The Cavaliers didn’t play a great game against the Milwaukee Bucks, even though for a moment in the second quarter, while Kyrie was scoring 17 points, it looked damn pretty.
They moved the ball well much of the night on offense yet still seemed to settle for a lot of (admittedly open) three-pointers, yet still got to the line a lot as well. The defense was less impressive. Rotations were shoddy at times, and the Cavaliers allowed more dribble penetration than a low-quality diaper.
If this were a playoff dissertation, we’re not sure they were NBA Finals candidate material. Michael Carter Williams is not a great finisher though he does drive a lot (11.5/gm). Indeed of those who drive at least eight times/game, Williams has the second-worst FG% (41.9%) since joining Milwaukee. (He’s only fifth-worst overall.) Only Kemba Walker (41.2%) is a more futile high-volume driver.
Yet last night the Cavaliers allowed Williams to finish 9-12 at the rim, the better part of his 13-22, 30-point night. Two of his four baskets outside the lane occurred in the first couple minutes of the game. His ability to steadily attack the rack throughout the game kept the Bucks in the game and made us worried about the future.
The Cavaliers have allowed the fourth-highest FG% from within 5’ for the year, and a middling 12th-fewest attempts. It’s exacerbated by the fact that Mozgov is our main rim protection and he averages only about 24 minutes/game because of matchups, foul trouble and Tristan Thompson’s better pick & roll defense (67th percentile vs. 83rd) & perimeter defense (only +2.8% to opponents FG% defending from >15’ vs. T-Mo’s +7.6%)
On offense the Cavs looked pretty solid. Though they only got 23 assists, it was probably because they missed a lot of open jump shots. The Cavaliers shot 21-38 (55%) on contested shots (defender within 3.5’) but 15-36 (42%) on the open variety.
That includes sub 50% shooting on open shots by Kyrie (2-7), J.R. (3-7) and Love (3-7). Though they only had 23 assists, they had seven “assists” on shots that resulted in free throws and and seven more secondary assists. (Cavs rank 11th in secondary or “hockey” assists, i.e. the pass before the pass that garnered an assist.)
Bucks Make A Run
You can one of the issues of using T-Mo on Milwaukee’s first play out of a timeout after which they went on a 19-4 run to tie the game at 65. The Bucks run a baseline pick that essentially requires T-Mo to switch onto Kris Middleton which he was late to do.
Their rotations got sloppy or late. Here Love picks up a rolling Pachulia but Mozgov and James don’t switch back allowing J.R. Smith to rotate out to Dudley for the wide open three.
The Bucks didn’t hit this one, but followed it with a Carter-Williams three off an offensive rebound and a John Henson bucket that took advantage of shoddy transition defense prompting a Blatt timeout.
The Bucks then tied it on this play where it would appear LeBron’s slow weakside help is the culprit, allowing Pachulia to score and draw a foul that allowed the Bucks to tie the game at 65.
This was not the only time LeBron seemed to conserve energy by not rotating as this was surprisingly common occurrence we spotted at least four times. He’s a great player but he hasn’t been maintaining energy on defense all game and it’s hurting the team. Maybe a game or two off will help reenergize him on D.
Oh, Yeah. Victory.
In the fourth quarter the Cavaliers tightened up every facet of their game to come away with the victory. Playing a scrappy team like Milwaukee and their foe the next two games, the Boston Celtics, should be a good preparation because they’re the kind of less talented teams that get their victories by outhustling you. They’re a fine foil for a team that’s so good it doesn’t always have to hustle or maintain focus the entire game – though they’ve improved at both across the course of the season.
James’ offense carried the team in the fourth as he scored 10 points, grabbed three boarsd dished out three assists (in addition to a steal and a block shot) while playing the entire quarter with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. (Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson split the fourth at center with TT logging eight minutes, Kevin four.) The Knicks duo was 4-8 and accounted for nine point of the team’s 30 points, their best scoring quarter of the night. The team only committed two turnovers in the quarter after allowing 16 the other three periods.
Seven of their ten 4th quarter misses (2-9 from 3, 9-12 on 2s) were from three, offering reason to feel the team maybe shouldn’t have settled so frequently, though many of them were open. However this is a recurrent theme and too often late in the game the team seems content to take the open three – even if it features some nice ball movement as the fourth quarter did – rather than take it to the rack as Smith, Love and Shumpert need to continue to do.
It’s hard to be too excited about a game where the Cavs allow the opponent to shoot 50% and outscore them inside 52-36 (including 20-33 from less than 5’). However they did what was necessary, and if they’d maintained their defensive focus better, they might have been able to put this game away in the third. Instead they demonstrated feet of clay. Better keep those feet out of a good deluge or the Cavs won’t have a leg to stand on.
We spoke with a couple of Blatt’s former players and will let you hear what they say about his strategies and personality in tomorrow’s column. Also look for us on Twitter Friday covering the Boston game from the Q with commentary and live video.
As always you can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne and find my columns (nearly) every weekday and on weekends after a game in the Cleveland Scene blog. You can hear me every Monday around 10:45 a.m. as a guest of Michael James’ Defend Cleveland show on WRUW 91.1 You can find all my recent columns here
, and all my work at chrisparker.contently.com.