Facing Injured Grizzlies, Cavs Lead With Their Jugular

click to enlarge What's Love Got To Do With It?
What's Love Got To Do With It?
What can you say about the Cleveland Cavaliers? Oh baby, they like it raw

Maybe we could nickname them the Widowmakers, because they’re hell on weak hearts and stomachs. Whatever GM David Griffin’s talents or faults he certainly struck nail with the observation “this team struggles with prosperity.” Dirk Diggler couldn’t have hammered it more flush.

So the additional disconcerting aspect to last night’s 106-103 loss to a Memphis Grizzlies team missing/resting four starters is: Anyone who’s watched the Cavaliers in any capacity for the last few months could’ve made mad bucks just following their instincts.

For the Cavs the phrase “visiting team’s ___ is resting” is very similar to “attendance is optional” or “take one please.”

After discovering that Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes, Mike Conley and Brandan Wright, along with Jordan Adams and the previous night’s starting center Chris “Birdman” Andersen would not be playing, well, you can imagine the scene in the locker room…. Let’s just say they relaxed.

Thankfully John Travolta was hanging around before the game to plunge the needle of adrenaline into their hearts or they wouldn’t have even made it out for warm-ups.

Calling their first quarter effort lackadaisical or indifferent does injustice to thousands of people working on road crews across the country.

From the way they played defense in the first quarter you’d almost swear they were on the nod. (A self-explanatory idiom if ever there were one.) That is if you weren’t suffering déjà vu from Saturday’s first quarter against the Celtics.

When Boo-Boos Attack

At first blush these dilapidated Grizzlies appeared more Boo-boo than Semi-Pro Dewey. We tweeted facetiously that this was JaMychal Green’s big opportunity, and wondered aloud if Love would tear him apart like Ian Curtis. Sadly it was just the opposite, as Green’s athleticism exposed Love as little more than a passing fancy. (He did get three assists, rim shot.)

Love finished with 14 points on 2-9 shooting, 10-10 at the line, 11 boards, a blocked shot and four turnovers. (The Big 3 had 15 between them.) Green finished with 16 on 6-13 shooting, 10 boards, 6 assists, four steals, three blocks and one turnover. Always nice when a three-time all-star gets outplayed by a guy two years younger with 7 prior career starts.

Whatever left the ex-Bruin in ruins, someone with the Cavs needs to call the CDC and ascertain whether it’s contagious. If Lue was supposed to be the antidote for Love’s underachievement under Blatt, he might want to reconsider the poison.

For all the promises of elbow touches and post-ups Love’s struggled worse than post-Justin Brittany. It’s been two weeks since he’s made even 40% of his shots in a game, and his statistics declined steadily over the last 20 games like a sack of potatoes going down a flight of stairs, or a Spears’ post-Oops career trajectory.
We won’t bandwagon with the Love bashers. He was always horribly miscast like Ronald Reagan (almost) as Casablanca’s recovering cynic Rick Blaine. Love’s skills don’t lend themselves to third option-hood the way J.R. Smith's do, and what he does add in outside scoring doesn’t always distinctly outweigh his “deficiencies.” (Often the closest he gets to “defense.”)

Yet last night with his 3-pointer still AWOL (1-12 over last four games), and his inside-the-arc shot less potent then Hedwig's Angry Inch, Love still managed 10 free throws. During the playoffs that’s valuable. (Amusingly, Love’s decline has been talked about so much since his arrival even a real decline like this hardly rates a story.)

We’ve come to see Love like John Goodman in a cheap suit. It’s a bad fit and all kinds of stuff’s lost over the edges, but there’s enough talent in the suit you want to forgive how god-awful he looks in it. It’s hard to deny though, sometimes it seems you’d be better served saving your faith for the Great Pumpkin.

When not turning Green into the second coming of the Matrix, the Cavs were allowing “Trick or Treat” Tony Allen to rent a condo at the rim. Allen earned the nickname for great athleticism and a decision-making process that’s Waiters-esque. He can typically be relied on for at least one boneheaded pass and unfathomably poor shot choice every game.

If Allen’s jumper were locked in a fallout shelter for 20 years with a smothering psycho and fed a steady diet of Heinz beans and episodes of Blossom, it wouldn’t be any more broken. It’s a designated hazard for low-flying fowl. This is common knowledge, and why Allen’s always invited to take midrange shots. Teams would comp his room and send him a bottle of Dom if it helped.

“Tony Allen, he struggles with shooting the ball, so I think a lot of times when you try and space and gap those guys [i.e. open space to invite a jumper] they tend to come out at you full speed and that puts a lot of pressure on you,” Lue said.

So naturally the Cavaliers went against the grain and turned Tony the Popgun into Speed Racer. Allen drove the lane so much last night, today he’s rotating his tires. Allen finished with 26 points on 11-17 shooting, a three, four assists, five steals, a block and two turnovers. No fool, Allen did all his damage going to the hole as his shot chart indicates.

