This is where the Cavs are right now: Byron Scott was praising the effort of his team in a 12-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks, a playoff team, but by no means one of the top three teams in the East.
The Cavaliers were much better defensively in the final three quarters Tuesday than they were at any point in the previous seven. Dating back to the second half against Toronto, the entire game against Sacramento and the first quarter against the Hawks, the Cavs' defense was anemic.
To be fair, the Hawks were enjoying one of those unconscious shooting displays in the first quarter Tuesday. Everything they shot was dropping. The Cavs seemed so focus on cutting off the lane, as per the instructions from their head coach, that their perimeter defense was lacking.
Scott's message was simple: Weather the storm, they can't shoot like this all night. And they didn't. The Hawks quickly went cold and the Cavs nearly stole one from one of the better teams in the East.
Scott downplayed it a little bit in his postgame remarks, but the Cavs didn't do themselves any favors with shot selection in the fourth quarter. They had the crowd in the game and a slim lead on Boobie Gibson's driving layup 20 seconds into the fourth quarter. But instead of continuing to run through the sets of the Princeton offense, too often they were hoisting ill-advised 3-pointers. As quickly as their defense and patience got them back in the game, their 3-point shooting took them out of it again.
Gibson missed all three 3-pointers he took. Parker missed one, Moon missed one and Mo Williams went 1 for 3 in playing the entire fourth quarter. Scott wanted to keep Williams' minutes between 20 and 25 in his return and he did that (24:27). Williams at times seemed to run the offense perfectly, and at others he was running down the floor and hoisting ill-advised shots before giving the offense a chance to work. Perhaps that's what Scott meant by "Mo made a couple decisions that if he had been playing all season, he wouldn't have made."
Scott was positive and upbeat and praising his team's effort even in defeat. And the Cavs certainly did look much better Tuesday than they did in clunker losses to Toronto and Sacramento. Scott has also warned that this is a process with a young team and it won't happen overnight.
Three games into the season is no time to panic, but the Cavs' next six games are all against teams that failed to make the playoffs last season. After that comes a stretch that includes San Antonio, Milwaukee, Orlando, Boston and Miami. It's clear the Cavs need to do well in these next six, or this could all unravel fairly quickly.
*** Mo Williams had 12 points in his debut. He looked good at times and rough at others. He'll be back in the starting lineup Friday at Philadelphia.
*** The Cavs' bench scored 32 points and is averaging 39.3 points per game this season.
*** Anderson Varejao grabbed a season-high 12 rebounds.