For just over 43 minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers looked like a new team. They were hustling, passing and doing all the “little things” that make a basketball team actually competitive.
For the final 4:43, everything stopped. Defense was non-existent. The ball hardly moved away from Kyrie Irving’s hands – for better and for (mostly) worse. And the host New Orleans Pelicans out-scored the Cavs 23-7 down the stretch to win.
It’s clearly a tough loss. The Cleveland team with playoff hopes fell to 4-9 with an ugly 1-7 road record. But in the end, there were signs of hope from New Orleans.
Pregame, the story of the day was undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova getting the starting nod over Dion Waiters and the injured C.J. Miles. Again, this is the Dellavedova who played just 26 minutes in the team’s first 10 games. But Mike Brown saw enough out of his hustle and intensity in the two previous games to give him the honor.
Of course, then Dellavedova played just 12 minutes in this contest, split evenly between the two halves. For as much as he was a difference-maker in the two previous games and led with his non-stop fervor, he was mostly a non-factor against New Orleans.
Perhaps the team took a message from his start, however. They got off to a 16-6 start, holding down the fort against the versatile Pelicans roster. And they were looking as smooth as ever all the way through the middle of the fourth quarter.
In Andrew’s typical Behind The Box Score format, here are some other stats that stuck out to me.
– 44 on 28 – Points and field goal attempts combined for Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters off the Cavs bench 77 minutes. Those three had their best combined offensive performance of the season, while obviously also being a part of the defensive collapse down the stretch. Clark finished 3-for-5 from three-ball land, continuing his hot streak. Jack and Waiters each took turns at different points of leading the team’s offense. The ball movement and offense really was fantastic until the final stretch.
– 18:11 – Minutes for Andrew Bynum last night, after logging 12:33 in his return on Wednesday. He also had one of his best offensive games of the season against the Pelicans, scoring a quick eight points and dishing four assists. One big question mark remains, however: When will Andrew Bynum be able to close out games? He’s averaged now 17:40 in his last seven contests. But in total, he’s appeared in the fourth quarter just three times for a combined 13 minutes. His presence could be clutch as another go-to option offensively to break up the hero ball.
– 1/7 – The Cavs scored on just one of seven offensive possessions between the 4:43 and 1:29 mark of the fourth quarter. During this span, the Pelicans rallied from the 93-81 deficit to tie the game at 95. This streak followed an Earl Clark three-pointer and New Orleans timeout. Here are the results of the ensuing Cavs possessions in chronological order:
4:20 – Earl Clark steps out of bounds turnover
3:48 – Kyrie Irving lost ball turnover
3:30 – Kyrie Irving misses 24-foot three point jumper
2:57 – Anderson Varejao lost ball turnover
2:26 – Ryan Anderson blocks Kyrie Irving’s 2-foot layup
2:06 – Kyrie Irving makes 13-foot jumper
1:35 – Kyrie Irving misses layup
In nearly all of those possessions, Kyrie Irving controlled the ball for the entirety, until perhaps the very last seconds where he pushed through to the paint in traffic or forced a late pass. He also ended the next three possessions as well, whereas the Pelicans took the lead for good. But the issue here is the inefficiency on offense caused a clog in the offensive movement.
– 26.1 – Kyrie Irving is now averaging 26.1 field goal attempts per 36 minutes in the fourth quarter and overtime periods this season. He’s taken just over 30% of the team’s total shot attempts during these periods. In the first three quarters of games, he averages just 17.5 FGA/36 and barely over 20% of the shots. Obviously, Irving is the team’s best player and you want him to have the ball in his hands at the end of games. The contrasting numbers are a bit striking. Many times, it will work wonderfully. Last night, it was catastrophic.
– 23.3-4.7 – The average fast-break points margin in the Cavaliers’ last three losses. New Orleans beat Cleveland 23-2 in this category. It wasn’t pretty, and a huge chunk of those points came for the Pelicans in the closing stretches of the game. This was all despite Tyreke Evans missing at least five gimmes at the rim. By the end of the contest, others were getting in the action, Jrue Holiday made some clutch shots and Ryan Anderson/Eric Gordon each made big threes. This is a very versatile offensive team already. Giving up this kind of fast-break deficit – again – won’t help.
– 47 and 57 – Minutes for Tristan Thomson and Earl Clark in the last two games. With the Cavs often favoring smaller lineups, Clark is now receiving the bulk of crunch time minutes at the No. 4 spot. It’s an odd transition, after the former Laker had previously fallen out of the rotation entirely. Now, Thompson appears to be the odd man out at times, despite being a No. 4 overall pick and after averaging 31.3 minutes a season ago. Sure, Tristan averaged an intense 36 minutes per contest in the first 11 games of the season, but it appears that’s shifting down with the ever-tinkering rotation.
– 41-17 – Through play on Friday, the Western Conference was destroying the East with that ridiculous record. That’s pretty obscene, including a 17-1 run (!) over the last week. If there’s any solace for the Cavs and their playoff hopes, it’s the fact that the East has been pretty terrible all season. Even at 4-9, the Cavs remain only a game back of eighth place. They obviously have difficult games upcoming against San Antonio and Miami. But after that, the schedule gets easier and the home games more plentiful. It’s likely that 35-36 wins could be enough for the desired No. 8 seed.
After all that, you can blame Mike Brown, you can blame Kyrie Irving and you can certainly blame the inconsistent officiating. But all that negativity ignores the fact that the Cavaliers looked like an entirely different team Friday than they did on Wednesday. They showed life, togetherness and chemistry. They showed offensive rhythm for 90% of the game. Obviously, that didn’t matter much in the end, but here’s to hoping some of that momentum carries over.
As I’ve said several times this season, Cavs fans have seen a glimpse of what makes this team an intriguing playoff entrant. We’ve seen bits and pieces of: dominant Kyrie Irving; helpful Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack; near-All-Star Tristan Thompson; attacking defense; productive Andrew Bynum; secondary shooters. There’s hardly ever been an occasion when all of those glimpses have appeared at the same time, but when/if they do, this team can make a run. Mediocre teams are by nature inconsistent and frustrating. This was just another one of those losses, but could add up to much more if the team recognizes what went right for over 43 minutes.
(Photo by Chris Granger, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)