Small goals paving the way for big wins in Cleveland


The mountain has been turned into a series of considerably smaller molehills. While the Cleveland Cavaliers have a long way to go before they are even within eyesight of the top, each rest station along the way comes with its own intrinsic reward.

After being embarrassed by 18 points in Detroit late last week, the Cavaliers — the team as well as the front office —  had a series of meetings. There was a closed-door meeting with Byron Scott, his assistant coaches and all 15 players. Blunt objects were not thrown, but choice words most definitely were. From there, Scott and his coaches sat down to focus on the short and intermediate term. Long term talk is fantastic fuel for narrative, but it was obvious that young players needed something on which to hang their respective hats.

As unfavorable as the first-half has been for the Cavaliers in the win-loss department, it has been even worse from a scheduling standpoint with the team having played 28 road games — the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, and Boston Celtics have each played 22; the Miami Heat have traveled just 23 times. The fortune has started to turn, however, as the mishap in Motown was placed immediately in the rear view mirror and a six-game homestand was the only thing that stood between present day and the All-Star break.

Using this cross-section of the schedule, Scott and his team went to work.

On a giant white board inside of the Cavaliers locker room, pregame pep-talks come accompanied with in-game goals — these typically encompass target numbers of trips to the free throw line as well as things like assist-to-turnover ratio. But to find the root of these bogeys, Scott lobs series-long goals at his players. Taking things a bit further, he decided to utilize the six-game stretch to focus on pictures bigger than an insular game, but more granular than a narrative like competing for an NBA title.

“We always have small goals, to be honest with you,” the head coach told WFNY earlier this week. “We always go into a season. It might be a five-game plan or a ten-game plan — we always look at it into just small steps to see what we want to achieve in these next five games or these next ten games. We pull out all our numbers that we want to try to hit on both ends of the floor. All those small goals eventually turn into big goals when it’s all said and done, but you want to give these guys something to hold on to.”

The numbers, per Scott, are aggressive, but realistic. The players agree. And if the first two games of the six-game stand are any sign, said players are also well on their way to meeting — if not exceeding — the targets placed before their collective arrows. Following a roof-raising fourth quarter against the championship contending Oklahoma City Thunder, the Wine and Gold took what appeared to be a trap game against the Charlotte Bobcats and turned into a whistle-t0-horn waxing.

The starting unit, who was given the fourth quarter off as means of punishment in Detroit, watched the final period from the bench once again, but this time as means to give The Nephews1 some additional run. Kyrie Irving had a quiet 22 points on  88.4 true shooting percentage. Tristan Thompson had 15 points and six boards at the half, falling a rebound shy of a double double and nearly topping Irving’s efficient evening with a true shooting mark of 87.1 percent. Rookie off-guard Dion Waiters was the team’s leading scorer for a portion of the night, tallying 19 points in just 24 minutes of play. Newcomers Marrese Speights and Wayne Ellington each chipped in double-figure point totals off of the bench.

Ball movement? There was plenty — the Cavaliers recorded 33 assists; The Nephews recorded 17 assists on their own with just 21 field goals made. Ball control? Compared to the 33 assists, the Cavs turned the ball over just six times. The wire-to-wire effort and focus that had been missing at times throughout the marathon season? Lasers.

“I was curious to see if we learned from some of our past mistakes and if we have grown as a basketball team and I can say we definitely have,” said Scott following the latest win. “It’s just a matter of now keeping it going but I really love the signs I saw from our guys. The effort from the beginning of the game, we pretty much carried it out throughout the game.”

The team was told that had they lost momentum and allowed the woeful Bobcats to beat them at home, any praise and pomp that had been rained upon them due to the win over the Thunder meant nothing. They Cavaliers were challenged. The Cavaliers accepted.

While that loss in Detroit stings and serves as a rude awakening to the youthful and inexperienced truth that exists underneath all of the fanfare, the Cavaliers have won five of their last seven contests, as well as five of their last six at Quicken Loans Arena. The win over the ‘Cats marked the largest regular season margin of victory for the Cavs since March 1, 2010 when Cleveland won by 31 points in a 124-93 win over the New York Knicks and a small forward named LeBron James dropped — of course — 22 points.

Rest assured that these two wins, while fulfilling in their own right, will disappear the moment this team decides to let off of the gas pedal. If and when they do, as young players tend to from time to time, it will be Scott and his staff to ensure that the ship’s direction is realigned and the smaller game-to-game goals are put in place as to promote focus and progress. Not a management tactic exclusive to the Cavaliers, but one that may carry the most value given the circumstances that surround the city and this specific cast of characters.

Following the contest against the Bobcats, Irving had what could be perceived as a mental lapse, not being able to recall the next two teams who the Cavaliers will host prior to the break. But it could also be seen as a player who is not looking ahead, focusing on the task at hand, climbing the ladder one goal-based rung at a time.

“The season is such a long season — its hard for guys to stay focused through 82 games, you know, and eight games in preseason, that’s a lot of games,” said Scott this week. “Trying to hit our target on short term goals, we do that almost weekly.

“We’ll see if we hit those numbers when the All-Star break comes; when we come back, we’ll have even more.”

  1. A term coined by Fred McLeod — via Twitter — for the reserve unit which pays obvious homage to Kyrie Irving’s ‘Uncle Drew’ []

  • Vindictive_Pat

    When your team is playing the woeful Bobcats, it’s so much more refreshing to see them obliterate the competition rather than beat the Bobcats on a last-second shot. I thoroughly enjoyed that drubbing and hope to see another one tomorrow as the awful Orlando Magic come to town.

