CLEVELAND: Final thoughts from a 93-92 win over the Timberwolves that wound up much closer than it needed to be…
* Mike Brown kept the players at shootaround for about three hours Monday morning, insanely long for a game day. They weren’t on the floor the entire time, much of it was spent in the film room. But Brown keeps reiterating that this is a young team he has to teach, so he’s going to teach them. If that means sacrificing a few wins early, Brown believes the trade-off will be a better team in the future.
* He never could’ve expected a teaching moment such as this, however. The Cavs were in full control of this game from the start, right up until it all unraveled over the final five minutes. The Timberwolves scored 17 of the final 19 points, forcing the Cavs to hold on at the buzzer.
* The Cavs’ final 12 possessions were quite awful. Twice the Cavs had 4 on 1 fast breaks and failed to score, once because of a great defensive play by Derrick Williams and once because Alonzo Gee just blew an open finger roll at the basket.
* Kyrie Irving was on pace for a triple-double at halftime, but he just didn’t play well in the second half. Irving had six turnovers in the second half, including three in the game’s final 3:24. When he wasn’t turning the ball over, he missed open looks on the final two possessions.
* Both times, Anderson Varejao tried setting a screen for Irving and both times Kyrie waived him off. “Coach Brown was calling for Andy to come set a screen and I really don t need that screen at the top of the key against J.J. Barea, no offense,” Irving said. “Especially at the end of the game, I want to take it upon myself to be aggressive in that moment. At the top of the key, everybody’s flat, it’s my chance to kind of go to work.”
* Whenever the Cavs needed a basket at the end of games last season, Byron Scott would put the ball in Irving’s hands, flatten everyone else across the baseline and let the kid make a play. More often than not, Brown has done that, too.
* A few Cavs players have mentioned if Irving wants to go isolation, he should do it earlier before the defense is set. Once the Cavs get in a half-court set, he has nine sets of eyes looking at him waiting to see what he’s going to do. He often delivers, but the point has been made more than once he can use a screen to his benefit just to start a pick-and-roll and get bodies moving.
* Everyone knows he doesn’t need it, that’s not the point. As C.J. Miles said, “Nobody can stay in front of Kyrie off the dribble. Kyrie’s not even looking at the man defending him, he’s looking at the guy behind that guy to see how the rest of the defense is set up.”
* Brown referenced Irving’s ability to get to the basket in transition during the morning shootaround. One play on film from the Pacers game really stood out to him because Dion Waiters ran the floor exactly how Brown wanted and took his man to the corner, Tristan Thompson ran to the other side and pulled a big with him and Irving “hit the gas,” Brown said, and quickly scooted to the rim for an easy basket.
* Brown put in new offensive sets during the morning session, something he said he doesn’t like doing at a shootaround. But Sunday’s off day following a back-to-back left him little choice. Every practice right now is precious and he hates losing an entire off day.
* He almost sounded Monday morning like a coach willing to concede a victory against a red-hot Timberwolves team for the long-term gain of instruction time. “We’re using the games as real games we want to win, but we also have to think about using them as practice when we don’t have practice,” Brown said Monday morning. “There will be a lot of teaching and stuff like that tonight. There may be some times where I feel like pulling the hair out of my head if I had any, but that’s all right. As long as we play hard and try and change sides of the floor with the ball and do the things we preach offensively then I’m good with it.”
* The Cavs entered last in offensive field-goal percentage, then shot better than 50 percent in the first half against the Timberwolves. Despite the awful final numbers, Brown called the performance against the Pacers, “our best offensive game so far this year, preseason or regular season. I watched a ton of games in this summer from the team last year. That was the best that Kyrie and Dion played together. The ball movement we had, the spacing we had, it was very good.”
* C.J. Miles looks like a completely different player this year. He's making shots, and more importantly he's defending. I don't think he'll supplant Earl Clark in the starting lineup, however, because the Cavs need his scoring punch off the bench. Jarrett Jack is the only player on that second unit right now who can get his own shot when he needs it. Miles is too valuable on that second unit.
* Rookie Anthony Bennett looks like a mess, and the Cavs might need to consider shutting him down for a couple games and letting him clear his head. He missed three more shots and is now 0 for 15 to start his career. Two of the three shots he took were again 3-pointers, making him now 0 for 8 on 3s.
