Cavs vs Bulls Behind the Box Score–A Broken Team with No Solution

BtBS Bulls

The Cleveland Cavaliers endured their 5 game road trip and came back with a 3-2 record. It seemed like a real positive….a sign that perhaps this team was finally starting to figure things out and turn their season around.

Coming back home for a 5 game home stand against 5 very beatable teams, this was supposed to be the time the Cavaliers took control of their season and got themselves back into serious playoff contention.

That was the theory, but none of it was true. The Cavaliers once again showed their true colors in the first two games of this home stand. It’s time to face reality. This is a bad basketball team. Poorly constructed, poorly coached, and consistently giving poor effort. The stark contrast between the Cavs and the Bulls is palpable. The Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose to injury, just traded the heart and soul of their team to Cleveland, and were without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich…all they’ve done is continue to play tough defense, give great effort, and have won 6 of 8 since trading Deng and 12 of their last 16 overall. That’s what a basketball team with heart and determination does.

The Cavaliers have a serious chemistry and culture problem. This should be obvious for anyone to see. This season has been an absolute nightmare, and we’re still in January. That should be good news. Still plenty of time to turn things around, playoffs still aren’t out of reach in the terrible Eastern Conference, still a chance to regroup after All-Star weekend, and whatever other fake platitudes of false belief we choose to bestow upon ourselves. But really, history just keeps repeating itself with this team.

Acquiring Luol Deng has made this team better, but not good enough. His leadership and winning culture haven’t been enough to overcome the losing stink of this franchise. This is a bad basketball team. Not enough talent, the coaching has been subpar, the offense is laughable, and the defense continues to let opposing players put up season and career highs at will. Not much is working right now, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure where this team will go from here.

They’ll probably win their next 3 games and we’ll all get excited again and forget the lows of games like this and the Kings loss last week. And just when we start to believe again, they’ll let us all down with a string of lackluster performances. That’s the pattern with this team, and after 42 games, it’s more routine than glitch.

So lets look at some numbers…

  • 27 – 27 points for DJ Augustin, a season high. To be fair, Augustin has been great lately. He’s scored 16 or more in 5 straight games and been in double digits in 8 of his last 10. He has seen his career be completely rejuvenated since landing in Chicago in December after the Raptors let him go. In this game he was 8 of 14 from the field and 5 of 8 from three point range. When the Cavs went under the screen, he stepped back and nailed the jumper. When they stayed up on him, he drove past them. He was incredible in this game, and the Cavaliers defense just had no answer for him.
  • -12 – Kyrie Irving had 26 points to lead the Cavaliers, and he was -12 in +/- for this game. Opposing PGs continue to have huge games against the Cavaliers. Some of it is the defensive system (Mike Brown teams have always struggled with opposing PGs) and some of it is bad defense by Kyrie. Kyrie’s effort on defense has been much better this season. It’s why Mike Brown hasn’t been critical of his defense. But his defense has been bad. Really bad. Right now he is just not a good defender at the NBA level, and opposing teams have been more than happy to exploit it.
  • 3 with 22+ – It’s not just Kyrie, though. The Bulls had three players with 22+ points. Mike Dunleavy had 22, Taj Gibson had 26, and Augustin had 27. That’s a lot of bad defense by a lot of different players. Mike Brown came in to change the defensive culture, and I warned in the preseason that it will take time for the defense to improve. It’s been slightly better overall on the season, but there are still stretches of the game where the defense just absolutely collapses and allows the opponents to blow the game open. Speaking of which…
  • 64.7% – The Bulls shot 11-17 in the 3rd quarter (64.7%) and used the post-halftime stretch to take control of the game. Some of it was insane shooting by guys like Taj Gibson, but the Cavaliers defense wasn’t adjusting to what Chicago was doing and the Bulls were getting whatever shot they wanted. In the 4th quarter, when it looked like the Cavaliers were getting back into the game, the defense shutdown again. The Bulls shot 64.3% in the 4th quarter (9 of 14). The Cavaliers outscored the Bulls in the paint (34-30), had 19 2nd chance points compared to the Bulls’ 6, and 13 fastbreak points to 12 for the Bulls. The rebounding edge for Chicago was slight at 43-41. So how did the Bulls win? The Cavaliers couldn’t get stops when they needed them, that’s how.
  • 5-6 (but really 5-5) – Kyrie Irving hit 5 of 6 three pointers in the 2nd quarter, and his only miss was when he caught a defender in the air off a pump fake and tried (unsuccessfully) to draw a foul. Kyrie’s 15 points in the 2nd quarter sparked some life into the team as they took the lead going into halftime, but one of the problems with the Cavaliers is that they need Kyrie to be Superman just to have a chance. It seems like the only times the team is competitive is when Kyrie is going off. We’ve gone through this before with LeBron James and we know how it ends. The Cavaliers desperately need players other than Kyrie to shoulder the scoring load.

