The Cleveland Cavaliers went into Charlotte knowing full well that their game against the Bobcats was close to must-win game. With the end of the regular season fast approaching, the Cavaliers were fully aware that, with the Bobcats in front of the them in the standings, this game was a chance to take a step towards a playoff spot.
The game played out as such. For the majority of the game, however, Charlotte controlled all aspects. Behind stout inside play from center Al Jefferson and a bend-but-don’t break defense, the Bobcats led from the get-go and only trailed for a total of one minutes and 42 seconds of the game. Seemingly every time the Cavaliers made a push or took the lead (which they did a total of three times), the Bobcats responded with a run that distanced themselves from the Cavaliers.
The final run by the Bobcats that ultimately won them the game occurred over the last seven-pokus minutes. With 7:03 to play, Cleveland led Charlotte by one and the Bobcats had possession of the ball. Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving fouled Bobcats point guard Kemba Walker, sending Walker to the line for two free throws. He made the first, tying the game at 81 all. Walker then made the second, giving Charlotte a 82-81 lead that it would never lose. From there, the Bobcats outscored the Cavaliers 19-11 and won by a final score of 101-92.
Dion Waiters and Luol Deng led the Cavaliers with 19 points each, while Kyrie Irving added in 13 of his own. Bobcats center Al Jefferson (who missed the first two meetings between these teams) led Charlotte with a game high 29 points.
The loss puts the Cavaliers 3.5 games behind the Atlanta Hawks for the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot and are also 6.5 games back of the Bobcats in the standings. The Cavaliers (currently tenth in the East) are also a game behind the Detroit Pistons for ninth place and only one game ahead of the New York Knicks (whom they play tomorrow at home). Tomorrow’s game against the Knicks will also be the last time the Cavaliers play a team with a losing record in the month of March.
That is partly why tonight’s game was so important for Cleveland. A win not only would have brought them a hame closer to a playoff spot and given them momentum heading into the toughest part of their schedule. But the game was also important because the Cavaliers are now 0-5 against Charlotte this season, including two preseason games. The Bobcats (who like the Cavaliers picked in the lottery this past June) took the keep from mediocrity that some expected (and many hoped) the Cavaliers would take this season. Considering that the Cavaliers are winless against at team they beat two out of three teams a season ago, tonight’s game is a reminder that this Cavaliers team is just a step behind the rest of the East’s playoff teams.
PG Kyrie Irving - 36 minutes, 13 points, 5-17 shooting, six rebounds, five assists, five fouls
Irving played a solid first quarter and then dealt with foul trouble the rest of the way. That clearly affected his performance and limited his effectiveness. Not really much else to say.
SG Jarrett Jack – 27 minuts, 10 points, 3-6 shooting, six assists, three turnovers
About the only thing Jack is doing well right now is passing the ball and find the open man. Still, there are times when he dribbles too much and holds onto the ball needlessly. It’s definitely a problem and I’d like to see his minutes cut even further moving forward. It’s either that or he stops taking pull up jumpers from just inside the three-point line.
SF Luol Deng – 34 minutes, 19 points, 8-15 shooting, six rebounds
This was the type of Luol Deng performance that most of us expected when the Cavaliers acquired him in January. He did a little bit of everything, was the Cavaliers best defender and attacked the rim. His decision to contiously attack the rim was especially key, as it helped him get his shot going, As Jason Lloyd noted on Twitter before the game, Deng is adjusting to a whole new style of offense and it was always going to take some time. Maybe this is where he starts to turn the corner.
PF Tristan Thompson – 31 minutes, 10 points, 5-9 shooting, eight rebounds
This was a ho-hum night for Thompson. When he was in the game, he played well and had some success guarding Jefferson. However, it was interesting to see Mike Brown go to the two-center lineup (i.e. Tyler Zeller and Spencer Hawes) at times where it seemed that Thompson would normally be in the game. Anthony Bennett also received some fourth quarter minutes that I would have expected to go to Thompson. Still, this was a pretty standard Thompson performance.
C Spencer Hawes – 36 minutes, 13 points, 5-13 shooting, seven rebounds, +/- of -16
This was by far Hawes’ worst game as the Cavalier. As good as he’s been on offense for the Cavaliers and helped with their spacing, he is a sieve on defense. Granted, Al Jefferson is very good scorer down low and a tough guard for just about anyone, but he dominated Hawes tonight. Games like this make me think that Hawes isn’t a perfect fit beyond the end of the season for this team. Ideally, Cleveland can nab a center who can both space and play defense. But at the very least, tonight was a come back down to Earth game for Hawes and the expectations for him.
G Dion Waiters - 32 minutes, 19 points, 8-18 shooting, five rebounds, three steals
This was not Waiters’ most efficient performance, but he was solid and played hard. He was one of the few Cavaliers able to get his own shot and also get to the rim. He also looks healthy and in good shape despite this being only his second game back from injury. That’s a good sign moving forward for the Cavaliers.
Tonight was a reminder than Mike Brown isn’t exactly a perfect fit with the team he is coaching. As assembled, the Cavaliers roster has a lot of pieces that don’t fit specific molds and are mostly offensively oriented. My hunch is that Brown would have assembled this roster differently and that he struggles to find lineups that do what he is looking for consistently. Overall, it doesn’t look like Brown has the creativity to put together this puzzle. His Bobcats counterpart – Steve Clifford – clearly has a feel for his roster. The difference between the two coaches was clear tonight and moving forward, it’s worth watching to see if Brown can show a little more.