* His teammates keep telling him to drive to the basket, but so far he isn't really listening. They keep telling him he's one of the most athletic players on the team, but he's reducing himself to just a 3-point shooter. The amazing thing is defenses continue to guard him like a dangerous 3-point shooter. The Timberwolves kept defenders right in his face Monday, which should make it easier for him to beat guys off the dribble. So far, however, he hasn't taken advantage of it.
* Bennett, unfortunately, looks like a lost soul right now. He tweeted after the game he was going "ghost" for a little while, which is another way of saying he's going off the grid. That's probably not a bad idea. Bennett was one of the last guys off the court following shootaround Monday morning and he said he was going in during Sunday's off day to get more shots up, so a lack of work isn't the problem. He just has no confidence in anything he's doing. A couple of days to clear his head could be just what he needs.
* Brown estimates that about 75 percent of practice time is devoted to defense right now. As a result, the Cavs have jumped from dead last in the league in defensive field-goal percentage last season to 7th this season. Obviously there are a lot of games left to play, but that is a dramatic jump in one season. And once Andrew Bynum’s minutes are increased to a full load, the Cavs could be even better defensively.
* This was a big step for Bynum because it was the first time he played, sat out and then played again. He played 18 minutes Monday and seems to be inching closer to the starting lineup, although there’s no timetable for when that happens.
* Bynum was pretty candid both before and after the game with the state of his knees. He said he has sharp pains, but it’s not too bad and seems to be manageable. He said missing all of last season cost him a lot of his athleticism and he doesn’t expect it to come back. That is forcing him to reinvent his game a bit. “It makes you have to rely more on footwork and skills vs. athleticism,” he said.
* A good example of that was the 14-foot jump shot he made in the fourth quarter. He has always had the ability to shoot – remember the 3-pointer he took with the Lakers two years ago that got him benched by Brown and ignited a mini firestorm?
* I mentioned that to Brown over the summer, and he quickly explained that Bynum has 3-point range. That just wasn’t the right time for him to shoot a 3-pointer. So Brown has obviously known for quite some time that Bynum has great range. Now might be the time for him to show it. “He can shoot the ball and defenses aren’t going to be ready for that,” Brown said.
* Bynum said he’s never shot the ball outside the lane consistently because it was never his role. Now it might be. “I have a good touch and I can shoot the ball, I’ve just never been in a system where that’s required,” he said. “Here, obviously with Kyrie and running pick and roll, when other teams drop that’s going to be available. I’m going to have to have that.”
* When I asked Bynum on media day if he felt this was his last chance, he said no, he didn’t feel like it was. But the way he has worked since he has arrived tells a different story, and privately a number of players believe this is probably his last chance, too. At least, it’s his last chance to really get paid. Now that he is back on the court, Bynum is starting to talk as if he believes this could be it for him, too. Particularly after the Cavs team doctors told him his only shot at returning was to build up the leg strength around the knees to stabilize them and take some of the stress off the joints.
* “I came to Cleveland and dedicated myself,” he said. “Doctors told me if I don’t get any muscles on my legs, it’s over. When you start hearing things like that, it’s motivating. It’s kind of a last ride, and that’s why I’m trying to stay focused and come in and do everything, be a professional.”
* He sounded irritated he had to leave the game when he did in the fourth quarter. The Timberwolves subbed out Nikola Pekovic and went small right before Bynum’s time was up. Had he been able to stay out there longer, Bynum doesn’t believe the game would’ve been as close as the end as what it got. “If I was healthy, we would’ve just kept going inside and the game wouldn’t have gotten out of hand like it did,” he said. “It’s coming. I’ll be able to play more and more minutes with each game. I’m just looking forward to when I’m back.”
* Cavs fans are looking forward to that, too.
“There were times from watching the tape this summer, when I watched them last year, that would’ve been a loss possibly and maybe by double digits. We just kept scrapping and scrapping.” – Mike Brown
The Cavs were outscored 17-2 to end the game, yet still managed to win at the buzzer.
The Cavs (2-2) travel to Milwaukee (1-2) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.