Well, that sure was discouraging.
I wasn’t expecting much from the Cavs on Friday night. While I enjoyed the Cavs opening night win against the Wizards, the Bulls are an entirely different basketball beast. The Bulls have veteran players who know what they’re doing on both ends of the floor. Chicago is patient on offense and they move the ball to get quality shots. They play intelligent, energized defense that forces you out of your comfort zone and attempt shots you’d rather not take.
In short, the Bulls aren’t coached by Randy Wittman.
Not that it’s mattered in the past, but there was a faint hope that, mabe, just maybe, without Derrick Rose, the Cavs might’ve had a chance to steal one against these Bulls.
The Cavs didn’t attempt their first shot until their fourth possession and the Bulls jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead. But the Cavs fought back. Gee hit a trey, Varejao and Thompson got some garbage points, Waiters hit a trey… and cut the lead one, 11-10, with 8:25 to go in the first period. Maybe this Cavs team has some fight. Maybe they’d match Chicago intensity and effort. Maybe they’d play some defense.
Unfortunately, 11-10 was the closest Cleveland came for the rest of the evening.
The Bulls closed the quarter on a 25-6 run, ending the first period with a 32-16 advantage they never came remotely close to relinquishing.
We knew going into this season that Cavs weren’t going to be very good. This is a young team, in their second year of a long rebuild and their best case scenario is nabbing the 8th seed. That’s their ceiling; LeBron’s first round punching bag. We’re not expecting contention here.
But man. A 29 point loss. At home. To a team missing their best player? Really?
After the game, Byron Scott said the Bulls gave the Cavs a “wake up call”. That’s good. Glad the Cavs needed a to be woken up. It’s only the second game of the season, after all.
You could tell the young Cavs were frustrated by the Bulls’ defensive effort; Chicago completely took the Cavaliers out of their rhythm. Worse, the Bulls knew it. Cleveland came out sloppy (their first three possessions resulted in turnovers!) and the Bulls smelled blood. Chicago contested every shot, hounded every pass and they forced the Cavs into some terrible looks.
And the second unit was even worse.
After that debacle of a first period, Cleveland started the second quarter with a five of Donald Sloan, Daniel Gibson, CJ Miles, Luke Walton and Samardo Samuels. Chicago’s lead quickly ballooned to 41-18. Scott could mix and match whatever lineup he wanted and it didn’t make a difference. The Cavs trailed at the half 60-35 and ended up being outscored in every quarter.
Nothing went right for the Cavs. Kyrie Irving needed 15 shots to score 15 points. He also missed three(!!) free throws. Meanwhile, Nate Robinson finished 7-9 from the floor for 16 points and a whopping 12 assists. It was just “one of those games”. It happens. It wasn’t the Cavs’ night.
I’m just a bit concerned that “one of those games” happened the second night of the year. At home. Against a division rival who you haven’t beaten since 2009.
I don’t want to come off as too down, as it’s only the second night of the year and the Cavs are a young team and they’re still learning and yadda yadda yadda. One night does not a season make. And it is a rather large jump from “Washing Wizards defense” to “Chicago Bulls defense”. I get that.
But I’m sick of these non-competitive games in the Byron Scott era. I’m fully aware that Scott hasn’t been given a roster full of studs, or even average talent. But Coach has got some ugly, ugly, ugly losses on his Cavalier permanent record (the epic losing streak, the 112-57 loss to the Lakers, the worst home loss in team history to a Rose-less Bulls team, etc). To see the Cavs look this listless on a random night in February is one thing. But that they got punked in just the second game of the season is quite another.
I’m not expecting greatness or goodness or even averageness with the 2012-13 Cavaliers; plain old competitiveness would be nice. Hell, I’ll happily settle for “not historically bad” or just simply “not awful”.
Friday night was definitely awful.
This thing could get real ugly, real fast. The Cavs begin a six game road trip that looks like this:
Yuck. They finish out November with an additional five road games (including Miami, Philly, Memphis and Atlanta), to compare with just three home games. This might be very rough start to the season, especially if they have more nights like Friday.
Waiters Watch. Hard to judge Dion, or anyone, during this a game such as this. Waiters had some nice moments (notably a pull-up three in the early first and a nice athletic finish during garbage time) but he had some sloppy play and he seemed to get lost on defense, especially in transition (though he’s not exactly alone on those latter points).
Tristan Thompson was meh. I’m not expecting Thompson to be Tim Duncan. Or a big time scorer. Or a ball handler. But if he’s going to be an energy big who gets garbage points, he needs to improve his hands. Thompson seems to have a hard time catching balls in traffic and his slow gather allows opposing bigs to make up ground, get back in the play and meet Tristan at the rim. He gets his shot blocked far too often at the basket. However, Thompson did make both of his free throws. So there’s that.
The bench is going to be an issue. I’m starting to wonder how often Scott sit all five starters. I’m especially not sure how often both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters can rest together. Donald Sloan is not an NBA point guard and Waiters is far and away the next best creator after Kyrie. I know Coach Scott has said he doesn’t want to overwhelm Waiters with the backup PG duties but he may not have choice. This is a bench unit that gave up a 16-0 to the reserves of the Washington Wizards.
As will rebounding. No Bull had more than seven boards, but five players had at least five, including the shortest guy on the court, Nate Robinson. Also, the Cavs gave up yet another offensive rebound off a missed free throw. Chicago out rebounded Cleveland 41-33.
Skinny Samardo Samuels sighting! Samuels made his season debut Friday night, finishing with 7 points and 5 boards in 18 minutes. He showed some nice touch inside, but three of this five shots were jumpers. I do worry that he didn’t play during the opener. That couldn’t have been by accident.
I am down on Alonzo Gee. Gee frustrates me. He has some moments where he’ll knock down a jumper or finish at the rim, and it looks like he’s playing hard on the defensive end. But man, the next time Alonzo passes the ball in transition will be the first. Gee’s decision making seems slow to me. He’s often caught in no-man’s-land and ends up forcing an awkward attempt or getting his shot blocked.
And CJ Miles ain’t exactly lighting it up. It’s been a rough start for Miles. He shot 1-5 against the Wizards and followed it up with a 3-11 showing versus the Bulls. I’m going to tell myself that he’s pressing. He’s on a new team, in a new city and is trying too hard. That’s it. Hopefully he’ll relax on this six-game, four-timezone road trip. Sure.
Luke Walton is done. If you figured since Walton wasn’t effective against the Wizards, he wouldn’t be effective against good NBA teams, you would be correct. Walton is at that ’09 Wally Szczerbiak stage- where moment he subs in, the opposing team immediately runs a play for his man. Walton was an astonishing minus-eleven in just four minutes of court time.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)