We've said it before, but one of the things which makes Coach Brown so unique is the extent to which he actually coaches during games. Last night, in a 99-87 victory over the visiting Milkwaukee Bucks, a game in which the Cavs came out strong on defense and never really relented, Brown routinely called timeouts for missed assignments or mistakes on the defensive end which led to easy scores.
"They've got to understand, if I use all my timeouts in the first half and we go to a mandatory and I don't have any and it's a technical foul, so be it,'' Brown said. "They've got to understand how important each possession is. We talk about the commitment to the process. This process is not a weekly process or a monthly process. It's play by play by play."
Tack on to that individual counseling sessions — Brown, e.g., subbed out Dion Waiters for a quick 10-second conference on the sidelines before thrusting him back in, and consoled Earl Clark with a chat-and-head-pat after he'd fouled out early — and you're already seeing a basketball team functioning at a higher level. Communication has improved. Effort has improved. Performance has consequently improved.
This is all preposterous to suggest, of course, after one exhibition game, but I'm trying to say that the foundation seems secure. The continued maturation of Tristan Thompson (17 easy points and 8 boards) and Dion Waiters (a more confident straight-up jumper, a fuck-to-be-given in man-to-man coverage) are also encouraging signs.
Brown played everyone who was healthy last night as a formality, so the fourth quarter was a real slop fest. Guys who likely won't make the team — Michael Lee, Jermaine Taylor to name two — bounded up and down the court with all the earnest blandness of white bread.
Sergey Karasev missed his first three-point attempt, and the Q's attendants — not a bad crowd, honestly, though a distressing lack of Cavs' apparel — seemed sort of shocked. It's like in order for the young sharp-shooting Russian to be as good as advertised, he'll need to make every long ball he attempts. He did knock down one though — huge sigh! — but his highlight-reel play was the alley-oop to the chunky-athletic no. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett.
What shall we say about Anthony Bennett? Through the first half, he was the Cavs' worst player by a wide margin, lumbering coast to coast, jacking up three-pointers and missing badly, embarrassing himself at the free throw line, etc. He calmed down in the second half and definitely showed flashes of his celebrated athleticism, but at least three of his 10 rebounds came on a single play, when he kept missing and putting it back to no avail. He finished the night shooting 2-12 (including a butt-ugly 0-3 from deep) and 3-8 from the stripe. Tons of potential, though, that's for sure. He's a presence in the post and after he improves his conditioning and establishes some consistency on his mid-range shooting stroke, he'll be a contributor.
One of the most exciting elements of this Cavaliers team, aside from the obvious coaching upgrade and offseason veteran acquisitions — Jarrett Jack should function as ultimate 6th man and bench leader — is the way the front office has embraced all of our picks from the past three drafts: Kyrie and Tristan two years ago, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller last year, and Anthony Bennett + Sergey Karasev/Carrick Felix this year.
Barring an injury to someone like Gee or an uncontrollable hot streak from the Soviet, Karasev and Felix probably won't see too many consistent minutes this year. Felix as yet remains a non-scoring threat in the handsome mold of Thabo Sefalosha and Jimmy Butler; still, he'll be a fun defender to watch. And all the other guys (the future of the team) will figure prominently in the rotation. It's just super gratifying to know that Chris Grant & Co. selected players they were passionate about, young men who (often contrary to public opinion) they knew would fit into the culture and team make-up. Thompson, Waiters and Bennett were all considered bold reaches when they were picked. Now, no one's questioning Grant.
With Brown as his surrogate, Grant looks like the prescient and hugely virile progenitor of a motley, mystical basketball family. And Anderson Varejao, by the way, is like the natural first-born son. It was a true pleasure to see his curls dancing at the Q last night, even if he wasn't quite up to full speed.
Follow me on Twiiter @SceneSallard for the region's most enlightened Cavs/NBA commentary.
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