  • Harv 21

    small goals are nice but what I saw last night was mostly a team playing hard after a few consecutive days of practice, and that seems to be the exception rather than the rule since Byron has been here. Also, continue to be impressed that all 3 newcomers to the bench actually know how to play in the NBA. Nice to see them make it look simple against a woeful team rather than participating in the “how low can you go” contest with Bobcats second stringers.


    – So nice to see a young guy blossoming once the light turns on. Guessing Tristan can’t wait to get to the arena these days.

    – Is there anybody in the NBA Zeller can box out? A seven footer who this year plays at about 6’8″. Tyler, please, you’re going to be real good once you hit the weights with a seriousness of purpose, visit a Miami anti-aging specialist or something, anything.

  • Kildawg

    He’s a rookie, he’s learning. Didn’t you rip T2 a year ago as well? Zeller would deserve more criticism this time next year if he doesn’t improve. Zeller is participating in the Rising Stars game this year (the only guy that isn’t a Top 10 pick in that game I believe).

  • Roosevelt

    I was absolutely amazed by TT last night. Dude has moves. Hooks with both hands, driving hard to the hoop; I was down on him earlier because it’s so rare for high level skills to develop once a player is in the NBA, but he really looked great last night.

  • mgbode

    and it’s not just that he’s learning it’s that his body isn’t ready. it stinks that he’s an older rookie with a weaker body, but that is why he was a mid-1st round pick.

    i’m still fully confident that he will develop into a solid rotational big for years with the professional training staff helping him add the muscle.

    on a side note: I loved Jeremy Lamb as well though he even more radically needs the weight training. Could you imagine the rancor if we had drafted both Lamb and Zeller? Even though they both may turn out to be good long-term players, neither had/has a NBA-ready body.

  • mgbode

    i missed the game. how was the defense? was it more Charlotte missing shots or were we actually rotating well?

  • Harv 21

    no, I wondered about TT last year but more than once commented here: “Love. This. Kid.” (and still do). Early this year I questioned what improvements Tristan’s off-season work had produced when he wasn’t hustling. Since Andy’s been out he’s no longer standing around.
    I like Zeller and think he’ll be fine. But it’s still surprising to me that 4 years at a well-funded athletic facility and with top college coaching did not leave him with better defensive fundamentals or stronger. This year, it’s humorous to see a 7 footer lose almost every contested rebound no matter who’s challenging him.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Charlotte is bad, very bad no real inside threat this was a game the Cavaliers should have won like they did and I was very happy to see it.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I said that about Lamb that and he’s Daniel Gibson 2.0 in that he mostly is an outside player dependent upon someone else doing the heavy lifting. Don’t get me wrong he’d be a nice “shooter” but only for a team who needs that IMO.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Glad to see a beat down delivered to a team that the Cavaliers should have been able to beat down. The team is making strides, slowly but surely.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Thompson has been playing great for over a month now. He’s making Grant look like a genius.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Agree with Shamrock, although I think you can still take a few minor things away from the game. Charlotte’s coach preaches 3-point shooting and slashing to the basket on offense… he doesn’t really want the Bobcats shooting mid-range jumpers. The Cavs knew this but still didn’t play effective perimeter defense right away… it took them about half of the first quarter before they started limiting what the Bobcats wanted to do offensively. I would say the defense was effective/better in this game, though… they forced Charlotte into taking a lot of jump shots and didn’t let Walker and Sessions drive into the paint without having some bodies in there to stop them.

    It also helped that our second unit is MUCH better than the garbage the Bobcats were putting out there. Speights has been money as we all know, but I’ve really been surprised at Ellington’s quality… he’s a nice role player. His three-point shooting is obviously what he hangs his hat on, but I didn’t know that he was as good of a defensive player as he is. And although I am not a fan of Luke Walton, I must give him credit for having an excellent game both offensively and defensively.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I didn’t realize how truly ambidextrous he is… he really does seem to shoot equally well whether using his right or left hand. That’s unusual for such a young and athletic player.

  • mgbode

    Thanks. Yeah, was worried much of it was a product of their atrocity of a team, but hey, will take the blowout win anyway.

  • mgbode

    Thank you.

    Luke Walton defensively? He has definitely been much better offensively lately. Great, now I have to see if I can get my online account properly activated so I can watch this game.

  • mgbode

    he’s long and lanky, if he can add the bulk (never guaranteed), then I think he can be a nice shooting Tony Allen. that is a useful player that Gibson sadly could never get to because he’s not tall enough and he’s always injured.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Yeah strange right? I distinctly remember him adeptly stepping into some passing lanes and getting some deflections. He also didn’t let Charlotte’s bigs get much close to the hoop, but then again they are Bobcats.

  • mgbode

    I’ll be honest, I read that line of your first post like you were some drunken hillbilly coming back in from a hunt wildly claiming to have seen sasquatch.

    I need the video evidence 🙂

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Hahaha… it’s true, I seen it! Ask the pigs, they seen it too!

  • Steve

    Umm, Klay Thompson, Faried, Leonard, Parsons, Vucevic, and Shved were all non top 10 picks.

    And Zeller is really helped by the injury to Varejao. Without those minutes, the 26th best rookie in PER is probably not being rewarded.

  • thenoclist

    Non top ten picks on the rookie squad. Zeller is the only one.

  • Steve

    Shved went undrafted.

  • Non-lottery draftee. Boom.