Cavs Crush in First Quarter Before Meekly Yielding to Raptors


Maybe what the Cavaliers need is Prozac, because their early season behavior resembles nothing so much as a fast-cycling, manic-depressive Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. One minute they’re flying high like the Harlem Globetrotters come to Cleveland; the next they can barely muster the energy to play transition defense — when not making more mental mistakes than the Browns.

It started off wonderfully, with energy and precision. Their play against the Raptors the first six minutes was nearly as dominant as their 33-point pasting of Atlanta last week. Coach David Blatt apparently emphasized to the team before the game the importance of having everyone hit the boards – and the team snared ten of the first eleven rebounds, bouncing out to a 20-5 lead around the midway point of the 1st quarter.

LeBron gave Varejao two dishes beautiful enough to bring Chef Ramsey to tears.

Kevin Love had 10 first quarter points to pace the team in that statline (they had assists on 10 of their 14 first quarter buckets). The second quarter started with LeBron on the bench and it quickly turned into a shit show. From the 11:38 mark – just after a Kyrie Irving three – to the 7:37 mark when Blatt subbed Love, Varejao and James back in, the Raptors went on a 14-3 run.

It was not pretty. Waiters shot an airball, then traveled the next possession. Marion leapt in the air on a pump fake and fouled Lou Williams on a three-point attempt. Miller airballed a three, then didn’t rotate fast enough to cover for the team’s poor pick-and-role defense on dangerous big man Chuck Hayes. Who? Exactly.

As things started going south, the team stopped passing and started jacking up shots. You could see the discontinuity as Waiters took his man through the lane, right as Tristan Thompson was making his move.

It culminated with Willliams (36 points, 15-15 from the line, 3 steals) dropping a 3, Kyrie racing down and missing a transition jumper from around the top of the key, then failing to get back quick enough to prevent Greivis Vasquez from drawing two free throws. Little hint on playing defense, Kryie: At some point you need to stop retreating.

So much for the team’s ability to survive without Love and Lebron, right? Not so fast. While that might’ve been unsightly, it was Kate Upton compared with what was to come on a night when the Cavs committed 18 turnovers and allowed 42 free throws. (The Raptors made 38, 90.5 percent.)

The Cavs led 65-61 on a Love alley-oop from Varejao with 7:04 left in the third. They would be outscored 24-2 over the next six minutes. It began when LeBron made a bad pass that led to a fastbreak layup for Amir Johnson. They came down, he took the pass from Kyrie and jacked up a 16-foot turnaround jumper, which turned into a Jonas Valaciunas offensive rebound and putback the other way.

The Cavs might as well have been cardboard cutouts the way the Raptors went around them in transition.

The Cavs’ subsequent shots were (missed unless otherwise noted): James 3, Irving 3, Love 17 ft. jumper, Love layup, Varejao running hook (made), Waiters 18 ft. jumper, 3 misses in the lane on the same possession, and a Waiters 3. By the end of the quarter, they were down 85-71 and looked ready to hand over their lunch money to whoever asked.

We queried LeBron about the team’s tendency to settle for jumpers during these opponent runs. “That’s easy to point out, but we also got to the basket and missed shots as well,” he responded, before shifting gears and turning to the team’s collective psyche. “We’re a very fragile team right now. Well, we’ve been a fragile team since the beginning. Any kind of adversity hits us, we just shell up.

“That’s something that will come with experience. This ain’t even the lowest it’s going to get,” he continued. “I told a few guys, the lowest it can get is being up 17 in the 4th quarter game 2 of the finals and losing. Or being up being up 2-1 and losing three straight. That’s very low. So I’m very optimistic and more positive than I thought I’d be right now.”

We’re pretty sure LeBron spent the last four years in Miami, and not in a Shaolin monastery studying under Kwai Chang Caine’s old mentor Master Po. The calm and patience he displays – excluding those moments when Dion Waiters is bricking an ill-advised transition 3 – are going to be key. This is a very young team – younger and without the playoff experience Miami’s big 3 had. It’s up to LeBron to lead.

At least he’s picked good role models. Yesterday he tweeted a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

LeBron’s going to need all the august resolve he can get his hands on because getting on the same page isn’t necessarily going to make Cavs guards better defenders. After yielding 79 points to Williams, Kyle Lowery and DeMar DeRozan, you’d have to imagine opposing guards view Cleveland the way strippers do Vegas. Ch-Ching!

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