The Cleveland Cavaliers (10-17, 8-5 home) delivered an early Christmas “present” for Wine & Gold fans at Quicken Loans Arena on Monday night. On the eve of Christmas Eve, the Cavs put up lumps of coal in the air, resulting in a plethora of bricked shots and a 27.5 shooting percentage from the field in the first half against the Detroit Pistons (14-6, 8-6 away). Trailing by 18 points at the mid-way buzzer, it seemed as if the Cavs were finished. Despite a third quarter surge led by power forward Tristan Thompson, who scored 10 of his 17 points in the third frame, that cut the Detroit lead to 10 points three minutes into the frame, this small ball of energy conjured up by the Cavs didn’t last for long.
The Cavaliers suffered their worst home loss—third-worst loss overall—of the 2013-14 season to the Pistons, who dominated and pestered the Cleveland bigs ad nauseam. The San Antonio Spurs handed Cleveland their largest loss of the season (30 points) on the road earlier this season, but also pounded the Cavs at home on April 3, 2012. The aforementioned date was the last time Cleveland suffered a loss in the Q greater than the 23-point drubbing they took Monday against Detroit by a tally of 115-92.
“Our sense of urgency the last two ball games has been nonexistent,” head coach Mike Brown said postgame. “I know the physicality is not there, and the sense of urgency from us as a team defensively is not there.”
The very early success that Cleveland had with attacking the lane and the three-point shooting from point guard Kyrie Irving allowed the Cavs to jump out to a 10-8 five minutes into the game. From this point on the Wine & Gold never held another lead over the final 43 minutes and weren’t even close to regaining the advantage past the 10-minute mark in the second quarter. They were down double digits from then on.
“I thought we had a lot of good looks in the first half,” Brown said. “The one thing we didn’t do is we didn’t attack the rim. We settled.”
Open looks from the likes Alonzo Gee (and from what spot on the court, you ask?) and Earl Clark—who combined to shoot 2 of 9 from three in the first half on mostly open shots—resulted in multiple clanks and clunks. To put it quite frankly, it was ugly.
How could it get any fouler? Well, just take a look at the performance of center Andrew Bynum in the first half. The Cleveland big shot 0 of 9 from the field (!!!) and tried everything from the floor in an attempt to just get something to land. Mid-rangers weren’t working and back-down turnarounds failed, but, as Brown mentioned above, Cavaliers like Bynum went away from attacking the rim, but not in a panicky effort. In fact, it looked like most guys dressed in Wine & Gold Monday night were already at their homes for Christmas, completely unfocused on the game Monday night. Irving looked to be the only player dressed to play against the Pistons who, as always, gave the Cavs some sort of semblance on offense. Despite not playing one minute in the fourth quarter, Irving finished 7 of 14 from the field for 21 points.
Now look at the stat line from Josh Smith—who had his way all night long in the paint (his strong suit) against the likes of Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Bynum (who have been letting players have their way at the rim all year long)—in the first half: 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, while shooting 57.1 percent from the field on 14 shots. Smoove ended up tallying 25 points and eight rebounds on 10 of 18 shooting from the field.
How did this happen and why couldn’t the Cavaliers replicate what was working for Detroit? Well, it starts with ball movement. The Pistons pushed the ball around until they found a high-percentage shot, assisting on 13 of their 22 first-half shots (59.1 percent). The Cavaliers, on the other hand, only tallied five assists for their 14 makes in the same time span (35.7 percent). Add in the fact that only six of those makes came in the paint, and there’s your answer as to why Cleveland couldn’t keep up with the Pistons to save their lives.
“The way we’re defending—and at times some of our turnovers—I have no answer for it right now,” Brown said. “It’s not a product of crashing the boards; it’s a product of boxing out. And that’s that sense of urgency that I’m talking about.”
To start the second half, shooting guard C.J. Miles and Thompson were the only ones who fit the bill for the “sense of urgency” Brown was looking for. Although Miles started out the game 0 of 4 from the field, an emphatic dunk with just over five minutes to go in the third quarter followed by a nice floater from Thompson cut the Detroit lead down to 11. From that point on, the Pistons went on a 21-7 (!!!) run to end the quarter.
The game became out of reach, as the scrubs were sent in the finish the final 12 minutes of play.
“Our guys aren’t even close. We don’t even attempt to run with them,” Brown said. “That’s the type of stuff that I’m concerned about.”