It’s easy to get down after watching these last two games. It’s important to remember that this is just one game and that in the NBA, things aren’t as bad as they seem in the low points or as good as they seem in the high points. The game of basketball is a game of runs, and that applies to W-L record as well.

But having said that, ignoring the problems isn’t going to help either. I don’t know what it’s going to take for this team to give more consistent performances, but they need to figure something out pretty soon. The Cavaliers will try to figure something out Friday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    So much for my optimism earlier today. I still say it starts with coaching.

  • Kildawg

    Hard to tell if the Cavaliers will show up for a game or something similar to the Tankaliers from the last couple years? More often than not it has been the latter…

  • anon

    “This is a bad basketball team. Poorly constructed, poorly coached, and consistently giving poor effort.”

    finally, we’re calling a spade a spade.

  • Lunch

    Disagree. I say it starts with knowledge and experience. Remember, this team has 9 players with at least 2 years experience or less, and they are learning a new coaching system. It’s going to take some time before this team forms into a cohesive unit.

  • Lunch

    “Not much is working right now, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure where this team will go from here.”

    Curious. Why do you want to look for answers for something that you have no control over? And if you did find an answer, will anyone within the Cavs organization listen to you?

    (btw, the answer is patience)


    It’s painful to can a coaching staff after only one season, we are all more than well aware of this fact. I hate to seem like a troll here because I am most assuredly not, but you have to be delusional to think that this roster and the way it is coached can lead to anything more than an eighth seed and a sweep against the Pacers. That is the most this team can possibly hope to accomplish in its current form, with its current direction. Nobody likes being the “Tankaliers”, but this draft might possibly provide a way out of despair provided it is handled correctly, and even that is a major reach. Do you honestly want to sit around for another two seasons watching Mike Brown preaching defense while criminally neglecting the other end of the floor? Again I AM NOT TROLLING, but Gilbert has to sack up and ditch Grant. I wouldn’t begrudge Gilbert if he decided to hold onto Brown for another year or two, even though IIRC Brown lobbied for Bennett. Grant has made some decent trades, but his drafting in this crucial rebuild has been suspect at best. Blame the talent pool all you want, but Grant has failed (other than the relative no-brainer in Uncle Drew) to draft anyone other than marginal complimentary pieces. Keep Brown if you must, but find anyone who won’t squander this all important ’14 draft. And no, I’m done with patience.

  • I’m not sure if your questions are rhetorical or not. Of course they wouldn’t listen to me. If they listened to me, they should be fired on the spot. I look for answers because that’s what we as fans and observers do.

  • boomhauertjs

    They’re not making the playoffs. This was a game a playoff team (even in the horrible 2014 East) wins. They should be shopping Varejao while he’s healthy to see if they can get a piece for the future.
    Something tells me that if the Cavs are in the lottery again, Dan Gilbert won’t be in attendance with a huge entourage…

  • RGB

    If I’m Gilbert, I tell Grant…”No more damn flyers. Draft the concensus highest rated player. Period.”

  • mgbode

    the effort part is what is killing me. How can a team with Andy & Deng give an overall poor effort so consistently?

    I don’t know what the answers are either, but there’s got to be a way to light a fire under these guys behinds.

  • I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s just a bad basketball team.

  • If a lottery protected first round pick is all they can get for Andy, I hope the Cavs keep him. He’s more valuable to Cleveland than he is to any other team, so the Cavs will struggle to get good return for him.

    I agree they should be shopping him, just to see what they can get for him. If it’s a no-brainer, do it. But don’t trade him just to trade him and to get “something….anything” in return for him.

  • scott

    Until recently, you could add Dellavedova to this list…but he hasn’t played (spare 2-minutes of garbage time) in the last three games.

    Perhaps he’s hurt?

    Don’t get me wrong, a 3rd-string rookie guard is NOT the reason the Cavs are/aren’t winning, but when DJ Augustine drops 27-pts on you, perhaps you try something/anything different.

  • RGB

    It doesn’t help when the Number One overall pick couldn’t make the St. Ed’s JV team.

  • scott

    Agree 100% with this. EVEN IF the player doesn’t pan out, at least his perceived value around the league will match his draft spot (See Thomas Robinson).

