they left off. The Cavs got off to a fast start in Philadelphia Tuesday night and they never let up, winning one of their most complete games of the season by an easy 114-85 margin.

While the game was mostly an enjoyable affair, it wasn’t without drama. In the second quarter Dion Waiters threw down a monstrous dunk in traffic, but when he came down and tried to stop his momentum, his left leg locked up and he hyperextended his knee. It was a terrifying moment as Dion laid on the ground holding his knee. Thankfully, worst fears were never realized as Dion was shortly back up laughing with Kyrie. He was held out the rest of the game and for now his status is uncertain, but it seems as if the injury isn’t as bad as it initially looked like it could have been.

Other than that, this game was mostly a walk in the park against a severely struggling Sixers team. Offense, defense, transition…it was all clicking for the Cavs in this one and it’s a great way to keep building on the momentum as the Cavaliers hit the stretch run of the season. Before this game it would have been hard to believe that with Dion leaving the game in the second quarter with injury, Kyrie having a quiet but efficient 14 points and three assists in limited minutes, and Andy being out that the Cavaliers would coast to an easy 29-point victory, but that’s precisely what happened.

So lets get into the numbers… [Read more...]

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can use All Star Weekend as a springboard for second half

Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports

Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports

As Kyrie Irving held the All-Star Game MVP trophy above his head Sunday night in New Orleans, his confident smile seemed to give off a sense of relief. In what Kyrie himself has described as one of the toughest seasons of his career, going as far as to call it “a wake-up call,” you sort of got the sense that Kyrie needed this.

This season hasn’t been much fun for anyone associated with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In one of the worst seasons of basketball in the history of the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers somehow find themselves in 11th place in the conference with a 20-33 record. And it took a four-game win streak1 just to make the record look that good. There’s been fighting, poor play, “pouting,” confusion, insecurity, and a complete void of fun in the Cavs’ world.

But something seems to have changed in the past couple weeks. From the moment GM Chris Grant was fired, the team seemed to flip the proverbial switch. Young SG Dion Waiters has spoken openly about how he took Grant’s dismissal personally, taking accountability for his inconsistent if not poor play. But in the wake of one man’s loss, the team did something remarkable. They came together, they started winning some games, and above all else they started having fun. [Read more...]

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Footnotes:

  1. the first four-game win streak of the post-LeBron era, nonetheless []

Cavalier Film Room: A window into the Anthony Bennett skill set

When we were last in the film room, we took a look at the Cavaliers over-helping on three-point shots and the resulting consequences. As always, if you have any ideas for film room topics, contact me at kirk@waitingfornextyear.com. This week, we’re going to look no further than Anthony Bennett’s performance against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night and how it showed a preview of what Bennett can become as a player. You can find my NBA Draft film room on Bennett here.

WFNY Cavaliers Film Room

By now, you’ve seen the stat line: 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 6-of-9 shooting in 30 minutes to lead the Cavaliers’ to their third straight win at the time, a 109-99 victory over the Kings at home. It was much more than Bennett’s first career double-double, however. In this game, we saw a decent chunk of the skills and potential that made the now-terminated Chris Grant choose him with the first overall pick. We’re seeing a slimmer, more confident Bennett, and we’re going to take a look at a few of those instances. [Read more...]

Sports Illustrated redrafts the 2013 NBA Lottery

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

With the All-Star break fast approaching Rob Mahoney of the Point Forward on SI.com took a look back at the 2013 NBA draft and redrafted based on what we’ve seen so far this season.

Not surprisingly in Mahoney’s redraft the Cavaliers decided to go a different direction than much maligned Anthony Bennett, opting instead for a player many casual NBA fans are not familiar with. Mahoney doesn’t have Chris Grant selecting Victor Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, or Nerlens Noel with the top slot, but instead has the Cavs’ GM going with young and long Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo was selected by Milwaukee with the 15th pick in last year’s draft and has been a rare bright spot for the cellar dwelling Bucks.

Here’s what Mahoney had to say regarding Cleveland’s re-do at the top spot. [Read more...]

Cavs vs Pelicans Behind The Box Score: Are We There Yet?

BtBS PelicansAre we there yet? Have we hit rock bottom? Are we at the point of inevitable change? Is this season over yet?

The Cavaliers scored 29 points in the first quarter for the second straight game….and for the second straight game they followed that up with a whole lot of nothing. The Cavaliers offense is an absolute nightmare. And when things go bad on offense, they stop playing defense. And when you don’t play offense or defense you get crushed at home in consecutive games.

The Cavaliers went 1-4 on their homestretch after their successful west coast road trip, which is really the most Cavaliers thing ever. I’m not sure what else there really is to say, other than this is a really, really, really bad basketball team and we’re stuck with them for 3 more months. Buckle up! [Read more...]

Cavs vs Bulls Behind the Box Score–A Broken Team with No Solution

BtBS Bulls

The Cleveland Cavaliers endured their 5 game road trip and came back with a 3-2 record. It seemed like a real positive….a sign that perhaps this team was finally starting to figure things out and turn their season around.

Coming back home for a 5 game home stand against 5 very beatable teams, this was supposed to be the time the Cavaliers took control of their season and got themselves back into serious playoff contention.

That was the theory, but none of it was true. The Cavaliers once again showed their true colors in the first two games of this home stand. It’s time to face reality. This is a bad basketball team. Poorly constructed, poorly coached, and consistently giving poor effort. The stark contrast between the Cavs and the Bulls is palpable. The Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose to injury, just traded the heart and soul of their team to Cleveland, and were without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich…all they’ve done is continue to play tough defense, give great effort, and have won 6 of 8 since trading Deng and 12 of their last 16 overall. That’s what a basketball team with heart and determination does. [Read more...]

