The Cleveland Cavaliers looked flat for a half against the Utah Jazz tonight, and lost 102-100 because they couldn't fully ig themselves out of the hole they put themselves in. The Cavs had six assists on the night, and four came in the second half. Three players scored in double-digits. Defensively, the Cavs allowed 46 points in the paint, and the Jazz shot 59 percent from the field in the first half. The Cavs deserved to lose this game, but it doesn't make the finish suck any less.
The Cavs came out looking very sluggish on both ends right out of the gate, falling behind the Jazz 16-10. Offensively, things were once again stagnant, as a total lack of ball movement led to the offense mainly consisting of Kevin Love shooting at will and Kyrie Irving and LeBron James isolations. Love's shots fell, while LeBron and Kyrie's did not. Defensively, Enes Kanter fueled the Jazz offense with 11 first quarter points from all over the floor; a corner three, mid-range jumpers, and some excellent post moves. Derrick Favors also did some damage inside, as Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson struggled with individual defense, and the Jazz took a 32-23 lead at the end of the quarter. The big takeaway was that LeBron looked either exhausted, or disinterested, or both. He was incredibly sluggish on both ends, and his passiveness hurt the offense in particular.
In the second quarter, the Cavs' defensive liabilities shifted from just losing frontcourt battles to overall breakdown. The Jazz were able to get to the rim at will on cuts, running sets with Gordon Hayward and Dante Exum in the high post, while their other wings cut off screens and abused Cleveland's perimeter defenders to get solid looks at the rim. The offense got a little better, as LeBron finally started to get shots to fall, but there was still a total lack of ball movement, as the Cavs finished the half with just two assists on fourteen shots. The Cavs did cut into the Jazz lead at times, getting it down to 47-40 at one point, but the Jazz turned a suspect Gordon Hayward shot block into a small run to end the half by stretching their lead to 59-48. Here is the Hayward block, which........yeah, that's a goaltend:
In the third quarter, things started to turn around on both ends. Defensively, the Jazz stopped hitting 59 percent of their shots as they had in the first half, and the Cavs were able to capitalize via Love and Varejao exerting themselves on the glass. LeBron and Kyrie commanded a majority of the offense, but unlike in the first half, LeBron actually looked like he wanted to be there, and Kyrie attacked the basket more with solid results. Favors and Kanter were still able to do work down low offensively, but the Cavs' perimeter defense got better and more disciplined, and Shawn Marion had a couple of big blocks to bail out other Cavs. In the second half of the quarter, the offense was cooking, the rebounding was superb, and the Cavs were able to get it back down to a one-point affair, 76-75.
Oh, and Trevor Booker happened:
GIF: Trevor Booker with the emphatic dunk vs. Cavs http://t.co/XEqaExykSv— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) November 6, 2014
That looked not fun to be on the receiving end of.
The fourth was fantastic, regardless of how we got there or the outcome. Kyrie dominated the ball, but he was cooking, scoring the Cavs' first 12 points as they held close with the Jazz, eventually taking the lead on his last shot of that stretch to make it 87-85. The teams traded baskets a few more times, but Utah got the lead back on a Trevor Booker wild three at the end of the shot clock to make it 93-89. Favors stretched it to 95-90, but Tristan Thompson and Irving cut the lead to just two. Then, after Alec Burks was fouled and hit two free throws, LeBron hit a three to make it a one-point game. Burks hit another two free throws, and then on the final possession for the Cavs, Favors did the unthinkable and fouled LeBron James from three. LeBron sank the three free throws. 100-100.
Thoughts from the Game
- The offense was horrible tonight, and I think that's the biggest cause for concern coming from this back-to-back. After the first quarter against Portland, the offense stagnated, and a red-hot start turned into an 18-point loss because the Cavs didn't seem to want to move off the ball or pass. That was the case for a lot of the game again tonight. In the first half, it didn't work. In the second, it started to because Kyrie got really hot. That's not how this team should be operating regardless of outcome, however, and it's especially concerning to see that happen in these two games after three days of rest. Hopefully some improvement occurs heading into Friday's tilt with Denver.
- I wasn't a huge Enes Kanter fan to this point in his career, but tonight may have started to change that. He was ridiculous offensively (minus his airballed three), putting Andy in the spin cycle and scoring consistently when he got open jumpers. Kanter's been a decent scorer in the paint, but the added range really opens up the Jazz's offense as a whole, and his confidence in the added range this early in the season is a surprise. He was awesome tonight, and there's not much the Cavs frontcourt could do to contain him.
- In the situation of the offense looking this stagnant, I'm fine with how Kyrie played tonight. The offense wasn't moving the ball as a unit, and I'm not going to get on him for not having any assists, because no one had any assists. Instead, Kyrie came out in the second half and decided to take over with his scoring, and did so: 34 points on 12-23 shooting, and 12 straight points to start the fourth quarter. He got to the rim consistently and finished once there, and got to the line for ten free throws. Any complaints you have with Irving's lack of distribution should be funneled to the offense as a whole. Kyrie took the situation and went nova. He wasn't the entire problem.
- Defensively, the Cavs appear to be adopting a similar system to what the Miami Heat used while LeBron was there. They are blitzing pick-and-rolls with their bigs, attempting to hedge hard to allow their guards to recover. This was disastrous at times tonight, as the Cavs allowed plenty of open lay-ups because the bigs had to scramble to recover. However, the system still isn't fully implemented, as the other big (most commonly Love as Varejao hedges) is supposed to rotate over to cover the roll man, and that rotation isn't coming consistently. Love and Thompson did it more consistently in the second half, which is why the PNR defense was better. Give this 30 games, and I think it will be a very functional system, and one that hides a lot of Kyrie's faults against the pick-and-roll, which is a good thing.
- Thompson's free throw stroke looks improved. He's hit 6-8 so far this season. Seems worth noting.
- Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert are fun to watch for Utah.
- Marion still can't finish at the rim, for whatever reason. That's a huge problem, especially if he's going to be in the starting lineup.
- Dion Waiters was non-existent tonight, playing just 13 minutes behind Shawn Marion in his move to the bench. While on the court, he really didn't do much, posting five points on four shots and again struggling to finish at the rim. We still aren't sure why Waiters moved to the bench; was it a matchup play? A move to put a ball-handler in bench units to account for Matthew Dellavedova's injury? Or a sign that Dion doesn't hold favor with the coaching staff? It's unknown what the reason was, but I think we'll know more come Friday night.