That was ugly. Just the way Larry Brown likes it when more talented teams play his Charlotte Bobcats. I've been saying for a couple weeks that Cavaliers fans should be nervous about a possible matchup with Charlotte in the playoffs. Sure, the Cavaliers are a better team, but Charlotte really embraces the underdog role - from the coach on down.
Tonight is a prime example of that. The Bobcats took the Cavaliers early punch - a 32-point first quarter - before locking down the Cavaliers offense. The final score wasn't really indicative of how soundly the Bobcats dominated the final 36 minutes of the game.
It was a poor first game for Antawn Jamison. I'm not surprised that Jamison struggled. He really wants to play well and he really wants to help this team win. Because of that Jamison was out of whack all night. If he wasn't shooting airballs from deep he was getting blocked at the rim by the newest Bobcat Tyrus Thomas. Unofficially I saw Jamison get rejected at the rim a total of 4 times. To say I expected a player of Jamison's ability to go 0-12 playing alongside LeBron James would be a lie, however. If not for a couple of free throws in the final minute of the game, Jamison would have been shut out of the scoring column all together.
LeBron James scored 22 points but was lethargic throughout, at one point - with the game still in doubt - James took a 28-foot 3-pointer early in the shot clock, clearly frustrated by the Cavaliers offense and much as the Bobcats defense.
We all got a first hand look at why Danny Ferry wanted Stephen Jackson so bad earlier in the year as well. Jackson blew up on the Cavs, scoring 29 points on 9-17 shooting. His continuous penetration made obvious by the 10 trips to the free throw line. If it wasn't Jackson, it was another Cavs' killer - Gerald Wallace - scoring 17 points. Or Boris Diaw going off for 18 points. Want more? Raymond Felton scored 16 points. In fact, the Bobcats starters shot 60% for the game. Not the type of defense we have come to expect from the Wine and Gold.
Wherein lies the problem.
The Cavaliers didn't play very good defense last night, and they played poorly tonight. Charlotte shot 55% from the field, 47% from deep. They consistently got open looks, and consistently broke the Cavaliers down in one-on-one situations. It is a weakness of the Cavaliers that teams are beginning to exploit. The Cavaliers have several players that are not known as good defenders. To overcome that, they play great team defense. Now, teams are running pick and roll, forcing the Cavs to switch and isolating the Cavs in one-on-one situations. The Cavaliers guards simply cannot stop the quicker guards in the NBA from getting to the rim. That results in fouls on Shaq, or Andy and easy points for the opposition.
"It was disappointing and embarrassing the way we played defense tonight." said Mike Brown after the game. That pretty much summed it up. Allowing teams to get whatever they want is not how the Cavaliers play basketball.
The Cavs also took 29 threes of their own - making it easy for the opponent to play defense on them. When those shots are falling - which they were for a large part of the winning streak -it sure is fun to watch. When they are not, well, you get beat by 17 by a .500 team.
"We're not going to outscore every team we step on the floor against. That's not the type of team we are, but that's how we're playing right now. We've been playing to outscore people and that can't happen." said Brown, clearly agitated by what he's seeing right now.
Hopefully the day off tomorrow will help the Cavaliers come together. There has been a lot of change all at once - the addition of Jamison, Mo Williams back in the starting lineup, No Z. It is going to take time. Am I worried? No. Is it panic time? Of course not. It is a long season. I just want the Cavaliers to get back to what they do - playing lockdown defense.