Coming off one of their best performances of the year against the Denver Nuggets, it appeared as if the Cleveland Cavaliers were finally starting to turn the corner as a team. Sure, Kyrie Irving was still struggling (as he was 9-19 from the field against an at best average defense) and issues existed the entire offense, but it was a team win that encompassed everything this team has the potential to be. But, as the Cavaliers fans have come to expect, the Wine & Gold fell to a superior team, as they fell to the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 108-89.
Dion Waiters lead the Cavaliers with 30 points on 20 shots off the bench, while Andrew Bynum added 20 points on 27 minutes on 9-14 minutes. Kyrie Irving finished with zero points on 0-9 shooting from the field (including 0-3 from behind the arc) and 0-3 from the free throw line. Al Horford led the Hawks with 22 points, while Paul Millsap added 16 points and 14 rebounds. Kyle Korver also set an NBA record, as he hit a three-pointer in his 90th straight game.
Once again – in a vivid flashback to the San Antonio Spurs game and the Boston Celtics game - the Cavaliers fell behind in the first quarter, as their opponent got hot from the field early and then Cleveland simply wasn’t able to answer. In the first quarter, Cleveland shot 30.4 percent front the field and 20 percent from behind the arc, respectively. And in comparison, the Hawks shot an absurd 60 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from behind the arc. In the end, as Atlanta outscored the Cavaliers by 17 in the opening frame, the game was essentially already over. Even though the Cavaliers rallied behind a great Waiters performance, and were actually only outscored by two points across the final two periods, they simply could not overcome yet another horrible opening frame.
For the Cavaliers to come back and even make this game close, they needed Irving to at least score buckets and take some of the pressure off Waiters. They needed to force turnovers – thus disrupting Atlanta’s excellent ball movement – and to get out and run in transition. But with Irving a nonexistent chess piece – and a large numbers of the Hawks’ turnovers of the unforced variety – the Cavaliers were unable to get out in transition and simply could not score.
It’s telling that the Cavaliers only scored half of their baskets based off of assists. It’s telling of their offense right now, which is heavily reliant on isolation and not much else. And when their best isolation player – Irving – can’t get it going, it tends to be a long night for the Wine & Gold. And this serves as yet another sad example of how far the Cavaliers have to go before performances like against the Nuggets become a regular occurrence.
PG Kyrie Irving – zero points, 0-9 shooting, 0-3 from three, 0-3 from the line
By far Kyrie’s worst game of the season. He actually could learn something from Waiters, as Irving’s shots were largely inefficient jumpers. He needs to get back to attacking the rim, getting the free throw line and then taking threes when they are actually open.
Let’s hope he rises to the occasion tomorrow, as he’ll be playing against Chris Paul – who just happens to be the premier point guard in the NBA and is as good as a defender on and off the ball that exists today.
SG C.J. Miles – 1-8 shooting, 1-4 from three, three points
Miles was such a catalyst earlier in the season and, since his calf injury, he just hasn’t been the same. How much longer will he continue to start if he continues to struggle shooting, especially from deep?
SF Alonzo Gee – 11 minutes, 0-2 shooting, 0 points
Gee maximizes his impact when he plays defense hits threes from the corner in the flow of the game . He did neither tonight, as he struggled (with everyone else) to deal with the Hawks’ fantastic ball movement. And considering he played 11 minutes and Earl Clark played six, who the hell was playing small forward?
PF Tristan Thompson – +/- of -20, 4-9 shooting, nine points, 11 rebounds (eight on defense, three on offense)
Thompson – coming off a crazy good game against Kenneth Faried and the rest of the Denver front court – struggled heavily against Millsap. This was another Thompson performance where his stats indicate that he had an okay game, but actual made little-to-no impact. He had the lowest +/- on the roster as well. These are the types of game that are frustrating when trying to evaluate a player with such obvious upside.
C Andrew Bynum – 27 minutes, 9-14 shooting, 2-7 from the free throw line, 20 points, 13 rebounds
Statistically, this was another good game from Bynum. But I have to question why he’s in the game when the Cavaliers get down and fall behind. He cannot play the uptempo style necessary to make a quick run, thus bogging down a roster that is otherwise suited to play in space.
Still, when he is in the game in appropriate situations, there is no doubt that Bynum impacts the game. It’s not all positive, but there’s no doubt of his importance.
BENCH STAR: Dion Waiters
Skip to 2:40 of the video below.
Think about this stat for second: Dion Waiters has six 20-point games this season. Two of them came when he was still starting, meaning four of them have come since he has moved to the bench. He would probably (no, certainty) disagree but it appears as if Waiters is more comfortable in this role, the same one he had when he was at Syracuse. He comes in, is aggressive and can really carry the Cavaliers offense when asked to.
Granted, there are still some issues with Waiters. We still don’t know how well Irving and Waiters will coexist in extended minutes together and his shot selection still could be improved. (For instance, Waiters took a contested three when he could have pump faked, got his defender to bite and drove the lane (where had a large amount of success tonight). If we can figure this all out, we could be watching Waiters’ emergence.
This was an atypical Mike Brown coaching performance. He stuck with the same lineups, stuck with Bynum, etc. And for a coach, he couldn’t formulate a plan that amped up the aggressiveness and at least attempted to disrupt Atlanta’s flow. In now way shape or form was his job acceptable tonight.
One thing I did like: Brown’s call to sit Irving the entire fourth. The game was out of reach, he had played horrible and there was nothing left to gain from him staying in the game. And, if anything, maybe it will fire up Irving and get him going before his matchup with the league’s best point guard tomorrow night. Maybe that 12-plus minutes of stewing and watching his team lose another blowout will finally wake the Cavaliers star up from his slumber. And, if so, it can’t come soon enough.