  • EdgewaterJoe

    The supreme irony is that there are Bulls fans that are ENRAGED that they are going to make the playoffs. They know Derrick Rose will never be the player he was, and the hope when they traded Deng away was to get in the lottery to try to get another potential star – while the Cavs grabbed Deng in the hope of avoiding the draft lottery. On one level, it would be hysterical to see the Bulls get in and the Cavs not …

  • Pat Leonard

    This is the conclusion I’m coming to as well. You hate to overreact to one bad game, but which players on this roster are good enough to carry a team deep into the playoffs in the future? Kyrie gives back every point he earns and more on defense, even with the venerable Mike Brown at coach, and there’s no effort there. Likewise, Dion Waiters has zero interest on defense and his offense has gone into the tank. Jarrett Jack is a tire fire. The Cavs just got beat at home by a Bulls team that played DJ Augustin and Mike Dunleavy for 39 minutes each and allowed them to combine for 17-28 shooting and 49 points.

    It’s time to say “screw it, we’re a bad team… let’s play Anthony Bennett 25 minutes per game and just see how the season unfolds.”

  • mgbode

    starting lineup against the Bucks:


    With Mike Brown yelling in the locker room after he announces it: “Maybe these guys will actually give some effort?!? Maybe we can actually play like we want to win the game this way?!?”

    It’s as good of a chance as any I guess.

  • Pat Leonard

    I would 100% support this. I kept waiting for the hockey line change to happen against the Bulls. It should have happened. There were moments in that game where even Luol Deng was blowing defensive assignments (psssst Luol… Mike Dunleavy is the small forward… Tristan may be doing a horrible job guarding Taj Gibson, but leave him be and go stop Dunleavy from hitting another wide open three).

    Mike Brown is still coaching this team like a veteran team that is expected to make the playoffs. It’s time to realize that this is still a young team that needs to be taught lessons.

  • RGB

    Mike Brown coaching? That’s a good one.

  • Jason Hurley

    So, how fun would it be to have 2 Cleveland franchises can their head coach after 1 season? I would think that if Dan Gilbert were super-serial about making the playoffs this year, anything short should lead to heads rolling.

  • Lunch

    Wasn’t Noel the consensus’s highest rated player in last year draft?

  • mgbode

    due to his injury and offensive shortcomings, it wasn’t really a consensus (as seen by him going #6). Oladipo and Porter certainly had their supporters.

  • Pat Leonard

    Since this game wasn’t close at the end, this wasn’t that big of a deal, but the no-call on Noah’s over-the-back of Varejao was flat out absurd. I’m not sure how any referee can be so blind. Noah was being effectively boxed out by Andy, but used his arm to push down Andy’s head, then propelled himself upwards with that arm in order to dunk the ball on a put-back. The official saw nothing wrong with this scenario. That entire play was so Cavs.

  • RGB

    But, what happens when Bennett goes Vince Young when he struggles?

  • Pat Leonard

    Then he’ll take himself right out of the league and the world will keep on spinning. The Cavs either need to send him to the D-League to get minutes or give him minutes with the big boys, but either way sitting him on the bench with zero minutes each and every game is not useful to either Bennett or the Cavs.

  • Harv 21

    Was thinking the same thing watching last night, Andrew. Delusion time is over. Time for people to stop rocking and murmuring “OKC Model” over and over. I see two basic problems here:

    1) Grant has not drafted talent. High picks must be able to impose their will
    in at least some facet of the game. The #4 overall from ’11 whose game is supposed to be inside energy and power hasn’t developed a single, go-to post-up move, is generally weak under the basket and no longer keeps his interest/energy up over stretches of games. The #4 overall pick from ’12 is a stone-cold pouter. While he now appears to be giving ok defensive effort, the one area where I expected he would impose his will – bullish drives to the hole – results in more whining to the refs for foul calls than buckets. And this year’s #1 overall is as invisible as the fringiest of roster guys. That’s 3 choice picks in 2 years, none of whom consistently impact a game in any way.

