Friday, December 14, 2007

New Jersey 105, Cleveland 97

Jumpers, jumpers and more jumpers. The Cavs shot a lot of 'em. Now, if it's Daniel Gibson hoisting, I'm ok with it (Boobie was 3-4 beyond the arc). But if it's some other, larger players shooting them (like LeBron and Larry)... not so much. James and Hughes combined to shoot 4-13 from downtown.

The level of energy just wasn't there. Maybe it was the bad jumpers, maybe it was having the whole team back together or maybe it was see Eric Snow play extended minutes, but this game reminded a whole lot of games from last season. For most of the year (when LeBron has played) the Cavs have had decent energy and focus. Friday night... not so much. There were a lot of bad, unforced turnovers, more than a few misreads (I don't even want to know how many times they got beat backdoor) and too many dumb fouls. The Cavs are obviously the more talented ballclub through and through, but they played down to the Nets and allowed them pull ahead late.

What happened to all that post play we were seeing early in the season? I know it's LeBron's second game back, but I'm not sure he posted up once in this game (and hey, remember last year where he just destroyed Richard Jefferson inside? Where was that?). I was getting worried about their love for the jumpshot before LeBron hurt his hand and Friday the old offense showed up. Though, partially I think LeBron was a victim of his own success; he took some ridiculous "I'm LeBron James and I'm shooting this" type shots that dropped. Which is all well and good... but he kept taking them and they didn't keep dropping. Down the stretch the Cavs were all jumpers and they didn't drop.

The rebounding left much to be desired. The Cavs got outrebounded 31-24 and they let the Nets grab14 offensive boards. Some of this was just being unlucky; blocks, miscues and loose balls seemed to find the right Net hands at the right time, but let's not kid ourselves, the Cavs didn't have enough energy to win.

The foul situation hurt as well. No one was in foul trouble (though Drew Gooden did have 5 in just 28 minutes) but the Cavs were whistled for 28 fouls while New Jersey drew the refs' ire just 15 times (including one bizarre double foul on Anderson Varejao and Jamaal Magloire, where Anderson's mistake was letting Magloire pop him in the face). I don't want to make it seem like the refs cost the Cavs the game though; the Nets were more aggressive, the Cavs were lazy on the defensive end and the Cavs were intentionally fouling Josh Boone late in the final period. However, I do have to mention this: LeBron James attempted just three free throws and one of 'em was because of a technical foul. Jumpshots of no, I'm not sure how LeBron can have 25 shot attempts and only end up shooting 3 freebies.

This was one of the games where Vince Carter shows up. VC had a pretty damn nice evening, going 13-22 for 32 points and added 7 boards and 6 assists. Austin Carr wondered if Larry Hughes' annoying, pesky defense may have woken Vince up. I'm hesitant to agree with Carr on anything, but I think he may have a point here. I was more than a little surprised the Coach Mike kept Hughes on Carter. In the past, Eric Snow was called on to shut down the Carter's of the league, but the Cavs rarely (if at all) had Snow matched up with VC.

Pavlovic didn't see Carter much either. Hell, Pavlovic didn't see much of anything, he only got 14 minutes (which just one more than Damon Jones). Pavlovic missed the two shots he took (both of which came in the second half) and only a rebound and turnover to his credit (but again, just 14 minutes). Look, I'm a bid advocate of bringing Hughes off the bench, but if you're gonna do it, do it right. When Hughes goes 4-15 with an assist and a turnover, he shouldn't be getting 34 minutes to Pavlovic's 14. On the bright side, Sasha wasn't called for any bogus charges... so he had that going for him...

With everyone back and healthy, Mike Brown is going to have to manage the minutes. Joy. Look, I'm a bid advocate of bringing Hughes off the bench, but if you're gonna do it, do it right. When Hughes goes 4-15 with an assist and a turnover, he shouldn't be getting 34 minutes to Pavlovic's 14. Hell, Larry had more minutes and shot attempts than Z (who was 8-13 for 21 points, 12 boards and 6 assists in 32 minutes). I don't want to pick on Hughes here, because at this point I'm not blaming him, I'm blaming Mike Brown.

