CLEVELAND: Seventeen thoughts for 17 Cavs assists in the first half of what became a strange 102-100 win against the Toronto Raptors…
1. I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I never got around to it. I’ll get to tonight’s game in a minute, but it’s fascinating to me the Cavs will probably finish with a better winning percentage against the mighty Western Conference than they will their East brethren. This does sort of relate to tonight’s win at least a little, so hang with me.
2. The Cavs went 12-18 against the West this season. It’s hardly terrific, but that .400 winning percentage is higher than their current .380 mark vs. the meager East.
3. Beyond that, the Cavs went 11-7 against the eight teams that play at the fastest pace. Pace, for those of you who aren’t versed in advanced stats, is the number of possessions a team averages per 48 minutes. Some teams play at a faster pace than others, which is why more and more coaches look at field-goal percentage rather than total points to get a grasp on how well or poorly they’re shooting and defending.
4. Western Conference teams play at a faster pace than the East. That bears out in the numbers. Eight of the top nine and 10 of the top 12 teams in the league in pace are from the West. The Cavs are a team that plays better at a faster pace, which is why Mike Brown wants to run every chance he gets.
5. Late in games, when guys are tired, Brown is waiving his arms and screaming for guys to push the pace. This isn’t a team that will run the offense through the high post. The failed Andrew Bynum experiment was enough proof of that. This is a team that needs to get out and run to effectively move the ball, space the floor and get good looks.
6. The numbers (at least slightly) bear that out. The Cavs are 14th in the league in pace against West teams, averaging 97.13 possessions per 48 minutes. Against the East, the Cavs fall to 20th in pace and average 94.48 possessions.
7. So naturally the Cavs need to do a better job of pushing the pace against Eastern conference teams. They played at a high pace in Tuesday’s win against the Raptors, shooting 58 percent and recording 17 assists on 22 baskets.
8. They had 47 possessions in the first half and only 44 in the second. It’s not a drastic difference, but they only had 21 possessions in the fourth quarter, when the pace really stalled. The Cavs really struggled to get good looks in the fourth quarter and often settled for bad, contested jumpers. They only made four baskets and had just one assist. That’s a big reason the Raptors came all the way back from 21 points down to take a brief lead.
9. Brown said this is a game the Cavs would’ve lost early in the season and he’s right. They’re playing much better now and still almost gagged it away. It would’ve been their biggest collapse of the season and the second time they blew a 20-point lead and lost. But all of that was avoided in the game’s final seconds.
10. Tyler Zeller first mentioned the pace thing to me during the West Coast trip. He thought the team played better against the West because they played at a pace this team enjoys. So I double-checked with C.J. Miles tonight and he agreed. The faster pace also gets guys to engage more defensively, he thought. Fascinating to me.
11. Pace doesn’t help with inbounds plays, and the Cavs’ inbounds this season have been brutal at times. To be fair, the problem seemed to be cleaned up a little bit the last couple of months. But tonight at the end of the game was a total train wreck.
12. Deng was supposed to inbound the first time, but Brown said someone ran the wrong way, forcing Deng to call a timeout because the Raptors were able to cover two players with one defender. After watching the replay, it seemed to be Spencer Hawes.
13. On the second try, Brown wanted Deng off the ball and available to shoot free throws, so he used Anderson Varejao as the trigger. Deng was hooked by DeMar DeRozan on the inbounds (no foul was called), but it still wasn’t a very good play.
14. “It was a play I knew I had to throw the ball a little stronger because I knew DeRozan can jump, and you don't want to throw a soft pass,” Varejao said. “(Deng) could never leave to go get it. There was nobody behind him, but he couldn't move. It was a bad feeling, when I saw Lu and I threw it and he was not moving.”
15. Hawes, in case you haven’t noticed, hasn’t played at all in the fourth quarter lately. His only appearance Tuesday was on those inbounds passes when Brown needed a big to set screens, but he wasn’t credited for playing because no time ran off the clock. Brown has been going small a lot in the fourth quarter lately, leaving Hawes as the odd man out.
16. The shine is coming off Hawes a bit as well now that his 3-point shot isn’t falling as frequently. Hawes is shooting 24 percent on 3-pointers (7-for-29) in his last seven games. When those aren’t falling, the rest of his game looks fairly ordinary. He’s had plus/minus ratios recently of minus-20 (against the Clippers) and minus-18 (against the Rockets).
17. That’s it for now. Cavs are at Detroit on Wednesday, which means the bi-annual road trip with Sam Amico from Fox Sports Ohio and Bob Finnan from the Lake County News-Herald. Talk to you from the Palace.