Momentum in the NBA can best be described only as the energy you bring to the next game. The Cavaliers played two of their most complete games against Chicago and Denver at home, but no carryover was to be had in Atlanta. The Hawks lit up the scoreboard and blew the doors off the Cavaliers in the first quarter. From there, it was only a continuance of the miscues from the first. The Cavaliers trailed by as many as 29 before cutting the deficit to 12 with primarily their second unit. In the end, it was a 108-89 loss that saw Kyrie Irving post the first scoreless stat-line of his career. It also has me in a particularly feisty mood.
The first quarter stats really say it all. Atlanta shot 60%, hit five three-pointers (including a pair from Kyle Korver, which set the NBA mark for most consecutive games with a three pointer at 90), and capped it off with a 55-foot heave from Paul Millsap at the quarter buzzer that went down. Offensively, the wine and gold shot 30%, including a 0-for-9 for the starting trio of Irving, C.J. Miles, and Alonzo Gee. The movement that was there in the past few games was gone. In its wake was lazy passing and forced perimeter shots. When they did get the ball got into Bynum, they scored on all three of his shot attempts.
There were really two good things on offense last night, and their names were Andrew Bynum and Dion Waiters. Bynum continued his strong play of late by matching his high point total as a Cavalier with 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go with 13 rebounds, also a season-high. Waiters had his fourth 20+ point effort in the last five games with 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting. Where Kyrie lacked the ability to knock down his mid-range shots, Dion was all over that, slicing and dicing for great, confident looks throughout the contest. The rest of the team, you ask? Well, they shot just 16-for-60 (27%).
Even more indicting against the Cavaliers was trailing like they did at the half and then coming out of the half and letting it get worse. The deficit at its worst ballooned to 29 points. That’s when Kyrie Irving exited for the evening, 20 minutes of “work” put forth with nine missed shots and no points to show for it. That included 3 missed free throws, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Defensively, he had trouble staying in front of Jeff Teague. After the game, Irving spoke in the same tone he has for much of the season. Focus is on the next game, he got shots that he wants (just has to make them), and their defensive effort just wasn’t there, etc, etc, etc. That’s all well and good, but I thought Dion Waiters’ quote was more appropriate.
#Cavs Waiters: "It’s frustrating to keep talking about the same thing over and over instead of just going out there and doing it.''
— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) December 7, 2013
Isn’t it, Dion? We’ve heard talk about Kyrie growing as a leader, and then Allie Clifton tells us about his passionate speech in a first half huddle. Where did it get them? Nowhere, because it’s all talk and not a matter of anyone taking action. If Kyrie wanted to lead by example instead of empty words, he’d drive the ball to the basket instead of settling for mid-range shots that aren’t falling, he’d fight through screens and stay in front of his man on defense, and he’d stop disrupting the flow of the offense and instead facilitate ball movement. As I said on Twitter last night, I really do hate being this hard on Irving, but someone has to hold him accountable for his and the Cavaliers’ subpar play. I’ll have more on that later today.
Shot charts can tell you a lot sometimes. Here’s a side-by-side of Dion (left) and Kyrie’s (right) shots from last night.
For a team that hangs its hat on defending, the Cavaliers sure didn’t do much of it, allowing 52% shooting for the game. The Hawks moved the ball incredibly well, assisting on 31 of their 47 field goals. The Hawks had seven score in double figures, but the most impressive may have been Paul Millsap. The former Jazzman scored 16 and collected 14 rebounds with half of those coming on the offensive end. He thoroughly outplayed Tristan Thompson on that end of the floor, and as bad as Kyrie played, in many aspects, coming off a really strong game, Tristan was not far behind him. He narrowly missed a double-double with 9 points and 11 boards, but his defense was completely lacking, and that really goes for the entire team’s interior defense. The only bright spot was a second unit group, led by Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova working the deficit down to just 12 points in the second half.
The Cavaliers face the Clippers tonight back in the familiar Q. It’s the only place the Cavaliers have been able to play even remotely close to what many had expected at the start of the season. They’ll need to actually go out and make the changes they want, rather than just talking about them.
(Photo: John Bazemore/AP)