Cleveland will have two days to think about and dissect what happened against Detroit before the Atlanta Hawks visit the Q for a Thursday night tilt. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I’m going to keep moving pieces and searching until I feel like I have a group of guys that are going to consistently play at a high level defensively,” Brown said. “We haven’t seen that in a while.”
PG Kyrie Irving – 21 points and seven assists, while shooting 7 of 14 from the field, 3 of 6 from three and 4 of 4 from the free throw line
As stated above, Kyrie was the only Cavalier starter who gave offensive effort from start to finish against the Pistons. There’s only so much this man can focus in on throughout the course of the game, and this becomes extremely tough when his supporting cast is, well, not supporting him. While other guys were getting wide-open looks, Irving was either driving to the rim or making good on contested three-point attempts. The lack of concentration from the starting core Monday is a sad sight to see, especially when Kyrie is on like he was against the Pistons (6 of 11 from the field in the first half).
SG C.J. Miles – Six points and three rebounds, while shooting 2 of 9 (22.2 percent) from the field and 1 of 6 (16.7 percent) from three
I was going to write a somewhat scathing review of Miles tonight, but for this, I wont:
This is Miles at the Q working on his shot after the game. I’ve always seen Miles as a hard worker, but this is physical proof. Miles wants to get better and he wants to be an important cog in the Cavaliers rotation. This made my trek back home not that bitter. Thanks, C.J.
SF Alonzo Gee – Seven points and four rebounds, while shooting 2 of 5 from the field and 1 of 4 from three
Awful. Just awful. The Cavaliers absolutely need to make a trade for a competent 3, or they have no chance at making any sort of run to the playoffs. I don’t want to hear about his influence on Cleveland’s defense or how he helps out Kyrie when he can’t or doesn’t pick up an assignment. It doesn’t matter. He’s taking shots that he clearly can’t make (corner threes) and is hindering the Cavaliers when they’re attempting to overcome early deficits. Brown has to see through his value on defense and make a change for the better. Unfortunately, that change doesn’t exist on the roster at the moment.
PF Tristan Thompson – 17 points and six rebounds, while shooting 6 of 10 from the field and 5 of 9 (55.6 percent) from the free throw line
TT was nowhere to be seen in the first half. Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond made Thompson look like a D-Leaguer for most of the game. This has been the case with most dominant bigs this season, and if Tristan wants to be deemed as a threat down low in the Eastern Conference, these are the types of matchups he needs to bring it 100 percent. That wasn’t there Monday night, but because Bynum downplayed Thompson’s performance on the court due to the center’s tumultuous night, Thompson’s bad first half wasn’t that noticeable.
C Andrew Bynum – Zero points and seven rebounds, while shooting 0 of 11 from the field
Yep. It was that bad. It was so bad that Bynum rushed off the court as soon as the game was over and was probably in his car on his way home before his teammates entered the locker room. But he should be embarrassed. Almost every one of his nine first-half misses hit the front of the rim. It was a travesty to watch, so I can only imagine what is going through Bynum’s head right now.
C Tyler Zeller — 13 points and four rebounds in almost 14 minutes of play, while shooting 6 of 7 (85.7 percent) from the field
Even though Zeller played mostly garbage minutes, I want to see more of him. He deserves it, and I hate seeing him melt away on the bench. He looks miserable, because he knows he should be getting playing time behind guys who just aren’t molding with the chemistry of this team’s core. There’s no reason Bynum should be out there long enough to miss all 11 of his shots. Because of that, I’m starting the #FreeTylerZeller trend. Please hop on board.
I had the chance to attend this game as a member of the media. Here are some quotes that didn’t flow with my game recap, but were notable. Included below is a video clip of the press conference:
Brown on the absence of Dion Waiters over the past three games:
“It’s been tough for the second group. You want Dion out on the floor, obviously, but I don’t want him out on the floor until he’s completely healthy. He makes the game so much easier for everybody else.”
Brown on what he will do to fix the rebounding issues the Cavaliers have been experiencing:
“Our guards aren’t doing a good job at rebounding the elbow and the free throw line area. We’re going to keep penalizing guys in practice that don’t box out…and give up offensive rebounds.”
Brown on what the team is struggling with the most during this tough stretch:
“The mental approach is probably tougher than the physical approach.”
Brown on the recent efforts put forth by the Wine & Gold:
“If they got any pride at all, you’re going to come out and you’re going to try and fight.”
Brown on why the Cavaliers couldn’t inch closer to the Pistons in the third quarter:
“I think we had three straight turnovers that were, I think they were unforced. Just us being sloppy with the basketball. Not understanding how important a possession is.”