Free Fallin’: Cavs-Bulls, Behind the Box Score

BtBS Behind the Box Score WFNY

Cleveland Cavaliers (13-5) 105
Chicago Bulls (11-7) 111
Box Score

Welcome to the Cleveland Cavaliers Super Funtime Panic Hour. Before I begin, a quick announcement: I was unable to watch the first half of the Cavaliers’ game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday. I make it a point to never miss any Cavaliers basketball — even those senseless moments barren of meaning when DeAndre Liggins is in the game (no offense, DeAndre). I especially endeavor to not miss moments of Cavalier games that I am poised to cover. By failing to see the entire game, I feel I’ve violated the sacred trust between reader and blogger. I have failed in what is basically a fiduciary duty. I am deeply sorry. But alas, my normally trusty DVR appears to be on the fritz, and cast the first half of Friday’s Cavs-Bulls game into the cosmic abyss, where it will be lost to time in a blackhole which, presumably, is also where my DirecTV bill goes every month.

But have no fear, as I watched (and read) about the Cavaliers’ losses to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday and the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. Using those two games, Friday’s second half, and Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction, I was able to infer what transpired in the first half. The Cavaliers have now lost three games in a row, leaving Cleveland in a riotous panic. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I stopped questioning the Cavaliers’ resolve and long-term viability when the clock struck 0:00 in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, and I’m sure not going to start questioning it again in December until at least 2019. That doesn’t mean the team’s without its problems though, so let’s take a look behind the box score and see what some of them are to the soundtrack of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”, the perfect score for serene, low-grade hysteria.

18 – It’s hard to point to one culprit stealing the Cavs’ good fortune (mostly because there are too many to point at),1 but the turnovers (of which they had 18 on Friday) may be the primary suspect. The 18 turnovers resulted in 18 Chicago points, adding to the 21 Clipper points from 18 turnovers on Thursday and 22 points from 19 turnovers on Tuesday.

Entering Friday night, the Cavaliers had only been turning the ball over 13.4 times per game, fifth best in the NBA. Fourteen turnovers appears to be their threshold before everything falls into disarray, so a week of 18, 18, and 19 turnovers isn’t going to cut it. LeBron James had eight turnovers against the Bulls in an otherwise decent game (adding to five and seven earlier in the week), well above his 3.9 average. The turnovers are arising from a sloshy mixture of sloppiness, inopportune aggressiveness, and a lack of space due to the Cavaliers’ shooting woes, all compacted by defender length (think Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeAndre Jordan, and Taj Gibson) and teams baiting James and jumping passing lanes. But it’s been bad, and thus turnovers murdered the Cavaliers this week.

49 to 33 – The Bulls outrebounded the Cavaliers 49 to 33 on Friday, for a margin of -16 for the Cavs. That’s bad! Included within said margin were 16 offensive rebounds for the Bulls, which led to 22 (!) second-chance points. The Cavaliers were also outrebounded 47 to 36 on Thursday by the Clippers and 43 to 35 on Tuesday to the Bucks. The Cavaliers are now allowing an offense rebound on nearly a quarter of their defensive possessions (24.7 percent, 24th in the league), something they only permitted 21.5 percent of the time last season (fifth best in the league).

78 – The Cavaliers allowed a solar plexus-pulverizing 78 points in the paint on Friday, adding to the 68 they forfeited to the Bucks earlier in the week. Opponents only average 44.1 points in the paint against the Cavaliers (a mediocre figure), so 78 and 68 are extreme letdowns. It probably didn’t help that Kevin Love and Channing Frye played 13 minutes together in the second half (while Tristan Thompson only played 11 minutes total in the half), but the defensive communication has been about as good as one of those Nokia phones on MetroPCS in like 2003.

“So, Cavs, everyone point your finger at whose fault it is [waits, sees everyone point at one another] … If it’s everyone’s fault, and you’re one of everyone, then whose fault is it? Now point that finger at yourself. Did I just blow your freaking mind or what? Good talk, now let’s go get some pizza and pitchers of Mountain Dew.” Powerful stuff, I know. I should be a motivational speaker. Look out, Tony Robbins.

27/5/13 – LeBron James had a decent game overall minus the nah defense and aforementioned turnovers, scoring 27 points (on 13-of-22 shooting, no less) and adding five rebounds and 13 assists. James was really the only effective player on offense in the second half.

The Cavs had 30 assists as a team (a solid number), but there still seems to be a huge void left at the backup point guard position, leaving James to shoulder the distribution responsibilities. James played nearly 45 minutes on Friday, an absurd number before Santa’s even started packing his sleigh. Delly, come backkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!

52.6 – The Cavs shot 52.6 percent from the field in the second half on Friday night … and lost!2 The Cavs have only shot 52.0 percent or greater and lost one time since the start of the 2014-15 season (last March at the Miami Heat). But when the defense is leaking like a sieve in the interior and cowering under the boards, you can lose despite making more than half your field goal attempts.

46.5 – Meanwhile, the Bulls shot only 46.5 percent … and won! Taj Gibson (23 points on 10-of-13 shooting) is the only one who shot at a superlative clip. The rest — Dwyane Wade with his mid-rangers in the second half and crafty drives, Rajon Rondo with his under-the-radar triple-double, and Jimmy Butler with his dogged play and ability to get to the line — simply ganged up on the Cavs to exploit them in their funk.

There’s not one thing wrong with the Cavs. But a combination of things have conspired to give the Cavs an early season setback. Horrendous defensive communication (including who needs to box out whom) seems to be the biggest issue right now. If they set that right, reintegrate Channing Frye, and get J.R. Smith back on track, everything else will level out so they can continue to be the class of the Eastern Conference. But for now, it’s freeeeeeeee, free fallinnnnnnnnnnnnn. 

  1. That’s one of the troubles with hands, isn’t it? We have (up to) 10 fingers, but it’s pretty difficult to point to more than two or three things, unless you can spread your fingers out freakishly far, or you splay all your fingers out like an evil wizard, or all the things you’re trying to point out are relatively close to one another. []
  2. Note: This originally reflected that the Cavs shot 52.6 percent for the entire game — they shot 54.2 percent for the entire game, and 52.6 percent in the second half only. []