Cavaliers Fall To Celtics In A Cry For Help

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LeBron. Kyrie. Kevin. The rest of you fellas. We brought you here because we care. We want to see you succeed. Yet time after time we see you repeat the same mistakes, offer the same lame explanations, then self-sabotage again. It pains us to see you spiral backwards on the underside of a boulder like a cartoon Sisyphus.

We don’t want to meet your gaze when you say it doesn’t matter how many passes are made before a shot, despite evidence to the contrary. We try not to snicker when you call out your teammates for not playing defense, throwing rocks from within your glass house.

How can we not be disappointed when we see your potential, then witness inattentive failures like last night’s 104-103 home loss to the Boston Celtics. There was that early 15-point lead, a ten-point lead at the start of the fourth, and a four-point lead with seven seconds left. Gone quicker than a junkie's roommate’s stereo.

You say you want it, but do you really? How bad? Bad enough to play defense all game long? Do you remember when you talked about the Cavaliers making their identity their defense? Just another theory shot to shit?

Are you committed enough to give up on the ball-stopping, flow-damming, movement-obliterating one-on-one isolation plays for long enough to let some other people play offense and feel like they’re part of the team?

You do realize that people have seen an awful lot of high pick-and-roll over the last, say half-dozen years? We know you’re good, but is it possible that maybe you think you’re better than you really are? Because like credit scores, Synergy Pick-and-Roll percentiles change each year.

While it’s true the Golden State Warriors are the top team, they also run it the second least. The Cavaliers are middle of the pack in usage (18% of their plays) and effectiveness (48th percentile). Make more sense now getting into the open court (where team is (14th in usage, but #1 in effectiveness)?

We hear you object, but Kyrie (83rd percentile), LeBron (66th) and Delly (48th)? But are you confident that this rudimentary basketball play run by several very talented players can be effective time and again against teams that prepared and focused on stopping it?

Which would you rather attempt to stop, Golden State’s free-flowing ball movement or LeBron in a high pick-and-roll?

There’s still time to change your behavior, Cavaliers. That’s why we’re intervening now. The denial has to end, and so does the willfully self-destructive bouts of bad or indifferent basketball. Get up by ten points and watch them start taking bad shots and slack-off in transition. Bobby Knight would’ve broken three chairs by now.

The Cavs have turned into a bunch of frontrunners, who can’t enjoy their success because they slack right back into bad habits. We hear all that cliché crap about teamwork but on the court it seems more about individual glory than raising your teammates to another level. (Unless it’s possible to raise them up by glaring at them.)

This isn’t to question how much any of you care. If anything, it seems you often care too much. You’re tense, tight and more scared of failure than enthused by the possibility of success.

Indeed, if we didn’t know better, we’d take you for one of those recidivistic convicts who much get back inside because he just can’t take the outside world. We want to help you change that attitude before GM David Griffin decides you need a heart transplant and undertakes major surgery.

What the Hell Happened?

We understand that teams need to stay even keel and can’t get too high or too low, but we’re beginning to find ourselves a disconcerted with Coach Tyronn Lue’s explanations of losses. So far, one game was lost because the other team made shots, one game was lost because the Cavaliers missed shots (and didn’t rebound, like at all), and now a game’s been lost because of a series of inopportune circumstances, aka….

“It was the perfect storm (for Boston),” said Lue. “Things just went well for them down the stretch.”

We’re not the most knowledgeable basketball person in The Land, but we’re pretty sure there was more to it than that. What about the fact that the Cavaliers shot 8-30 (27%) from three-point land, while shooting nearly double that rate inside that arc (29-57, 51%). You don’t have to be a mathematician to feel like maybe the Cavs could’ve taken less 3s.

“Well, they do a good job of shrinking the floor. They’re a great defensive team so when you penetrate they do collapse and we kick it out for open shots,” said Lue. “I thought we had some good threes down the stretch. We were attacking the basket, we just didn’t get the threes to fall.”

Well, Coach, if you’re waiting for LeBron James (0-5) to start sticking threes, maybe we could get some chairs. James has missed his last 18 three point attempts. (Not like it stops him. James is apparently afflicted by the Gamblers Fallacy: He just thinks he’s due.) He’s shooting 12% over the last 12 games. During that time he’s taken 33 threes, and crapped out on most of them.

