The Cleveland Cavaliers’ skeleton crew hosted the New Orleans Pelicans without Zion Williamson, Cody Zeller, Larry Nance Jr. and its loose change. The Wine and Gold recorded 47.5 percent of its attempts in the first half but never climbed out of a hole because its offense cooled off in the next two quarters, courtesy of NOLA’s defense tightening up and failing to stop them on the other end.
Minus Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, the Cavs used Jarrett Allen as a dribble handoff hub, but the downside was enough rim pressure couldn’t be generated with the players available off the dribble.
Cleveland took a meager 16 freebies, making 14 but failing to put anyone in foul trouble. The ill-famed turd quarter returned, despite Cleveland registering 45 percent of its baskets in the period. When it had four minutes to go until the fourth, it was down six points. Subsequently, it misfired the last seven shots of the third, and New Orleans went up by 18.
Here’s what happened:
Cleveland downed 42.9 percent of hoisted trays in the first half and then eight of 23 long range baskets after intermission.
Before halftime, Georges Niang busted NOLA’s 2-3 zone and man scheme, plus buried a transition triple. Dean Wade delivered punishment when they sagged off the corner and wing. And Mad Max Strus fired behind a DHO and swished a catch-and-shoot trifecta up top.
In the next two quarters, Wade was the lone Cavalier accurate beyond the arc, splashing four of six bombs. But Niang and Strus missed all nine tries. The Pelicans locked and trailed, plus closed out to both of them on time, contesting all of their looks.
With the absences on hand, the only chance the Cavaliers had was to bomb away from the perimeter, taking 10 more attempts than its average.
The Cavaliers committed just 11 turnovers. For reference, the top team in this department for this season is the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 11.9 nightly. Yet, the group was burned for 19 points after its mistakes. This year, only the Portland Trail Blazers, Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz - the rebuilding teams - give up that much or more following turnovers.
The possession changes for Cleveland were a combination of unforced errors - Allen bobbling the rock at the nail, Strus passing to a Pelican on the run and failing to catch Niang’s feed, etc - with New Orleans swarming the catch and seizing the passing lanes.
On the game's first play, Allen caught the ball in the middle and hit Okoro cutting on the baseline for the basket plus the foul. But the rest of the way, the Cavs couldn’t finish efficiently in the restricted area, logging 4.2 percentage points below the league average for the match. In the paint non-restricted area, it also converted slightly under average marks when inside attempts were 46 percent of its shot diet.
Caris LeVert only got into the lane for scores off a NOLA turnover and pick-and-roll play with Tristan Thompson. He had three misses in the lane, but his inside activity wasn’t enough. He bailed out the defense by pulling up for a triple when Cleveland had little chance at an offensive rebound and bricked over CJ McCollum instead of overpowering him with size.
Aside from LeVert, Thompson, Strus and Craig Porter Jr. were the only threats to get inside the paint off the dribble or catch. They all combined to make eight of 20 baskets in the interior.
Cleveland lost 104-123, and its leading scorer was Wade, who was a clear bright spot, with 20 points on seven of 11 attempts.
Postgame, head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said adjustments were made regarding Cleveland's shot diet after the injuries to the key guys, but without the starting backcourt, the Cavaliers need LeVert to set the tone attacking the basket when he comes off the bench.