A night after giving a subpar effort against the Charlotte Bobcats, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed up ready to play against the Indiana Pacers. Unfortunately, despite solid defense and effort, the Pacers pulled away in the fourth quarter and won by a final score of 89 to 74.
1st Quarter: After slow starts in the first two games of the season, the Cavaliers’ starters came out with aggression. The Cavaliers were aggressive on defense and were not afraid to attack the Pacers. After two lackluster games Anderson Varejao was able to get going with eight quick points, although he initially had trouble with Roy Hibbert’s length, allowing the Pacers’ center to essentially trade baskets with him. As the quarter and game went on, Varejao was able to contain Hibbert by denying him the entry passes he needs. This solid play allowed the Cavaliers to take an early 12-8 lead, but the Pacers went on a 9-2 run to take a 17-14 lead. In what became the theme for the night, the Cavaliers were unable to get inside and their jumpers were not falling. After a few miscommunications at the end of the quarter the Pacers went on another brief run to take a 21-16 lead.
2nd Quarter: The bench squad of Jarrett Jack, Tyler Zeller Alonzo Gee, C.J. Miles and Anthony Bennett started off the quarter and picked up where they left off with solid defense and horrid offense. While his shot wasn’t falling, Miles was active and so far looks to be the best among the Cavaliers’ three small forwards. Zeller looked solid on defense and did a nice job on Roy Hibbert, a player who consistently abused him last year. The Pacers are controlling the boards and Anthony Bennett looks just as lost as he did the first two games. When the starting unit begins to return, Zeller and Miles stay in along with Irving, Waiters, and Thompson. Waiters goes on the attack, and while is shooting percentage leaves a bit to be desired, he seems to be the only Cavalier willing to attack the Pacers at the basket. Unfortunately he also cannot by a call and his complaining to the refs earns him a technical foul. Kyrie Irving’s cold shooting continued tonight as well as he misses three free throws can’t seem to get anything to fall. Tristan Thompson is also scoreless at this point and isn’t attacking the rim at all. Waiters keeps the Cavaliers in the game, but Paul George is able to Waltz to the basket and the Pacers lead 43-37 at the half.
3rd Quarter: The second half starts with a dud as Irving turns the ball over, gets it back, and turns it over again. This train wreck of a sequence ends with a Paul George three. Earl Clark then shows a glimmer of hope on offense as he drives to the hoop and is sent to the foul line, where he converts both free throws. The Cavaliers are not moving the ball, and one of the few times they do, Varejao attempts to throw an alley-oop pass to Clark that is about eight feet too high. The Cavs are keeping up their effort, but their wasting possessions on offense and Indiana is not the kind of team you can do that against. The offense is almost devoid of passing and is coming off of individual efforts against arguably the best defensive team in the league. The lowlight of the quarter is a steal by Bennett which he follows up by badly missing the awkward layup/dunk he attempted. Bennett is now 0 for 12 for his career. The Cavalier have a decent finish to the quarter and are down seven going into the final stanza.
4th Quarter: The Pacers continue hammering at the Cavaliers and begin to pull away. Despite playing solid defense, the Cavaliers continue last year’s habit of being burned by the three-pointer. Indiana has been aggressive in shooting from deep and when Lance Stephenson connects with what seems like his 124th three of the evening, the Pacers have stretched the lead to 18. The Cavaliers try a three guard lineup with Irving, Waiters, and Jack to get the offense going, but the Pacers have put the game away at this point. Brown clears the bench and Indiana wins 89-74, dropping the Cavaliers to 1-2 on the season. The Cavaliers hold the Pacers to 41% shooting from the field, but only shoot 34% themselves.
Thoughts: This game showed how far the Cavaliers have to go to be true contenders. The Pacers are consistent in their defensive effort, have defined roles for each player, and don’t allow themselves to become frustrated when the game is not going their way. While the Pacers are not a great offensive team, the Cavaliers would be wise to watch how they use passing to create shots. The Pacers had 24 assists on 32 made field goals. The Cavaliers only had 11 assists on 29 made field goals.
While their offense is a concern, the Cavaliers are already better defensively this year than they have been at any point over the last three seasons. This will allow them to stay in games as they get their offense worked out. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter how good you are offensively if you can’t stop the other team from scoring. For the first time since LeBron James left, the Cavaliers have a chance to get stops.
Waiters is an erratic player with a shot selection that still leaves a lot to be desired. That being said, I’m starting to wonder what the referees have against him. Several times Dion was fouled on the way to the rim only for the refs to swallow their whistles. If he ever gets some calls to go his way, Dion might begin to attack the rim more often.
There’s no beating around the bush, Kyrie Irving is struggling right now. He hasn’t been able to get to the basket and is missing shots that he typically makes without trouble. Part of this is due to the aggressive defense he is seeing, but there’s no doubt that Irving is out of sorts. Considering his projection as a top ten player who seems ready to take the leap to superstardom this year, Irving’s play merits watching, if not concern.
Finally, the small forward position is a mess. After a solid first game, Alonzo Gee has been nonexistent the last two. Earl Clark had a solid rebounding night, but that was all he contributed. C.J. Miles has been the best of the bunch offensively and has played with great energy, but his defense has been somewhat inconsistent. While it is unlikely Chris Grant will make a panic trade after three games, it may be wise for him to begin to look around at low cost options who can contribute somewhat on offense while playing solid defense. There are plenty of solid players already available who could be had without disrupting the Cavaliers future plans.
The Cavaliers will undoubtedly learn from tonight’s loss and try to get back on the winning path when they host the Minnesota Timberwolves this Monday at the Q.