The Cleveland Cavaliers (16-29, 11-12 home) found a way Tuesday night to continue their declension down the Eastern Conference ranks by falling to the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans (19-25, 9-14 away) at Quicken Loans Arena, 100-89. It was an affair that started off in Cleveland’s favor, and then quickly went south by the halfway point of the second quarter. The Wine & Gold, yet again, let another team that they should have at least fought resiliently against look like the cream of the NBA crop, and they were even without two of their top four scorers in Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday.
Things started to unwind halfway through the second quarter, when the Pelicans began their 14-0 run to bury the Cavaliers for good. Led by potential All-Star Anthony Davis, New Orleans held Cleveland scoreless for five-plus minutes, while the Cavs missed on all nine of their field goal opportunities during that span. After this horrendous stretch, the boo birds started to come out in swarms, sending the Cavaliers to the locker room with some well-deserved shaming. Cleveland never got back to within under double digits, falling to the Pelicans by 11.
With Anderson Varejao pronounced out for this contest less than an hour before tipoff, Tyler Zeller recorded his first start of the season for the Cavaliers, and he got off to a grand start. Scoring on three of his first four shots—one ISO jumper and a beautiful roll toward the hoop off of a pass from Kyrie Irving—Zeller looked like he had belonged in the starting lineup from the start. Following Zeller’s near perfect start to the game, the Cleveland big man made one of the most impressive plays for the Cavs on Tuesday night by picking up a steal that Irving poked away. Zeller then found Irving in transition for the easy bucket.
Shortly after this, things started to go the opposite way for Cleveland, as Anthony Bennett entered the game earlier than usual for the Cavs. Although he made a few buckets during his 31 minutes of play, accounting for a career-high 15 points, he halted any sort of production that was being created on the court with Irving, Zeller, Luol Deng and Dion Waiters. Once he entered the game, the Cavaliers were swallowed in the paint and in the restricted area on offense.
Although Cleveland was up by three at the end of the first quarter and were able to sustain the lead well into the second quarter, New Orleans soon tied things up with 4:55 to go in the half. A step back jumper on the ensuing possession from Eric Gordon gave the Pelicans their first lead of the game, 46-44. And they never lost grasp of that lead from that point on.
One of Cleveland’s primary problems during the 14-0 run that the Pelicans ended the first half on was their inability to crowd the restricted area with bodies on defense. This resulted in backup scrubs like Greg Stiemsma going 4 of 4 for eight points in the first half. The Pelicans, however, were able to perform this tactic beautifully, holding Tristan Thompson and Luol Deng to a combined 5 of 20 on the night. Thompson knew that he had to show up in order to lead the frontcourt charge in taming Davis, but that in no fashion happened. Thompson ended with a +/- of -17.
Not even Cleveland’s nine steals in the first half helped the Wine & Gold keep pace with the Pelicans in the second act. New Orleans shot lights out the rest of the way, finishing above 52 percent from the field as a team, and Cleveland went cold in bunches, which called for the boo birds to swarm the Q all second half long.
The Cavs were a deflated bunch heading into the second half, and that sure showed on the court. Cleveland now heads to New York on Thursday for an 8 p.m. matchup with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. At this point, it’s hard to imagine if and when Cleveland will be able to turn their misfortunes around.
PG Kyrie Irving – 23 points, five assists and two steals, while shooting 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from the field, 1 of 4 from three and 6 of 6 from the free throw line
I didn’t see many major flaws in Irving’s defense Tuesday night, but that might have been because I was paying too much attention to the lack of effort from the frontcourt down low against Anthony Davis and company. The Cavaliers point guard did fare pretty well against the New Orleans guards, and he had some pretty dazzling plays in the PnR; whether he was dishing it out to teammates or making a turn to the hoop.
SG C.J. Miles – Two points in 12 minutes, while shooting 1 of 2 from the field
Not much to say here, but, because of Dion’s hot hand, Waiters received much of the shooting guard minutes on Tuesday.
SF Luol Deng – Six points, three assists and two rebounds, while shooting 3 of 10 from the field
These are Alonzo Gee numbers, taken that he logged 31 minutes and looked this unproductive against one of the worst rated defenses in the NBA. He was abused by the New Orleans defense all game long from all positions on the floor. In Gee’s defense, though, he doesn’t usually take 10 shots and have this crummy of a night.
PF Tristan Thompson – Five points and five rebounds, while shooting 2 of 10 from the field
In my opinion, this was Thompson’s worst performance on the year. The Cavs knew what to expect with a player like Davis coming to town (and they even matched up against him earlier in the season in New Orleans), and I saw no sense of the Cavs catering their defense to his game at all on Tuesday. Downright pathetic performance in the paint more than anything.
C Tyler Zeller – 13 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes, while shooting 4 of 8 from the field and 5 of 5 from the free throw line
Why the hell did he only play 21 minutes?! Zeller was playing great when the Cavaliers were actually leading the Pelicans, and then Coach Brown decided to “mix things up” with obscure lineup after obscure lineup. I just don’t get Brown’s logic most of the time.
SG Dion Waiters – 21 points, four assists and two steals, while shooting 9 of 13 (69.2 percent) from the field and 3 of 4 from three
What a waste of a good Dion performance. He was tremendous in all facets of the game, something we haven’t seen in some time. He’s one of the most inconsistent players I’ve watched this year, so who knows when we’ll see a great shooting performance like this again from Dion.
Brown is infuriating at this point. Why does he even call timeouts? He obviously doesn’t draw up plays. It seems like this team has no offensive order at any time when they have the ball. Chemistry isn’t happening, and when it does, Brown quickly removes a key cog that’s working in the group (i.e. Zeller) and replaces them with someone like Henry Sims, who received 12 minutes of playing time on Tuesday. In no way do I think this goes back to Brown’s preachings of taking players out of the game for not showing full defensive effort, because Zeller was doing the best he could to help Thompson, who has absolutely horrendous and still logged 32 minutes. People are already—and have been—calling for his head. This mess will only worsen unless he finds some chemistry that works and sticks with it.