    2) Tanking leaves a toxic atmosphere that infects players, especially the young. The roster has been feeling sorry for itself since 2010, starting with Mo Williams’s whining about feeling so abandoned. Besides Andy, no player understands the effort necessary to close out a game, to beat a team also interested in that night’s game. The young guys have only known a suckhole of long losing streaks, zero effort, zero defense and Byron Scott’s seeming disinterest. The attitude of a team’s best player has an outsized effect on the team; guys aren’t “leaders” just because the press says they will be. Jarrett Jack, anointed “role model” by the media, looks as flat as Alonzo Gee has been since he received his contract. And Kyrie. As crazy talented as he is, let’s remember he played in 11 college games. His answer to on-court difficulty with bad teammates is straight Iverson Hero Ball on the offensive end, difficult shot attempts by him. Maybe making the all-star team and becoming a star of commercials so soon was the worst thing to happen to the Cavs. When he was drafted I said he looked like Isiah Thomas, but he’s not. Right now he’s a media-civilized version of Iverson and all that implies: he can win some games single-handedly, and that’s what he knows, that’s what he’ll try to do. But he won’t make his teammates better, won’t devote himself to defense, and won’t consider that there’s a better path, of integration and selflessness into a team-first concept, that leads to wins.

    Mike Brown has the ability to teach, but no one has the magic beans to instantly reverse what Chris Grant has wrought with these players and this extended toxic suckitude. Deng can help, but he’s not a magic bean any more than Andy is. If I’m Deng, I’d consider re-signing only ifI know Grant won’t be the one selecting next year’s young teammates.

  • mgbode

    he opens a steakhouse?

  • Lunch

    So now, who would be a suitable GM that would convince Deng to resign with the Cavs? Someone with similar attributes to Ted Stephen, perhaps?

  • RGB

    Agreed. Sink or swim for him.
    The team can’t get much worse…

  • RGB
  • Lunch

    This may be true, but I’m not sure how either of these guys would fit on this team.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You cannot tell me Mike Brown’s coaching system is that complex the man admitted earlier in the season that all they had been working on was defense. Okay maybe not all but a majority of time.

    This team has to much talent to be playing this way at this point in the season. The Bulls had a depleted roster with DJ Augustin and Mike Dunleavy and they outplayed the Cavaliers. If I was Kyrie Irving I’d be embarrassed today.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If the Cavaliers fail to make the playoffs it will be almost as interesting as what happens with the Browns and I’m not speaking in positives here.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ve wanted to trade Varejao for years but man, the guy just flat out plays his guts out regardless. I agree if they can’t get a decent return keep him because honestly he’s the only really worthy player.

  • chris justin

    ” Kyrie gives back every point he earns and more on defense”. I can’t agree more. Even worse he doesn’t get others involved either. He is either hot or not. I am starting to think he will be reduced to a “Jamal Crawford” type player in a few years where you just plug him in and see if it provides a spark or not. I can’t see building around this guy.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I wish it was that easy the problem as others have noted here was there wasn’t a consensus highest rated player.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’d have Deng and Varejao start the rest ok if all you want to do is send a message. Varejao has done nothing to be benched with the rest of the unintelligent less then hard workers.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    The decision or maybe we should label it “The admittance” that he shouldn’t have been fired and thus was rehired isn’t looking to good right now huh? That had mistake written all over it and nothing unfortunately has changed my mind.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I picked Augustin up in free agency just in time for last night. Take that Chris Grant!!!! 😉

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Brown is a defensive assistant period. But I’ve never been comfortable with the whole Chris Grant-Mike Brown relationship which has a far to deep entanglement. I believe that helped Ferry (who I wasn’t a real fan of) out the door and so far it’s been a terrible failure.

  • mgbode

    well, Oladipo gives constant effort. his main issue is that he would be a MKG-style guy, but have to play SG for us. that’s an issue because he’s not a shooter. He’d give effort though, which is something we do need.

    Porter has been terrible. He’d be getting all the bad publicity that Bennett has gotten if he had been taken #1 overall instead.

    Noel (while injured) actually fits the best on this team. Since Irving cannot be bothered to play defense on PGs, then we might as well have a blocker behind him to help clean up his mess.

    and, this from someone who did not like Noel at the time.

  • mgbode

    it’s quite good but way overpriced. only reason I got to eat there was lucky enough to have a corporate function there.

  • Yeah, I pretty much agree with most of that. The thing about Kyrie is, this has been such a toxic environment to develop a player in. Byron Scott was the worst coach imaginable to develop Kyrie. Byron came here hoping he would get to coach LeBron. When LeBron left, Byron checked out. He was done. And with such an atrocious roster, what choice did anyone have but to reinforce to Kyrie that the team needed him to do everything? So why should we be surprised that today Kyrie still tries to do everything by himself? And you know what, look what happens when Kyrie doesn’t do everything by himself…..the team does nothing.

    Maybe Kyrie can make teammates better, maybe not. But until the Cavaliers can surround him with better talent that fits his playstyle, we just can’t know.

    And I agree on Deng, as well. I hope Dan Gilbert is coming to the same realization that most of the rest of us are. As likeable as CG is, he’s just not getting the job done.