“He got to the rim, converted on all his layups tonight,” said Irving. “[He] affected the game on the defensive end and was all over the place.”

Thrown for a Lue-p

While there’s plenty of competition, one of the most embarrassing things about the game is that Coach Tyronn Lue mentioned the challenge of not coming in over-confident during the pregame, after discovering several Grizzlies were sitting it out.

“It’s always dangerous because we tend to let our guard down,” Lue said, doing his best Magic Eight-Ball bit. “It’s going to be my job tonight to make sure that we don’t do that. We’ve done that a few times this year and every time their star or key guys sit out we tend to take a step backwards and kind of relax a little bit.”

Of course, as Lue notes, the team had this problem long before he took Blatt’s seat on the bench. While the subtext to his hiring was that it was what the team needed to get focus for the playoffs, Lue isn’t Adderall and this isn’t focus.

If Griffin’s goal in firing Blatt and installing Lue was to enhance the team’s inspirational twitter game, throw shade on Sasha Kaun’s thug skills, diminish Love’s game while putatively getting him the ball more, frown ineffectually upon the same type of inconsistent effort that’s plagued this team all season, in the process helping perpetuate a low-level hum of chaos*…. then call round the second-hand stores and look for a deal on used Mission Accomplished banners.

(*“We respond really well to a measure of chaos,” Griffin said, in explaining Blatt’s dismissal.)

We’re being overly facetious because we’ve never been particularly sold on Griffin’s rationale for the move in the first place. The relentless manner with which LeBron pushes this team isn’t going to birth a lot of Shiny Happy People, and who’s to say that’s wrong? (As a personal aside, our two best athletic coaches were overbearing dicks, who got the job done without much concern for niceties.)

That said, effective teams fight for each other as a unit. No doubt. But we also don’t believe the only road passes through Kumbaya City. Jordan engaged in fisticuffs with his teammates and was hardly universally adored in the locker room. (Hence the juiciness of Jordan Rules.) The Kobe/Shaq rivalry was for the ages. Could you imagine if they’d had Twitter back then?

Nor does it necessarily feel self-evident that if a team indulges a penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation during the regular season that they’re going to sneak into Marv Albert’s dressing room during the playoffs. The regular season are like those draggy exposition episodes of franchise series’, where they set up everything that’s going to happen in the next, far cooler episode.

Hell the Lakers beat the Warriors the other night. What does that tell you? Good help is hard to find?

“As professionals, you got to respect them. We're all in this league for a reason,” said James after the game.

Oh yeah, they say the right words. They should. They’re professionals.

“We just could have done a better job of respecting the game,” said Love, admitting that they perhaps wait to turn it on until the fourth. “We have a luxury of being able to turn it on, but it shouldn’t have to be like that.”

Like any professional, the Cavaliers know when the project isn’t due for another month, there are opportunities to fuck around a little (so long as you don’t go Full Manziel). Sue them.

The Game

We usually talk about the game higher in the piece, but in some sense what happened in the game is smaller than the idea of the game. Coming out so flat against an undermanned team featuring hungry reserves getting their moment – that just can’t happen, like showing up to an international flight without your passport. WTF? You know better than that!

Once the game started, it was apparent what was going to happen, and for three quarters the fans sat on their hands waiting to get excited. Oh, they cheered in spurts, mirroring the team’s play.

Every time they finally got stops on defense, they’d self-sabotage with stupid turnovers, starting to fastbreaks the other way. The last thing you want to give scrubs in the glare of the spotlight, are early easy baskets.

Suddenly Marion Chalmers (17 pts, 7 assists, 4 steals) and Lance Stephenson (17 pts, 7 reb., steal, block) reclaimed skills many had long forgotten they had. Like an equal opportunity employer, the Cavaliers always like to King some team’s back-up checker (Shelvin Mack, Justin Holiday, Kent Bazemore, the list is long…)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it was tied up about midway through the first at 11. The Grizzlies opened a small lead and built up their confidence with a strong close to the quarter on an 11-6 run to open an eight point lead. No worries. The Cavs have started slow before.

Indeed, almost as soon as the Cavs’ Minor Three came in, the tenor of the game changed. (Like a minor chord, the trio of Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson inspire menace and fear.) That trio (with Kyrie and Channing Frye) keyed a 7-0 run to pull within one. It remained close until two Love free throws pulled the Cavs within two, with five minutes left.

Over the next five minutes the Cavs were outscored by 16-9 as they committed six turnovers. In the second half, the Cavs sat Timofey Mozgov, who was sick with the flu and went to small ball lineups. They didn’t help that much, but nothing the Cavs did stopped the Grizzlies from penetrating like Charlie Rose.

“We couldn’t control the ball one-on-one off the dribble and they were in the paint all night,” said Lue, acknowledging the Grizzlies slight 54-52 lead in points in the paint.

