In last week’s installment of Cavaliers Film Room, we dissected a couple of plays that helped the Cavaliers win back-to-back games for the first time all season. This week, I’m firmly focused on the Cavaliers’ inability to pull out close games not just this past week against Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Sacramento, but all season long. It’s nearly impossible to be as close as the Cavaliers have been in so many games late and be able to pull out so few wins. I believe some of it is coaching, but a lot of it is execution as well. We’re going to take a cross-section of the Sacramento game in particular, the most egregious offense in blowing a game late, with five plays that change the course of the game in its final three minutes.
Let’s start with just over three minutes to play. The Cavaliers are on offense, and the ball is in Kyrie Irving’s hands. He is being covered by the 6’0″ Aaron Brooks. Tristan Thompson is coming to set a ball screen, and he is covered by Demarcus Cousins.
Irving tries to drive away from the screen, but Brooks isn’t fooled. Tristan ends up just standing there with Cousins playing under to help Brooks if he needs it.
Look at the other Cavaliers. Zeller’s standing in the opposite corner. Dion’s standing on the opposite wing. Gee is standing in the nearside corner. No movement. No action. It’s all on Kyrie to make something happen.
Kyrie doubles back left, but look how much they’re overplaying Irving here. They could care less if Kyrie dumps the ball to Tristan and he’s forced to dribble down the middle of the key uncontested. We all know it’s a victory to get the ball out of Kyrie’s hands.
Cousins sticks his nose in, and comes out with a steal as he pokes the ball away from Kyrie. Irving’s momentum sends him forward, and the Kings have a 2-on-none break for an easy layup. Perhaps if this is Andy running the pick and roll instead of Tristan, the Kings would’ve been forced to respect the other option a bit more. Instead, it’s a costly turnover.
In our next play, watch how careless the Cavaliers are with the ball in transition. Normally, I’m a fan of the Cavs getting out and running a little bit, but watch how poorly they execute here. The Kings have just scored, but Brooks tumbles out of bounds. As a result, Kyrie pushes the ball up the left side of the court, where he throws cross court to Miles where we join the action.
Problem here? Yes, it’s a 4-on-5 break right now with Zeller trailing the action. Miles also has Brooks closing in on him with Cousins standing between him and the basket. This is a no brainer to pull it out and run the offense.
A no-brainer except when you’re C.J. Miles, apparently. Miles drives in, gets trapped, leaves his feet with no angle to the bucket, and tries to throw it out to either Zeller or Irving.
Cousins tips the pass, and Francisco Garcia swoops in to steal the ball. The Kings head the other way, and the Cavaliers have their fifth turnover of the quarter thus far.
The Cavaliers now trail by two with the ball and under one minute to play. In their common 1-4 set, Irving starts to get past Brooks.
Like he’s done a couple of times already in crunch time, Irving is going to look to shake Brooks and rise up over him for a 15-foot jump shot. While I’m not really thrilled with the looks we get out of the 1-4 set often, it makes sense to shoot that shot with the Kings’ bigs focused on stepping up to stop Kyrie should he get to the second level.
Problem? Kyrie loses his footing with his right foot as he plants to elevate.
He desperately heaves the ball out in the direction of Alonzo Gee on the right wing. I’m pretty disappointed with Gee’s hustle after this ball. It’s like his feet are in concrete, and he didn’t appear ready to get the ball on this possession.
The Cavs turn it over yet again as the Kings make them pay on the next possession.
I didn’t forget about our defense. On the very next possession (which started with 38 seconds left), the Kings get into a little isolation set of their own with Irving covering Aaron Brooks.
Notice the Kings’ fantastic spacing. Jimmer Fredette is on the right wing, flanked by Waiters. John Salmons is buried on the left side, covered by Gee, and the two big men (the Kings have gone small here with Garcia and Cousins) are out of the way in their respective corners.
Six seconds on the shot clock, and there goes Brooks. Byron Scott has already made one boo-boo by not switching coverage of Brooks over to either Gee or at least Waiters. Brooks is just too quick in a 1-on-1 situation for Kyrie, and you could’ve easily switched him onto someone like Garcia or Fredette who wasn’t likely to be in the picture for more than a contested three.
Still, it can be corrected, but Gee needs to have orders to SPRINT to underneath the basket when Brooks starts his move and gets by Irving. You’d rather live with Zeller flailing out to contest a Salmons three instead of the shot Brooks is about to get.
No one comes to help… at all. Byron actually sees what is going to happen (far too late, albeit), and you can see him point at Dion to pinch in and help off Fredette, but Brooks has nearly gone past by that time.
Brooks actually has to finish high over Irving’s outstretched arms, but he does so and gives the Kings a four point lead with 18 seconds to play. The contest wasn’t bad by Kyrie, but his failure to stay in front of Brooks and force a jumper along with Byron’s lack of accounting for that doom the wine and gold.
The final play I’ll look at is the one that infuriates me the most. The Cavs are still down four with 8.9 seconds remaining, inbounding just over halfcourt. Waiters is taking the ball out, Kyrie and C.J. Miles are in the key flashing, and Zeller and Gee are planted on the left elbow.
Gee cuts away from the ball, and Waiters neglects to hit C.J. Miles on the first cut (he’s fairly open). It’s obvious they’re waiting for Kyrie to get open and come get the basketball.
Watch as Kyrie flares out with Salmons closely shading him. Cousins is also letting the inbound go to Zeller and helping with Irving on the left wing.
Because of the awful congestion of this play, Dion has no choice but to inbound to Tyler Zeller.
With Irving still tied up and unlikely to get a clean look (at least fast enough, anyway), the look should be right back to the inbounder Waiters. Let’s see if that happens.
This is where the audible screech of terror escaped my mouth watching this unfold live. NO, ZELLER! What are you thinking?!? #$&* (and so on). Dion cuts away from Zeller instead of coming to get the basketball, because Kyrie’s fighting like heck to get open, and Salmons is having none of it. With just over seven seconds left, Zeller chucks up this contested TWO point shot. It is a rookie mistake, but this inbounds was a disgrace from the beginning.
I guess my closing point is this. You saw Andrew crunch the ugly numbers earlier today. You’ve seen this team squander game after game after game in the final minutes against teams of equal or lesser talent. I’ve logged head-scratching play after head-scratching play. At what point does the coach get held accountable for not putting his young team in the proper sets, the proper spots, and the right situations to succeeed? Don’t take this as a “Fire Byron!” post, but instead a “Start coaching, Byron!” plea. This team with its current talent level should NOT be the second worst team in the league.
Thanks for reading, and until next week, the film room is closed!