It looked a lot like the Cavaliers got their ass kicked by the Dallas Mavericks yesterday, 109-90. It was closer than that, and the Cavaliers played a better game than the score indicates.
One of the league's best scoring machines – who require constant focus to be kept in check – ran into a young team prone to dangerous lapses in defensive attentiveness. So while for much of the first 30 minutes the Cavaliers played pretty good defense (given their well noted deficiencies on that end), they had a couple deadly lapses which the Mavericks used to create a doubled-digit lead.
Let's take a deeper look. Below Love turns his head to watch ball for an instant, during which their center Tyson Chandler dives to the basket for an alley-oop feed from new PG Rajon Rondo. Thanks to Chandler and the team’s very effective drivers (notably Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis), Dallas finishes a league best 65% at the rim. (Cavs are 14th at 59%.) They have such good shooters everyone has to watch them at the three-point line, opening up such plays. This is what you face against this high-octane, league-leading scoring team.
The Mavericks are also the #1 team from 15-19 feet, shooting 46.8%, a tough combination to defend. (Cavs are third at 45.2% but are 27th in attempts with 9.8 compared to the Mavericks 12.4, just for reference.) However, the Cavaliers did a decent job in the first half other than a couple lapses in the second quarter, holding them to 57 points. The Mavericks are just that good offensively.
JJ Berea got loose for seven points and three assists in a three-minute stretch of the second quarter, drilling a three over a laying back Miller, driving past Kyrie too easily for an oop to Chandler, and then made a nice play in transition to feed the offensively-challenged Al-Farouq Aminu for a layup.
The trouble with transition continued after Berea went out. In one 75-second stretch, they allowed a transition 3, a layup and what would’ve been another layup, had Love not fouled the shooter Monta Ellis.
On the first play, Dion’s drive into Tyson Chandler’s armpit ends predictably. Dion momentarily glares at the ref and then too slowly makes his way up the court, yielding a three to Devin Harris. Then Kyrie admires his shot rather than getting back, and finally Dion is slow to react to the fact that he’s the only guy back and yields another layup to Ellis as part of an 8-0 run after the Cavs closed the game to 7 at 49-42 on a Kevin Love 3. They’d never get closer.
They’d play the Mavericks even for the first bit of the third, then yielded a 17-8 run that blew the lead out to 19 with four left in the quarter. It was functionally over from that point forward. During that run – which began with the aforementioned alley-oop enabled by Love’s inattention – the Mavericks made seven straight shots and finished the quarter 14-21 for 32 points.
On the positive side, we got to see a lot more of the movement offense than we have all year and it produced some nice looks. With LeBron away we’re seeing a lot more picks and ball movement. Here are three of the more clever plays the Cavs ran.
On the first play, watch how Delly cuts from the three-point line through the lane, drawing Marion’s man away from him and opening him up for a layup. You can see the series of high pick and dribble hand-offs that are a part of one of Blatt’s favorite offensive sets, opening up a layup opportunity for Kyrie who draws the foul. The third is the best, a kind of triangle of picks around the high post at the two corners of the free throw line, which ultimately results in a Miller feed to Love under the basket for an easy hoop.
The ball movement shows how much easier the team can get shots outside isolation pick and rolls that they’ve predominantly spent the first third of the year running. Better familiarity with this offense will help keep defenses off balance, and shows the team shouldn’t have any trouble scoring without forcing a lot of turnovers, so long as they run the offense and share the ball.
Kyrie has been improving on this count and made less forays at the hoop than during his last two games when he jacked up 51 shots. Dellavedova initiated the offense a lot more yesterday. Indeed, Delly is looking a lot more comfortable in the offense, and made a nice drive and reverse layup finish on Nowtizki as well as feeding Marion and Love on his way to seven assists.
He’ll get even more of a chance tonight when the Cavaliers travel to Philadelphia. Kyrie didn’t return for the fourth quarter of the game yesterday, though it was pretty much over by then anyway. He has some back tightness that was prompted by a fall in the second half of Friday’s Hornets game, and which he re-aggravated. He won’t be making the trip to Philadelphia, presumably opening the door for Dion to join Miller, Delly, Love, and Tristan Thompson in the starting lineup.
Not that anyone should worry — the 76ers are epically bad, though we know this team can play down to the competition like nobody’s business. It’s the second game of a back-to-back as well, but there’s still no reason for them to not beat this borderline Development League team.
In one bit of other “news” which I have consigned to its appropriate place in the article – Cavs GM David Griffin spoke to the press yesterday. The main topic was seemingly the ESPN report that David Blatt could lose his job – a fanciful story which I shot holes in on Friday
. Griffin called the suggestion “pretty ridiculous,” but then what can you expect from a reporter who whiffed badly on the LeBron to Cleveland story as well.
Of course, sportswriters never have to account for the sourcing of their rumors. Suffice to say, the team’s play is a work-in-progress like we’ve been saying and the coach isn’t getting fired nor is LeBron going to leave. Sorry to disappoint, you’ll have to get your drama elsewhere.
I will be live tweeting during tonight’s Cavaliers game against the Philadelphia 76ers including video from the contest. You can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne
, and read my analysis of tonight’s game tomorrow on the Scene blog.