There is no doubt in my mind that not many will disagree with me when I say that the Cleveland Cavaliers (15-27, 10-10 home) are a disappointing team. Given offseason expectations and even the recent exchange of Andrew Bynum’s contract and some second-round picks for proven small forward Luol Deng, the Wine & Gold should already be at a point when games against a Chicago Bulls (21-20, 8-12 away) club that was without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich should be easy to chalk up in the left-hand column. You know where I’m going with this. Obviously that wasn’t the case for the Cavs on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as a scrub team of Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson and D.J. Augustin—backed by regular starter Joakim Noah—handled the Cavaliers suitably in the second half on their way to a 98-87 victory.
The last time these two teams met up at home, Andrew Bynum was still in the starting lineup and had one of the best games of his sad and short career with the Cavaliers and Cleveland came away with a victory. Since then, the Cavs were blown out in Chicago in a game that should have, again, been one that the Wine & Gold could handle pretty undoubtedly. So in their fourth and final meeting of the season, the Bulls made it over the .500 hump for the first time since Nov. 22, 2013 when they were 6-5 and had just lost Derrick Rose in a winning effort against the Portland Trail Blazers. While some may say that the Bulls aren’t doing a very good job at tanking, those on the Cleveland side of things are filled with thoughts of, “This team should start tanking, now.”
But nonetheless, the Cavs made a move for Deng that would improve their chances of propelling into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, but have played just average ball since (3-4), while the Bulls have sprinted to a mark of 7-2 since then. So against his old team, Deng shook hands with his old coaching staff and patted the backs of his previous teammates before tipoff and then pretty much disappeared for the remainder of the contest.
Cleveland started off the matchup in very Mike Brown-like fashion: very little offense, somewhat good defense. Kyrie Irving wasn’t able to get into any sort of groove offensively in the first frame, but Anderson Varejao was able to continue his impressive tear since entering the starting lineup without Bynum in the mix. Whether he has making head fakes in order to get to the hoop with trickery or making almost full-court passes to Deng, Wild Thing continued to prove that he can in fact put it all out on the floor for his team when healthy.
Following the sluggish first quarter was what we Clevelanders like to refer to as the “Uncle Drew Show.” Although Irving was having a hard time with shaking off Augustin—who finished with 27 points, seven assists and five rebounds on 8 of 14 shooting from the field—within the arc, Irving definitely found his stroke before the end of the first half. And by that I mean he hit five 3s—including three straight to break the Cavaliers’ scoring struggles to start off—to account for the final 15 points of the first half. This hot streak allowed Cleveland to jump out to a 44-43 lead heading into the final 24 minutes of play.
And the first 20 seconds of those 24 minutes saw that lead disappear for the remainder of the game from the Wine & Gold standpoint. Gibson, Augustin and Dunleavy were too much to handle for the Cleveland D, which is probably one of the saddest statements I’ve had to write as a journalist. And this was especially true for Irving’s defense of Augustin, who recorded 19 points and four assists in the second half. Irving’s defense somehow got worse than it was in the first half, and ultimately cost the Cavs in the end game.
Although this is one of the lowest points of Cleveland’s season in my opinion, the Cavaliers will go on to play another day. This matchup will once again come at home against the Milwaukee Bucks (8-33, 4-18 away) on Friday at the Q. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving – 26 points, six rebounds and five assists, while shooting 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from the field and 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) from three
As I mentioned many times in my recap and instant reaction, Kyrie was just awful on defense, and if I were to pick out something that cost Cleveland the game, it would be just that. There’s no point in me trying to praise Irving’s offensive performance, which was only above average in the final moments of the second quarter, so I’ll end this analysis with this: Kyrie doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star again, and tonight proved it.
SG C.J. Miles – Eight points, four rebounds and 20 minutes logged, while shooting 3 of 9 from the field and 2 of 4 from three
A pretty forgettable game for Mr. Miles, who has once again hit somewhat of a cold streak after being hot as lava just a couple weeks past. Usually I can back up a poor Miles’ shooting night with bragging about his hustle, but there weren’t any plays on defense that stood out to me to merit that boasting.
SF Luol Deng – 11 points, five rebounds and 40 minutes logged, while shooting 2 of 11 (18.2 percent) from the filed and 7 of 9 (77.8 percent) from the free throw line
The most invisible 40 minutes that I have seen from a player this season. What a disappointing game for Deng, with this being the first contest against the team he had spent his previous, and only, nine seasons with.
PF Tristan Thompson – Six points and seven rebounds, while shooting 3 of 14 (21.4 percent) from the field
Tristan was on his double-double game, and he had a perfect chance to extend the streak without Carlos Boozer in the lineup. But of course, the Cavaliers can never take advantage of a situation where they should blow another team out of the water.
C Anderson Varejao – 10 points, 11 rebounds (seven offensive) and five assists, while shooting 5 of 10 from the field
I gave Andy the Wine & Gold MVP in my instant reaction, and deservedly so. He the Cavaliers to make good on multiple second-chance opportunities, as displayed by his seven offensive rebounds. Even more so than Thompson, Andy has been on a tear of his own. He may not be as much as an offensive threat as TT has been, but he’s been destroying the boards as of lately and putting the Cavaliers in situations to win games. I love Wild Thing in the starting lineup.
SG Dion Waiters – 15 points and three assists, while shooting 6 of 13 (46.1 percent) from the field
There was a moment where I thought Dion was going to go off and save the Cavs from embarrassment, as he recorded 13 of his 15 points in the final frame. But his impressive offensive effort (he started 1 of 2 from the field to begin the final quarter, mind you) over the fourth quarter couldn’t bring back Cleveland against a cast of Chicago scrubs.
All I have to say is, what is Mike Brown defense?