While the Cavaliers hit some threes down the stretch they also took some utterly worthless threes. But don’t take out word for it. There’s this shot with Isaiah Thomas challenging. There was a pick-and-roll with LeBron James but rather than drive Irving took the contested three with 16 seconds left on the clock.
With five minutes left and down one LeBron held for four seconds and took a long straight away three with 8 seconds on the clock which he also missed. (Earlier in the game on two occasions when he had Jared Sullinger and then Jonas Jerebko on him, rather than take the switched bigs to the hole, he settled for the 3 and bricked it.)
Then there was terrible three James bricked with 24 seconds left in the game, which is at least defensible as he was running down the clock. However, he waited so long to call the pick and then ultimately back away from it, almost ensuring a shitty shot. Really kind of unbelievable on a level. Then what he says after the game takes it to another level. This doesn't sound anything like accountability to us.

“I can care less what I shoot from three, it’s not my game,” said James, when asked about his 5 missed threes. “I’m going to continue to take them. I work on them if they go in fine, if not I’ll live in the paint.”

We’re already looking to set him up with a brownstone in the paint in hopes he never leaves. Of course, LeBron may say one thing, when it comes to shooting, but often does another. If James realizes this is a weakness why take almost four a game? To tie one hand behind his back?

“I’m not a three-point shooter,” he continued. “I never will be a three point shooter. If I shoot them well, fine but that doesn’t define my game.”

It’d be even better if the thing that doesn’t define his game didn’t take up so much of the team’s offense. We’re pretty sure Kevin Love would love those four wasted opportunities a game where James shoots threes.

Offensive Fouls and Bad D

But the bad fourth quarter went well beyond dumb 3s. Indeed, the Cavaliers raised their game after poor second and third quarters which netted a total of 41 points. The Cavs put 30 on the board, only to have the Celtics put up 39.

There were dumb offensive fouls like this play by Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving where they hark back to George Halas and the Flying Wedge locking arms to pummel Jonas Jerebko trying to track LeBron through a pick-and-roll. If sticking out your knee or arm is enough to elicit an offensive foul on a pick, how is a human clothesline going to go over?
Later they’d endure a 24-second clock violation. It was one of 14 turnovers in the game.

Perhaps the most galling plays of the quarter were those where the Cavaliers defense could make no effort at all to stop the ball. There was this play in the third where Thomas scored without James making a significant effort to stop him. Here’s hoping he hears about it in the film session because honestly, it’s disgraceful from a player of his caliber. Hell of any caliber.

It might have gone unremarked by us had Evan Turner not done the same thing. In fact we counted three layups at the rim right over James. We hope that stings, because it should. Fans should also feast their eyes on this, where LeBron lets Turner go by, presumably so he can block the shot, then can’t time it and allows the basket.

There were also bad, bad stupid switches on pick-and-rolls by everyone’s favorite power forward-turned point guard, Tristan Thompson. On the below play, two Celtics cross paths, which is enough pretext for Tristan to switch and stick J.R. Smith with his man, Jared Sullinger. The Celtic center’s ass is so huge it beeps when he backs up. Smith was powerless, like you or I against Ghostbusters’ Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Later on a pick-and-roll situation involved Tristan and LeBron, the communication’s not much better than between George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

Somebody should be covering the ballhandler and roll man but instead they split the difference and covered neither.
For all the glaring LeBron did at Thompson, we have to believe at least half of his fuminations were self-inflicted.

Blame Game

In a one-point loss you can blame any number of things. The Cavs shot 10 more free throws than the Celtics but made the same number, shooting 60%.

They were outrebounded by two, frequently allowing a pretty mediocre shooting Celtic team extra opportunity, especially on offensive rebounds kicked out to the perimeter for threes. That’s how the Celtics cut the lead from five to two in the final minute, as Sullinger cleared a rebound to Jae Crowder at the arc.

Obviously the foul called on J.R. Smith on the Evan Turner lay-in was huge and very questionable, but even then they should’ve snared the rebound that bounced away out-of-bounds. Even then there was just 4 seconds on the clock yet the Celtics had time to drive and dish, even though the Cavs knew the only thing that could beat them was a three. On the winning shot Shumpert got picked chasing Avery Bradley slowing his pursuit enough to create an opening.

Beyond that there were the 48 paint points yielded to a team that scores most of its points out of the backcourt. That’s a symptom of the Cavaliers poor entry defense which allowed opponents to break them down again and again. While Tristan held the Celtics to 5-13 on their rim attacks the Cavs as a whole were much worse, allowing 20-38 (53%) at the rim. Cleveland was only 13-28, and one reason their paint points were less than Boston’s.

What’s crazy is that the Cavaliers started so strongly. They broke out to a 14-2 lead by doing what they’ve been promising to do – move the ball and people. For the first quarter they played like the team they’re capable of being, thanks to plays like this.
The Cavs hit three of their first four threes (then went 5-26 the rest of the way). Kevin Love was a big part of the early gameplan, as the ball went into him in the post early and often throughout the first.