Cavs trade for Deng a win for the present, but a question for the future

Luol Deng

While many of us were sound asleep on Monday night, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was still hard at work. Glasses on, Grant was looking to capitalize on the flexibility he gave the team in structuring Andrew Bynum’s contract in a way that not only protected the team, but also served as a valuable trade item should Bynum not work out in Cleveland.

Needless to say, Andrew Bynum didn’t work out. So late Monday night, Grant finally found the trade partner he was looking for in the Chicago Bulls. At 12:54 am, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert officially welcomed Luol Deng to the team via Twitter.

[Read more...]

Cavs vs Magic Behind The Box Score: Undefeated in 2014!

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.

Anderson Varejao vs MagicThere are ugly games in the NBA. Teams have ugly wins. Then you have whatever this game was. With Kyrie Irving sitting out with a bruised left knee, the Cavaliers played one of the worst basketball games I have ever seen. Thankfully, they played the Orlando Magic.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the first 3.9 quarters of this game. Both teams took turns trying to out-lose each other, but in the final minute of the game, the Magic appeared to have a comfortable 79-70 lead. In the final minute, all kinds of crazy would break out.

Dion Waiters got things started by hitting a pair of FTs. After an Arron Afflalo miss, Jarrett Jack was fouled on a three-point attempt and would make all 3 free throws. Orlando would then get called for a 5 second violation trying to inbound the ball. Dion would make layup to bring the Cavs within two at 79-77 with 10 seconds left. The Cavs fouled E’Twaun Moore to send him to the line with 9 seconds left. Moore would miss both free throws and on the 2nd miss, the Magic knocked the ball out of bounds to give the ball back to the Cavs. Dion then completed a nice drive to the basket to tie the game with 0.6 seconds left and the game would go to overtime.

In overtime, the Magic could only manage 2 points, going scoreless over the final 3:19 of the game, and the Cavaliers pulled away to come up with an unexpected 87-81 win. For most of this game it felt like the Cavaliers were hitting rock bottom. It was offensive to the game of basketball, and it really said a lot about the construction of this team outside of Kyrie Irving. But credit to guys like Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova, and Dion Waiters who all made huge plays at different points and found a way to come up with a win.

Now let’s get into the mostly ugly numbers… [Read more...]

The Return of Mike Brown — WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2013: No. 3

If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and appearances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the ten biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.

Dan Gilbert Mike Brown

It was an unseasonably warm Cleveland evening on April 15, 2013. Naturally the opposing team’s nickname was the Heat. Within the  balmy circumstances there was a level of discomfort or unease for everyone in the building and watching on TV that night.

The Miami Heat came into The Q to play the Cleveland Cavaliers with absolutely nothing on the line for either team. The Heat wouldn’t even bother with dressing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, or Shane Battier. Juwan Howard was making his first start in three years for goodness sake. And yet with 13 seconds left in the game, there was Norris Cole standing at the free throw line with the Heat up by one point. [Read more...]

Cavs vs Blazers Behind The Box Score: Heartbreaker at The Q

Damian LillardThis will be one of those games that you remember. It’s one of those games where it’s hard to know whether to feel encouraged by the effort of the Cavaliers, or to feel crushed by the loss.

The Blazers lit up with some great shooting in the 2nd half, taking a late lead that looked insurmountable. But Kyrie Irving breathed some life back into the team by scoring nine points in 61 seconds off two three balls and an And-One, bringing the Cavs within two of the Blazers. After getting a big stop and a rebound, Kyrie drove to the lane, drawing a triple team. Irving made a great pass back to a cutting Anderson Varejao who tied the game with seven seconds left.

But then it was Damian Lillard time. Just two nights after hitting a game winner in overtime against the Pistons, Lillard went to his spot and nailed a crushing 30-footer with 0.4 seconds left. Kyrie tried to get off a 33-footer at the buzzer, but his shot just missed and the Blazers left The Q with a hard fought win.

That makes two games in a row the Cavaliers have gone toe-to-toe with a couple of the NBA’s absolute best teams, only to come up just short in the fourth quarter. It’s frustrating to be so close to winning these games only to come up empty handed, but it’s also extremely encouraging to see this team continue growing, showing better effort night in and night out, and just generally getting better. Hopefully these games eventually turn into some big wins.

Now lets get into the numbers: [Read more...]

Cavs vs Knicks Behind The Box Score: The Return of Kyrie Irving

BtBS KnicksThey 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.

Basketball is a game of runs. That was certainly the case in this game. The Cavaliers jumped out to an early 18-point lead, but in the 2nd quarter the Knicks came all the way back. In previous seasons the Cavaliers might have folded up, but in this game the team dug in and pushed the lead back to 18 in the second half. The Knicks would close to within 13 again in the fourth quarter, but Kyrie Irving went back to work and the Cavaliers put the Knicks away for good.

For Kyrie, this game was hopefully a breakout game for him. After struggling for most of this season, Kyrie found himself facing one of his favorite teams to play, and he took advantage. He looked aggressive early, attacking the rim, pushing the tempo and looking to keep the offense engaged. This was one of his better games on defense as well. Hopefully this isn’t a one night exception, but instead the start of Kyrie’s return to  All-Star form.

The Cavs have been an up and down team this year, but they find themselves now winners in four of their last five games and have really played pretty solid basketball in five of the last seven. It’s probably no coincidence that five of the last seven games have been at home, and sure, the Knicks are a struggling basketball team right now. But the Cavs still deserve credit for fighting to turn this season around. If they can ever figure out how to bring the same effort on the road, things will really start to turn around.  [Read more...]