(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
It was a rough weekend for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they dropped both of their games Friday and Saturday night.
The Cavaliers showed us two very different types of losses, though. Friday night against Chicago was a reprise of the song we heard so many times last season. The Cavaliers fell behind by 16 in the first quarter and never really appeared too interested in playing and fighting back.
Here’s an example of how bad things were Friday night. With 4:41 left in the 1st, Kyrie Irving hit a 10 foot jumper to pull the Cavaliers to a 19-15 deficit. Here’s how the remaining first quarter possessions for the Cavaliers went:
“Kyrie Irving bad pass. Tyler Zeller shooting foul. Alonzo Gee illegal screen turnover. Kyrie Irving misses 20-foot jumper. Anderson Varejao defensive rebound. Tyler Zeller misses jumper. Kyrie Irving shooting foul. Kyrie Irving bad pass (Joakim Noah steals). CJ Miles misses step back jumpshot. Tyler Zeller offensive rebound. Tyler Zeller makes free throw 1 of 2. Tyler Zeller misses free throw 2 of 2. Kyrie Irving misses 26-foot three point jumper. Tyler Zeller loose ball foul. Tyler Zeller offensive foul. Tyler Zeller turnover. Luke Walton misses 12-foot jumper. Samardo Samuels defensive rebound. Kyrie Irving misses 12-foot two point shot.”
So there you have it. In the final 4:41 of the first quarter, the Cavaliers got 0 FGs, 1 point, 4 turnovers, 4 fouls, and the Bulls stretched the lead to 32-16. In the preview, I wrote that I thought the Cavaliers bench could hang with the Bulls bench. I was dead wrong. By the time Kyrie Irving returned, the Bulls’ lead had stretched to 43-22. Things wouldn’t be any better with Irving’s return, though, as the Bulls went into halftime with a 60-35 lead. The Cavaliers weren’t competitive in this one, and it just instantly brought back many of my questions and concerns about Byron Scott. In Game 2. Not a good sign. But I refuse to dwell on any questions or concerns this early in the season, so lets just move on.
Saturday’s loss was a different loss. This one was a crushing heartbreaker. The Cavaliers came out strong on the road with an inspired effort. This time, with 4 minutes left in the first quarter, the Cavaliers lead 22-10. By the time Kyrie left the game with 2 minutes left, the lead was at 22-17. By the end of the first quarter, the lead was down to 27-23. By the time Kyrie returned to the floor, the Cavaliers were trailing 37-27.
Yes, that’s right, the Cavaliers failed to score a single point while Kyrie rested. Not a good sign. But to the Cavaliers’ credit, they fought their way back. By the end of the 3rd quarter, they had a 3 point lead again. Things would turn south in the 4th quarter again, though, as the Bucks took a 7 point lead with just 1:37 left in the game.
Kyrie Irving would take over the game, though, and the Cavaliers defense did just enough to put this game into what seemed like certain overtime. Kyrie Irving proceeded to do what he does best in the 4th quarter, securing two layups and 3 free throws to tie the game at 102-102 with 0.7 seconds left. Unfortunately, Brandon Jennings hit an amazing 3 pointer on the ensuing inbounds play to give the Bucks the 3 point loss.
That loss hurt, but it was the type of loss you can live with for now. I think Byron Scott learned a few things about his team in that game. In the first half we saw the wholesale line change style substitutions that have plagued this team for much of last season and now so far this early season. The Cavaliers simply cannot afford to not have at least one starter on the court at all times.
He also learned that Luke Walton is adding literally nothing to this team. Perhaps there’s some form of leadership that we can’t perceive from our armchair QB thrones, but it’s clearly not enough to counter the negatives of playing him. I wish I could remember who said it on Twitter Saturday night (sincerest apologies to forgetting who to credit for this), but Luke Walton is hitting the Wally Szczerbiak Zone where the moment he comes into the game, opposing teams are running plays directly at him non stop because they know there’s nothing Walton can do to stop it. It’s a problem.
In the 2nd half, Coach Scott finally made some adjustments. He made sure the Cavaliers always had at least one starter in. He also kept Luke Walton glued to the bench. The difference was palpable as the bench play in the 2nd half managed to tread water rather than drown, and it gave the Cavaliers every opportunity to win this game. Failed execution in the latter part of the 2nd half (with the starters in, mind you) and a miracle shot is what killed the Cavaliers.
So now the Cavaliers continue this road trip in Los Angeles tonight to face the Clippers. The Cavaliers have owned the Clippers both on the court (won 10 of the last 11 games) and off it (Mo Williams trade that yielded Kyrie Irving to the Cavaliers) in recent years. But boy does this matchup look rough.
After missing out on John Wall and Derrick Rose so far this season, the Cavaliers won’t be so lucky with Chris Paul. Fans should be excited, though, as we have our first marquee matchup of the season for Kyrie Irving 1 . The Irving-CP3 matchup will be the prime time focus of this game, and it will be fun to see how Kyrie fares. It’s a measuring stick matchup that will allow us to gauge (within reason) how far Kyrie’s game has grown.
The Cavaliers will have their problems with this matchup, though. Blake Griffin has absolutely destroyed the Cavaliers in the past. Is Tristan Thompson ready to change that? Jamal Crawford is playing out of his mind off the bench. The early season shoo-in for 6th man of the year is 5th in the league at 25.7 ppg. Because Crawford is coming off the bench, Daniel Gibson will likely have to spend a lot of minutes in the first half especially defending Crawford.
The Cavaliers have had their early season offensive issues. They are 21st in Efficiency. Despite being 11th in Extra Scoring Chances per Game, they are still 22nd in scoring (94.0 points per game). The Cavaliers turn the ball over in 18.4% of their possessions. Their bench efficiency differential is dead last at -38.0. In order to win a tough road game in LA, some things are going to have to change.
The biggest thing for me is the Cavaliers need to be a little more patient and controlled on offense. I know Byron Scott preaches up-tempo, and that’s fine. But up-tempo shouldn’t mean forcing the issue, trying to make passes into lanes that aren’t there, or bowling into stationary defenders picking up cheap offensive fouls.
It’s early. It’s hard to read too much into Xs and Os this early in the season. The only thing we know is that the Clippers should be a good team this year, and the Cavaliers are still a work in progress. You hate to be saying you just want to see improvement when it’s the 4th game of the year, but that’s what I’m looking for in this game. The Cavaliers can’t revert back to what happened at home Friday night against Chicago. Those types of performances should be inexcusable for this team and this coach. You can live with a loss when the effort is there. A win in LA would be great, but if it’s going to be a loss, lets at least hope it’s a Milwaukee type loss more so than a Chicago type loss.
no disrespect to Brandon Jennings, a player I really like, but he’s not Chris Paul