They made little headway going down as much as 13 then cutting it back to eight going into the fourth. They pulled within four, then a 6-0 run including Stephenson and Allen layups pushed it back to 10.

Finally with just under seven minutes left, Kyrie Irving almost literally took the offense into his hands, sparking a 15-4 run to take the lead, 98-97 with 2:43 left. Irving scored 9 points during the stretch.

Then “Trick or Treat” Tony finally delivered his treat just when the Cavs needed it most – a hop back jumper – adding a double summersault to his freefall into the concrete. It barely hit the bottom of the rim.

The Cavs corralled the ball, and rather than ring the moneymaker during their comeback, Kyrie Irving, the Cavs “let” LeBron James take a contested 3 with 14 seconds on the clock. Maybe he thought it was the dagger, only to hear a leathery Aussie laugh, “You call that a knife?”
It probably didn’t escape Kyrie’s notice that while he was white hot in the fourth, once he led the team to its first lead in the game, LeBron took the next two possessions. We certainly noticed.

First LeBron took that nutty three and the next time down put on a Kyrie-esque display of over-dribbling that ended in a traveling.

It’s almost like the Cavs season is turning into Sartre's No Exit, with Kyrie and LeBron discovering they’re each other’s version of Hell. To LeBron, Ky’s the all-but-deaf young hot shot, while Ky maybe sees LeBron as an aging dude who’s basketball I.Q. is prone to moments of Alzheimer’s.

Tyronn Lue was far more diplomatic, suggesting, in a manner of speaking, that maybe LeBron was so frustrated he stopped trying (to drive the ball).

“The shot by LeBron – you don’t’ ever want to question a shot,” Lue said. “I think he thought because he wasn’t getting a lot of calls when he was driving to the basket, maybe he thought if he drove to the basket he wouldn’t get a call anyway.”

Is that like a heat check for defeatist NEO thinking?

Even so, the Cavaliers had a chance to win. Despite a technical foul call on Kevin Love for complaining about not getting a call. Tell us that wasn’t backordered a while ago! Delly also made a senseless foul off the ball. In the end Kyrie Irving still got off a three that could’ve sent it into overtime.

That’s how good this team is. They can commit 25 turnovers, resulting in 30 points for the opponents, allow them to shoot 48%, give up nine offensive boards and make repeated mental mistakes into the last minute of the game still have a chance to win. Their talent enables their indolence, and there seems to be little anybody can do to change that.

Fans can only hope a different environment (playoffs) does the trick.

Kobe & Shaq

Each new day watching the two Cavs superstars calls more to mind this ESPN Classic personality tussle. Just like in La-La land story, in a very real sense, however they feel about each other is really beside the point. They have a mission at hand. They need to work out some marching orders.

Playing LeBron in the small ball lineups seems to be an attempt to ape some of the activity Golden State gets with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry. It’s a solid plan and we’ve seen this action increasingly, not just with Kyrie, but running these 1/4 Pick-and-Rolls with Delly as well. They look really damn effective.
LeBron has commented that playing the four and rolling near the lane opens up the whole floor in a different way and really enables him to find the open man in a 180-degree arc. Kyrie acknowledged LeBron's ability to find weakside guys if teams try to flood the strongsdie, though we heard a tinge of snark in his reply about the play’s increasing frequency and effectiveness. We’re sure that’s just the fact that we’re overly cynical.

“Just having communication, and practices and our shootarounds me and Bron, knowing where he likes the ball and how deep he wants me to take it on the sideline, where he wants it … we’re going to continue to run it. When you play with a high basketball IQ mind like him, with time we’ll figure it out.”

Final Analysis

It’s very easy to read too much into this loss, as we alluded to earlier. The Cavaliers show up to every game with a target on their back, and have been inconsistent in handling that pressure.

“This team has not handled expectation well,” Griffin said in the aftermath of Lue’s appointment.

Not much has changed on that point. At times it feels like Senioritis. They just can’t wait for summer, and can’t be too bothered with classes.

That’s how teams come into town, get physical, and sort of unnerve the Cavs. It’s like they don’t always feel like matching the other team’s intensity, and in the back of their mind, they know it’s not the playoffs, so they’ll sort of bide their time and save their real effort until the fourth quarter.

“I just thought they were tougher than us tonight,” Lue said. “Situations like this where you play a team with a lot of players out – I’ve always learned a wounded animal is the most dangerous. They came out they competed. They played hard and they attacked us at every position.”

Or as LeBron repeated again last night, “It’s a learning process.”

Sure, we get that. The question is, are the Cavs learning disabled or just bored?

The Cavaliers hit the road for six of their next seven games, beginning with a back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday in Sacramento and Los Angeles. We’ll be following along with the broadcast, posting analysis, commentary and video from the game. You can follow us on Twitter @CRS_1ne and read our postgame analysis here in the Scene & Heard blog.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles


Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.