Oh ya, that LeBron guy. 29 points, 8 assists, 6 boards, 2 steals and a whopping 6 turnovers. He had some really nice, aggressive plays early on but as the game wore on, he fell more and more in love with his jumper. And don't get me wrong, he shot it fairly well (he was 12-25 from the field), but he wasn't making the Nets work too hard on defense.

It can't be a good sign when your small forward and center combine for two-thirds of your assist total. LeBron had 8, Z had 6 and everyone else combined for 7. Gibson, Damon Jones and Snow each had 2 while and Hughes notched another. That's it. 21 assists for the game. I will that Z had showed some very nice touch; he found Gooden on a great over the top lob pass and he fed Drew for a layup on a sweet touch pass (I've said it before, but when he wants to, the big fella can pass the ball extremely well).

and finally...

Hopefully they can bounce back from this. The Cavs play (yet another) back-to-back, but this time the second game in on their home court. That should be nice. Playing Philadelphia however, should be much nicer. Hopefully the Cavs can wash the taste of this loss out of their mouth and rebound with a solid victory over the Sixers.


Anonymous said...

This game frustrated me more than the six-game losing streak. As the losses piled up, I could still look forward to a day when the Cavs would have all their pieces back together. Last night, they had virtually a full compliment of players, were coming off a momentum-generating blowout of the Pacers, and still played like crap in the second half.

To me, this game was another example of a game in which the players are philosophically butting heads with Mike Brown. Brown is harping on defense, placing offense on the back burner. LeBron and Co. figure the way they won against Indiana is good enough, and want to push the ball and try to win 110-100.

So the players aren't putting forth the defensive effort the coach wants, and the coach isn't coaching the offense the way the players want. The result is the entire team gets outhustled at the defensive end, and the offense deteriorates into a menagerie of half-assed jumpers, most of which don't fall.

The Nets were, if Fred McLeod was right, dead last in the league in offense, and scored 105 points. I know they have VC and Jefferson and Kidd, but that's still embarrassing for a Cavs team that knocked the Nets out of the playoffs with defense last year.

Ben said...

The thoughtless, telagraphed bad passes bugged me more than the terrible jumpers. There were just bizarre pass choices being made and it led to a lot of easy New Jersey baskets.

The hack-a-Boone strategy should be embarrassing for everyone involved. It showed that Brown had no confidence in the Cavs getting a stop down the stretch. Ugly game overall.

And the thing is, I think it's fairly obvious that the Cavs are a better team than the Nets. If the Cavs execute or play with just a little smarts, they'd kill this team.

But they ignored Z down the stretch (there's no one on the Nets who can come close to guarding him) and settled for inane jumpers. LeBron was back to catching the ball 25 feet from the hoop.

Just an ugly game.

Anonymous said...

Hack-a-Boone was pathetic, not to mention a strategy with a high backfire potential.

Boone isn't Shaq, who will have terrible free-throw shooting form from now until the day he retires. Boone is a really young, raw kid with correctable flaws in his stroke. If you give him enough practice opportunities, he will eventually start to make them. He did just that, starting to split trips at the end of the game.

I think that whole sequence was Brown reaching the point of exasperation with his team's defense, basically saying "You don't want to D up? Fine. I'm not even going to give you the chance to play defense then."

The bottom line is this: if the Cavs get back to playing elite defense, they are a threat to repeat as conference champions. If they continue to play D like they have so far this season, they're going to get run out of the playoffs by Detroit or Boston. Mike Brown understands this. The players, maybe not as much. Maybe that's a lesson LeBron and Co. need to learn the hard way.

Maybe then they'll stop fighting Brown's defense-first philosophy so hard.