Love played the whole quarter (just like LeBron), and scored 8 points and had 2 assists, as well as a blocked shot. (LeBron also had 8 first quarter points.) Love would only score once more all night, and would leave in the third with a bruised thigh.

The second quarter started well enough. The Cavs took a 45-31 lead on J.R. Smith’s second three-pointer with just over six minutes left. Not sure why, but the return of Love and James seemed to stall the offense. Love, James, Shumpert and Thompson all missed layups or point blank shots and the Cavaliers shot 2-4 from line, as they were outscored 12-4 over the final six minutes. The Cavs shot 1-11 during this time, entering halftime with a six-point lead.

Just like the second quarter, the Celtics opened the third with a run outscoring the Cavs 11-2 to take a three-point lead. The Cavs bounced back to take an eight points lead going into the fourth.

“It’s not about the win or loss it’s about how we lost,” said James. “It’s how we lost; it hurts. It’s been a while since I felt like this. You can’t hang this on the refs. You can’t hang it on the coaching staff. They put us in position to win. That’s on us we have to win that game.

Final Analysis

It was just the kind of game we’ve come to expect from the Cavaliers in recent days. Whatever consistency they developed in the first three months of the season fades in an out like John Travolta’s career. One moment they’re Pulp Fiction, the next they’re Battlefield Earth.

They offer all this talk about tempo and ball movement, talk about how dedicated they are to making this change, then fail to run offense for quarters at a time. They’re not as frustrating as pharma bro Martin Shkreli’s very existence, but when they play hard until they get a double-digit lead and give it all away, you’d easily slap’em both if you could do it with the same swing.

We do believe that Cavaliers nation will probably over-react to this loss, which is fine, since there’s another game tonight and if this team aren’t complete dogs, they’ll beat Anthony Davis and the under-performing Pelicans.

With the Kings and Lakers lying just beyond the horizon at the beginning and middle of the week before the all-star break, it could be very easy to forget these two losses (which could very easily be three in a row had the OT victory over Indiana fallen a little differently).

Right now the Cavaliers are a dreadfully inconsistent team that is still trying to find itself as a basketball team. If David Griffin felt they lacked a personality before he fired Blatt, they are even farther away from that now. Maybe this tempo thing will work out, but it won’t be of any use if they give more away on defense than they make on offense.

Certainly from our vantage is seems the energy spent on offense comes from the defensive end. If so, perhaps Coach Lue would consider extending his bench. He’s only gone really eight-deep (if you excuse the 6 minutes Mo Williams saw action), and this, even in a game where Kevin Love was injured in the third quarter.

We like that Timofey Mozgov and Richard Jefferson got solid additional burn, but we can’t help but notice that Shumpert (34), J.R. Smith (33), Thompson (32), James (38) and Irving (37.5) all played in excess of 32 minutes with another game tonight. The Pelicans had the night off so they’ll be rested, which would seem to put undue pressure on the team now, to bounce-back, and probably without Kevin Love available.

When you play your guys a lot of minutes like Coach Lue is, you’re rolling the dice on injuries, which under the circumstances is the last thing you want to do. We suspect Lue is trying to build up their stamina and create chemistry but they often look tired and anything but crisp, especially in the second half.

Perhaps Lue doesn’t have the stones just yet to challenge the predominance of pick-and-roll, but we only saw a handful of plays the whole second half and very little offense outside the pick-and-roll. If what really matters is progress and not wins and losses, as James has said, why the hell are they not working on the offense? We’re pretty confident they don’t need to hone their pick-and-roll play.

“They took it form us. You have to give them credit. They wanted it more they made the plays they’re supposed to make. We had our chances and our guys just didn’t execute and perform,” said James Jones after the game. “At the end of the day these guys have to be expected to do the things that this team needs to do for us to win and we haven’t been getting that.”

Austin Carr blamed the team’s mental focus, but Jones thinks it’s something else.

“I wouldn’t say mental focus, I’d say desire, the desire to perform and execute with urgency,” he said. “This is a group that has always had to play and which thrives under pressure, when we’re down. But we struggle to deal with success and to play at a high level once we’ve had some success. At the end of the day it’s a desire to be on point every single possession and right now guys just aren’t exhibiting that.”

The Cavaliers get a chance to end the two-game losing streak tonight against the New Orleans Pelicans. They’ve lost three in a row, but had won 7 of 9 before that, and are slowly getting healthier. Still they’ve only won 37% of their games. The Cavaliers need to roll, though keep an eye on Ryan Anderson, who’s lit them up before from off the bench.

We’ll be at the Q posting video, analysis and snark. Follow along on Twitter at CRS_1ne, and read our postgame column on Sunday morning.
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