Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters put up less resistance last night in Portland than the French in WWII. They looked dafter than the guards from Monty Python
trying to keep the Blazers’ Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews (combined 48 pts, 8-18 from 3) from having their way.
Even when Lillard and Matthews didn’t score, the breakdowns on defense forced big men to leave their men and rotate over. This left Robin Lopez open for eight 10-15 foot jumpers that he hit like he was alone in the gym, which by NBA or middle school standards, he was.
Waiters and Irving continually found themselves straying too far from their man, or turning their head to look at the ball while their guy sprung open, as on this play where Waiters turned his back on Lillard at the 3-point line to stand near Lopez.
Irving was also frequently broken down, as on this play where Lillard drove to the basket and then tossed it out to Nicholas Batum. Lillard then dashed back toward the three-point line to receive the ball while Irving remained too long in the lane.
The team’s lack of defensive intensity was apparent from the opening tip. Despite hitting their first ten shots, the Cavs couldn’t build a lead because they weren’t stopping the Blazers on defense. At times, they fell into that lacksadaisical defensive style/up-and-down tempo familiar to anyone that’s watched Western Conference basketball.
“I don’t think we brought it tonight,” said Coach Blatt after the game. “I don’t think we brought intensity for any kind of mindset to defend and that caught up to us because the ball’s not always going to go in.”
Much will probably be made of LeBron only taking 12 shots, getting to the line but once and scoring just 11 points, none of which came in the second half. But while the Cavs' roster is littered with gifted players, they are not used to sharing the ball. Waiters is an offensive black hole at times, shooting early in the clock, rarely passing, and relying on a lot of dribble pull-up jumpers – not exactly high percentage shots. Kevin Love, again, was solid, notching another double-double and shining as the Cavs' lone stable offensive option.
Sadly, while Matthew Dellavedova moves the ball nicely when he’s in – something the offense particularly lacks – he doesn’t have the footspeed to stay in front of players the caliber of Lillard, who twice abused him like an alcoholic at an open bar.
While you can put five great offensive players on the court, learning to all pull in the same direction simultaneously takes time. If they played defense more consistently they could get out on the break more, which would help the offense get going, but for the moment the kind of focus, energy and discipline great team defense requires eludes them.
It almost seems that the offensive end can come so easily to them that they forget to put the requisite effort into defense. (See Phoenix Suns, circa Mike D’Antoni.) When the shots stop falling, the ball stagnates and Irving, James or Waiters take turns driving to the basket while the other guys stand around.
This is going to be a work-in-progress and anyone who thought otherwise hasn’t studied basketball. It’s no coincidence that the Spurs' core players have been together for years — great teams are built around chemistry, trust and a sixth sense about your teammates that generally only develops with time.
”It can go on for a couple months before we’re all on the same page and know where to be,” a somber LeBron James told reporters after the game, who also said that the Cavs (read: Irving and Waiters) have gotten into bad habits that they need to break. “This is a team game and you have to rely on your teammates to win.”