CLEVELAND: Twenty-three thoughts tonight, one for every point D.J. Augustin averaged against the Cavs this season, following a disappointing 98-87 loss in Luol Deng’s first game against the Chicago Bulls…
1. Throughout the locker room Wednesday night, the general theme was the same: When adversity strikes, this team splinters instead of bonds. And the body language is terrible when guys should be upbeat.
2. From Deng: “We’ve got guys who are going to have a great career in the NBA that can play, but we have to get together and do it as a team. A lot of times out there, especially tonight, there’s a lot of individual effort and we have to change that mindset to doing it together.”
3. From Kyrie Irving: “You’d have thought we were down 20 points by our body language. We were only down 6 points.”
4. Other players said the same thing. Guys seemed to be trudging around the court even though a pair of free throws from Deng pulled them within 91-85 with 1:52 left. A reverse layup from Dion Waiters made it 93-87 with 55 seconds left. That’s only a two-possession game and the Cavs were still assured of at least two possessions. Yet Mike Dunleavy was left wiiiiiiiide open on the perimeter for a 3-pointer and that was that.
5. “Against that team, which is a very physical team, we just handed them our lunch,” Mike Brown said. “We didn’t respond well and that’s what’s disappointing.”
6. This is also disappointing: Point guards not in Irving’s class going off for big nights. D.J. Augustin, who was in the D-League six weeks ago, had 27 points Wednesday. He averaged 22.5 points and shot 58 percent against the Cavs this season, but is averaging 8.9 points and shooting 41 percent this season.
7. Augustin has consistently tormented Irving. When Augustin was in Charlotte, Byron Scott had to switch Daniel Gibson onto Augustin at one point during Irving’s rookie season. In five starts against Irving, Augustin is averaging 22.2 points, 9 assists and shooting 53 percent. This from a guy averaging 9.5 points, 4 assists and shooting 40 percent for his career.
8. Brown said the Cavs were using their standard “show” defense on pick-and-rolls, but Taj Gibson made three long jumpers to start the second half and made five jumpers between 14 feet and 19 feet. So the Cavs switched their defensive scheme and then Augustin started killing them. Taj Gibson and Augustin combined for 21 of the Bulls’ 28 points in the third quarter and Augustin scored 19 of his 27 in the second half. “The different coverages just weren’t good enough,” Brown said.
9. “Most of the time when he was coming off the pick-and-roll, he was wide open,” Irving said of Augustin. “He was playing so free out there. We were trying to make adjustments and most of the time he was wide open.”
10. Just within the last three weeks, here are the point guards that have really hurt the Cavs: Denver’s Ty Lawson had 19 points and 11 assists (averages 18 ppg, 8.9 apg), Portland’s Damian Lillard had 28 points and 5 assists (averages 21.2 ppg, 5.8 apg), the Lakers’ Kendall Marshall had 10 points and 16 assists (averages 10.1 ppg, 9.1 apg), Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas had 26 points and 6 assists (averages 19.5 ppg, 6.3 apg), Utah’s Trey Burke had 17 points and 6 assists (averages 13.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) and Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams had 33 points and 5 assists (17.5 ppg, 6.7 apg).
11. Of that list, the only player who is supposed to be in Irving’s class is Lillard, yet all of them are reaching or exceeding their averages fairly easily against this team. Not all of that is on Irving, of course, and he has certainly improved defensively over where he was last season, but he still has a long ways to go.
12. Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me. The Cavs crushed the Bulls in offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Tristan Thompson certainly had his problems with Gibson, but he and Anderson Varejao combined for 12 of the team’s 19 offensive rebounds. All of those extra looks led to 19 second-chance points, which is what kept the Cavs in the game. That shows some physical play and some toughness, but it stops there. Like I wrote after the Sacramento debacle, this team just doesn’t seem to be mentally and physically tough enough to win consistently.
13. After this loss, the Cavs are 15-27. The No. 8 seed in the East has averaged 38 wins over the last five years. Now this year is such an anomaly, they might be able to slip in with fewer. The Charlotte Bobcats, currently the eighth seed, are on pace for 35 victories. But using 38 wins as the standard, the Cavs will have to go 23-17 the rest of the way to get to 38. Even using 35 wins, they’ll have to play .500 over their last 40 games just to have a shot. Since acquiring Deng, they’re 3-4.
14. Speaking of Deng, he downplayed any sort of trash talking before the game, but sure enough, “There was a lot of trash talk,” Taj Gibson said. “At one point, I said, ‘Lu, I know every move you want to do.’ The next play he said, ‘I’m going to turn it up, I’m going to play my hardest.’ It was crazy trash talk, but it was all good.”
15. Gibson also said the night felt weird going against Deng. “There was tension before the game because we weren’t talking,” he said. “It’s like Thibs said, we love him, but we’re going to knock him on his butt if he tries to score. After the game, we’re going to be friends.”
16. The Chicago writers were stunned to here how accommodating Deng has been with the Cleveland media. He talks after practice, he talks after morning shootarounds on game days – he has even talked to us before games even though his rule is not to talk pregame. The new league rule this season is guys are required to talk at either shootaround or during pregame on game days (not all teams follow the rule). Deng has always been a shootaround guy, not pregame. And even then, he would slip out on Chicago writers and go a week or more without talking at all. Now he can’t stop talking.
17. The coup de gras for the Chicago writers, however, is postgame. Deng never used to talk before showering. In fact, that’s how most players are. We stand around the locker room like schmucks while these guys ice, then shower, then get dressed, put their earrings in, etc… then they finally turn around and talk to us. Deng would take so long in Chicago, writers finally gave up and left because of looming deadlines (another trick of veteran players – the shower stall. Quite literally, the shower… stall). But here he’ll talk to writers while he’s icing his feet and still in his game gear.
18. One of the Chicago writers, my old buddy Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times (Joe and I worked together years and years and years ago at the Morning Journal in Lorain) was giving Deng grief tonight about talking before showering. “That’s right,” Deng joked. “I like these guys.”
19. I guess I never fully understood how strained Deng’s relationship was at times with the Chicago media because he has been terrific with us. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts. But as I’ve written multiple times here, I think Deng is really enjoying this whole experience, his increased leadership role and the fact so many young players are sort of looking up to him right now. He never experienced that in Chicago because that ensemble essentially grew up together.
20. From the Dept. of Useless Information: I stumbled onto the topic of golf tonight with Jarrett Jack before the game. He said one NBA player who is a terrific golfer who you would never guess is J.R. Smith. And he’s right, I never saw that coming. Jack, however, is a terrible golfer. He was playing in a charity golf outing one time and when he got to the par-3 hole with a chance to win a car with a hole-in-one, he hit the car. With his tee shot. “I told them to move it,” he said.
21. Bad loss tonight. The Cavs have to win these games against teams they’re trying to catch. Given who the Bulls were missing tonight, I put this up there with the early-season losses to Milwaukee, Charlotte and Philadelphia. These are the games that will haunt the Cavs if they miss the playoffs by a game or two.
22. The rest of this homestand is against the Bucks, Suns and Pelicans. The Bucks have lost nine of their last 10 and 12 of their last 14, while the Pelicans have lost nine of their last 10. The Suns are surprise playoff contenders in the West and this will be their first stop on a four-game East Coast swing. After digging this hole by losing the first two, the Cavs really need to get these next three to start getting some rhythm back.
23. Right now, all the mojo is gone. Guys were upbeat following the Deng trade, there was energy in the locker room and on the floor. These two losses to the Mavs and Bulls have sucked that all away.