Los Angeles Clippers (15-5) 113
Cleveland Cavaliers (13-4) 94
For the first couple weeks of the NBA season, the Los Angeles Clippers were the best team in the NBA. Through their first eight games, they were an absolutely dominant defensive basketball team. Through eight games they had only given up 100 points once, and that was their season opener. After that hot start, though, their defensive began to falter as they gave up 100 or more points in 8 of their next 11 games. And then came the losses, as the Clippers came into Thursday night’s game riding a three-game losing streak.
All of this is to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers were facing a dangerous, but wounded basketball team. As counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s sometimes preferable to play a good team on a three-game winning streak rather than playing a good team on a three-game losing streak.
This may sound like a setup for a built-in excuse for the Cavaliers losing this game. It’s not, though. It’s just context for what happened in this game. The Cavaliers have not faced much, if any, adversity this season yet. After a phenomenal start to the season, after winning the Championship last season, the Cavaliers seemed to relax and stop giving full effort. The Clippers, however, played this game like a team with something to prove.
The Cavaliers got off to a good start in this one, leading for all of the first quarter. But then the Clippers used their bench to outmatch the Cavaliers’ reserves in the second quarter and the Clippers brought a playoff-level intensity to their defense as they frustrated and stymied the Cavaliers the rest of the night, eventually walking out of the Q with a 113-94 win that wasn’t even really that close.
For the Cavaliers, it was a combination of poor defensive effort, poor rebounding, bad turnovers, and bad shooting. A deadly combination in every way. But really, this was simply a story of two different effort levels. Coming off an embarrassing performance in Milwaukee on Tuesday and knowing they have to travel to Chicago for a Friday game on the tail end of a back-to-back, one would have thought the Cavaliers would have brought their best effort in this game. Instead, it was the Clippers who seemed to want the game more from the second quarter on.
It’s always easy to overreact to one game in an NBA season. This was a bad loss, absolutely. Does a two-game or even a three-game losing streak mean everything is falling apart? Not necessarily. What it does mean, though, is that the Cavaliers are facing some real adversity now. After a cake walk of a schedule in November, the Cavaliers now have to endure a tough start to their December schedule with the next three games being on the road, one against Chicago and one in Toronto.
Friday night in Chicago will tell a lot about just how deep this adversity cuts. But for Behind the Box Score, we will focus solely on this game against the Clippers, so let’s get to the numbers…
- 12 – We start with my favorite stat in basketball, assists. The Cavaliers had twelve assists. Twelve! LeBron James had five assists, nobody else had more than two. This is only the fourth game since LeBron returned to Cleveland that the Cavaliers have had twelve or fewer assists. The Clippers were exceptional on defense in this game, playing with a playoff-level intensity that forced the Cavaliers to frequently revert to over-dribbling and forcing one-on-one attacks.
- 19 to 6 – The Clippers scored 19 second-chance points compared to just 6 for the Cavaliers. Cleveland has not been a particularly great rebounding team this season, but they were abysmal on the defensive boards in this game, allowing the Clippers to grab 14 offensive rebounds which led to 19 second-chance points. The Clippers shot 47.2 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three-point range, so it’s not even like their offensive rebounds were coming off volume misses. Instead, their offensive rebounds were crippling to the Cavaliers as Los Angeles was able to convert those opportunities into points time and time again.
- 30 to 18 – The Clippers’ size and athleticism gave the Cavaliers fits all night. In addition to controlling the board, the Clippers also had their way with the Cavs in the paint, where they outscored Cleveland 30 to 18. Whether it was DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin attacking from the post or JJ Reddick and Austin Rivers driving into the paint, the Cavaliers defense just wasn’t up to the task in this game.
- 21 – JJ Reddick scored 21 points in the first half of this game to really set the tone for the Clippers. JR Smith continues to struggle on both ends of the court and he was especially frustrated on defense in this game. As Reddick was torching JR to get any shot he wanted, JR attempted to match the effort by increasing his defensive pressure. But the refs were quick on the whistle for JR and he was only able to play 23 minutes as he was constantly sitting due to foul trouble. No matter what the Cavaliers tried to do on defense and no matter who they assigned to cover Reddick, it just didn’t matter. JJ ended up with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, including 4-of-6 from three-point range.
- 18 – The Cavaliers committed 18 turnovers as a team in this game. LeBron and Kyrie Irving combined for 9 of the 18 turnovers, a number that is just too high for the primary ball handlers in the offense. The Clippers had a 33:16 assist-to-turnover ratio while the Cavaliers ended up at 12:18. Those numbers really just tell the story of this game. The two teams seemed to be playing a completely different game.
- 12.5% – Kyrie Irving scored 28 points to lead all players in this game. That sounds pretty great and all, but most of it was off extremely forced offense. Only 12.5 percent of Kyrie’s made FGs came off assists. Far too often Kyrie was going one-on-one with nobody else engaged in the offense. None of LeBron’s FGs came off assists. In case it’s not already clear, the Cavs’ offense was a real mess in this game. Credit to the Clippers defense for sure, but the Cavaliers simply need to do better on offense, staying engaged and moving the ball.
Friday night in Chicago is a big game for the Cavaliers. If they lose that game, they are facing a very real chance of a four-game losing streak as they then head to Toronto next week for their next game after the Bulls. Last season the Cavaliers never lost more than three games in a row. It’s not that December basketball is hugely important, but for a season that started so well, it’s frustrating to see the team struggling mostly due to self-inflicted issues. Friday night’s game is an opportunity for them to get things back on track, but it won’t be easy again a Bulls team that has played really solid basketball this season.