Almost three weeks after Halloween, it’s still trick-or-treat for Cavaliers fans. After the Cavs squeaked out a victory in Boston and returned home to dismantle the Hawks on Friday and Saturday respectively, they came out flat as a runway model Monday night against the Nuggets. The most frustrating thing is it’s as predictable as a sentence that begins with “child star” and ends with “rehab.”
Coach Blatt could see it coming, but was unable to incite the proper response. He warned them of a letdown, but there’s only so much you can tell individuals before they must discover it for themselves. This manifested – as it typically has for the Cavs this season – in slow to nonexistent defensive rotations and a general lack of intensity on the defensive end. That didn’t leave the offense enough room for error as they fell to the lowly Nuggets (now 3-7) by double digits, 106-97.
“I felt the problems defensively started before the game. We just didn’t come with the proper mindset and the energy level we had the other night,” Blatt said at the postgame presser. “I knew coming into this it was a dangerous, dangerous game…. I tried [to warn them] because I knew it was coming. I’ve been in too many of these situations.”
The particulars almost seem unimportant since they’re familiar as a sitcom plot. If you want to guess what happened just check the board from the Cavaliers locker room. The Nuggets shot 52 percent from the field and got just about whatever shot they wanted in the halfcourt offense.
Despite forcing seven first quarter turnovers, the Cavs gave up too many easy shots. Meanwhile, the Cavs had some trouble getting it going, shooting 38 percent for the quarter. As the offense slowly rounded into form during the second quarter, the defense was perpetually a step late.
Nowhere was this more apparent than their attempts to cover Ty Lawson on the pick and roll. Lawson missed the Cavs’ victory in Denver ten days ago. Lawson had the Cavs queued up for a solo parade act. As a team, the Cavs put up the same lackluster resistance that's plagued the early season. Kyrie Irving couldn’t have stopped Lawson with a shotgun in a Stand Your Ground state. The tale of tape is disturbing enough to make Octomom seem classy.
Irving was at a loss to offer much of an answer after the game.
“We were going under [the pick]. We were zoning. We were doing other things,” Irving shrugged after the game. “I’ll take responsibility. It’s just, you know, going under him on his pick and rolls, having him make decisions behind the screen – he did a great job today finding guys. He had one helluva game.”
Speaking of trick-or-treat, Dion Waiters really showed up and single-handedly kept the team in the game, scoring 11 of his 16 second half points during a stretch from the end of the third through the beginning of the fourth when the team got as close as six points. He didn’t do well covering Lawson, but even LeBron had his troubles with that. Love played well, logging another double-double behind 20 points and 11 boards. LeBron kicked in 22 and Irving had 20, but you won’t find most of Cleveland’s problems on the offensive side of the ledger.
So far this season, they’ve repeatedly played down to the level of their competition. With the defending champion San Antonio Spurs coming to town on Wednesday, that shouldn’t be a problem. If they are to have any hope of winning a championship, they’re going to have to boost their third-worst defensive field goal percentage into at least the top ten. It’s obviously a learning curve, the question is how long they’ll remain in this straightaway before they start to make the turn.