Perhaps you saw the game Wednesday night. The Cavs came out flat. Again. The threw lazy passes. Again. They spotted their opponent an early lead, AGAIN. Continuing a maddening trend, the Cavs were devoid of energy and effort for the first thirty minutes of a game against a Wizards team that came in on a back to back. The Cavs were well rested, they had already defeated the Wizards once this year, they had Andrew Bynum and Dion Waiters returning to their lineup. There was really no reason to lose in any fashion, much less in blowout fashion that left me with one thought in my head:
They just couldn't be bothered to try.
There are 3 Cavaliers who could truly hold their head up high after this game. Matthew Dellavadova (who isn't nearly as athletic as Dion Waiters or Alonzo Gee) was, for the second game in a row, the answer to the question of "How do we stop Bradley Beal?" Henry Sims was all over the place on the glass, and on defense. Anderson Varejao, the consummate hustle player, gave a performance that was more in line with last season than this one. Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving, and Earl Clark were good in spots, but don't have much to be proud of.
For the Cavs, this is part of a disturbing trend. In only 11 games, the Cavs have managed to rack up 30 point deficits twice. Both to teams that they had previously beaten, and both looking like they didn't feel like being anywhere near a basketball court. Mike Brown has given interview after interview where he questions the teams willingness to compete. After the Wizards game:
"We didn’t compete. We had one guy that competed the entire time he was on the floor, and that was Matthew Dellavedova."
Not competing is a serious charge from a head coach. It questions not an athletes ability, but their pride and desire. The Cavs have played games this season with non stop effort. They have had strong quarters. They have built large leads. When they play hard and defend, good things happen, as is usually the case. When they don't terrible things happen. The Cavs should know this by now. They should've figured it out after blowing a huge lead to the Timberwolves when they took their foot off the gas. If that wasn't enough of a learning experience, they had a home and home against the 76ers, one with effort and one without. Care to guess which they won? Somehow still not getting the picture, they came out lazy against the Minnesota Timberwolves, IN MINNESOTA, and were defeated 124-95. After that loss I wrote that the loss could possibly do more good than harm, because it was a valuable learning experience. However, two nights later, the Cavs inexplicably stopped playing hard and surrendered a 12 point third quarter lead to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Clearly there is a trend this season, but that might not be the worst part. Did Mike Brown's quote above look familiar to you at all? Anything like this?
"First thing is we have to compete. It is that simple. If we don’t do that, we have no chance. We have no chance. You have to play flawless basketball, but we’re not giving ourselves an opportunity to be in a game or win a game because we’re not competing at a high level."
That was Byron Scott, after a 125-90 loss to the Spurs in 2012. Alas, that was the 2011-2012 season. One year into the tank. Some apathy might be forgiven to a young team, especially against veteran destroyers like the Spurs, but that was no isolated incident for Byron.
"I'm disappointed. After the effort we had in Atlanta, to come back and play this way, I'm very disappointed in the way we played. They just didn't show me life. Like I said, the energy and effort wasn't there for whatever reason. After praising how hard we played in Atlanta and then we come back and play this way."
Scott again, after a 113-95 home loss to the Nets. Another coach, lamenting on again and off again effort, and wondering why this team could not learn it's lesson after a strong performance in their previous game. At the time, a lot of people just surmised that the Cavaliers had simply quit on a coach that just about everyone knew was sure to be fired, and that was a little understandable. The problem? Mike Brown isn't about to fired, not even close. Cavaliers GM Chris Grant, and Owner Dan Gilbert clearly value Mike's system and defensive approach, having rewarded him a 5 year contract.
So what gives? This is the third straight year that the competitiveness of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Alonzo Gee has been called into question. Two straight for Dion Waiters, CJ Miles, and Tyler Zeller. I'm leaving Andy off, because for the most part he hasn't even been on the court to participate in most of the blowouts prior to this year. In post game pressers, Cavaliers players will tell you that they've learned their lesson. They will tell you that this was the turning point. Mike Brown talks about getting up and down the floor, and the team using defense to create easy buckets for their offense. When the Cavaliers look good, this is what they're doing, but they just don't seem to want to do it enough.
Do you blame Brown? Can you? I have seen it suggested that the Cavs poor offensive scheme (which it certainly is right now) leads to players becoming discouraged and not trying as hard on defense, but wouldn't any player with a decent basketball IQ realize that playing defense would be the easiest way to get themselves easy buckets? Some have said that players don't like Brown, and are already quitting on him. If they quit on Scott, and now Brown, what does that tell you? Do you want players that will only play hard for their perfect idea of a coach? Is it a talent issue? How could it be? This team has shown, even in it's infancy that they are capable of competing with great teams on any given night if they so choose, and forgive me for not thinking that the lineups consisting of Henry Sims, Anthony Bennett, Matthew Dellavadova, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao and Jarrett Jack that the Cavs fueled their furious comeback with are their most talented. Another popular subject is roster makeup. Sure the pieces are an odd fit, there is no denying it, but since when has floor spacing precluded teams from playing hard? Have you ever watched a Grizzlies game? The Bulls?
One way or another, this will come to an end. Mike Brown said he is going to find guys that want to play hard. Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant are committed to Mike Brown's system. I'm not sure that the Cavs can sustain another blowout early in the season without some drastic roster changes, and with so few options on the trading block right now (that we know of), that is a scary thought. After last night's game, Kyrie was asked why the team could talk about playing hard for 48 minutes, but so rarely do it. Well, I'm waiting anxiously for them to answer that on the court, we all are.