CLEVELAND: Twenty-four final thoughts, one for every crucial Cavs turnover in a crushing 127-125 loss to the Hawks in double overtime...
1. A lack of timely rebounds, terrible defense at critical points and a rash of turnovers all contributed to this loss, yet the Cavs, inexplicably, were still in a position to win the game. They could’ve won it in regulation, but Kyrie Irving had a pair of terrible turnovers on consecutive possessions. They were masked by Irving’s nifty steal of Jeff Teague on one possession, and a charge taken by Matthew Dellavedova to offset the other, but that’s irrelevant.
2. Irving also had a terrible turnover off an inbounds pass when Teague simply poked the ball out of his hands far too easily, denying the Cavs an opportunity to win it at the end of the first overtime. His careless ball handling with 39 seconds left in the second overtime denied the Cavs possession and a chance to win the game.
3. Irving scored 40 points, one shy of his career high. He had three turnovers in the fourth quarter, but only one in the first overtime and none in the second – although it’s hard to understand how he wasn’t charged a turnover with 39 seconds left in the second overtime. He grabbed a defensive rebound and seemed to have possession until he spun away from Paul Millsap and lost the ball out of bounds. Even Mike Brown said after the game he didn’t think Irving needed the spin move, but withheld final judgment until he had a chance to watch the film. “That was a big turnover for us,” Brown said. “We have to understand in situations like that we have to be more careful with the basketball.”
4. Otherwise, Irving was terrific in the second overtime with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. Some of those turnovers, however, are glaring. As the point guard, he is entrusted to handle the ball with care. He did not. “We turned it over too much throughout the game,” Irving said. “Probably our downfall.”
5. There’s no probably about it. That was the downfall. Well, one of them. The Cavs led by seven with six minutes to play and seemed to be gaining steam, then surrendered two wide open 3-pointers to the Hawks to give them momentum and allow them to stick around. And as open as Al Horford and Kyle Korver were on those 3-pointers, combined they weren’t as open as Teague was on the 3-pointer at the end of the first overtime. The Hawks ran a great play to free up Teague well behind the 3-point line, using Korver and Paul Millsap to tie up traffic around the free-throw line. Irving, defending Teague, got lost in the scrum and Dellavedova probably should’ve switched onto Teague. Instead, he got tangled in the scrum and Teague had no one around him to force double overtime.
6. The Hawks basically shot 50 percent for the game. They grabbed 10 offensive rebounds (the Cavs had 11), but they did far more damage. The Hawks scored 19 points off offensive rebounds compared to just 8 for the Cavs.
7. After Irving tied the game on a jumper with 55.8 seconds left in the second overtime, the Cavs didn’t get the ball back the rest of the night (in part because Irving lost that loose ball out of bounds after that spin move). The Hawks had two big offensive rebounds during the possession, then Varejao tipped a jump ball out of bounds after tying up Millsap. The tapped ball out of bounds gave possession to the Hawks with the game’s final shot, which Teague didn’t miss.
8. Give Teague credit. After Horford left the game with a shoulder injury, Teague made the huge basket at the end of the first overtime to tie it and won it at the end of the second overtime. The Hawks matched the four-year, $40 million offer sheet Teague (then a restricted free agent) signed with the Milwaukee Bucks last summer. It was considered a risky signing because Teague by no means was considered an elite point guard, but he’s vastly improved this season.
9. Over his last three seasons, Teague’s scoring has increased from 12.6 to 14.6 to 16.1 entering Thursday. His assists have steadily climbed from 4.9 to 7.2 to 8.0 this season. His turnovers are up, too, to 3.4 this season, but now in his fifth season, he’s handling the ball much more and being asked to do more. The Hawks lead the league in assists and Teague is a big reason why. He took (and made) all the big shots Thursday.
10. Dion Waiters scored 20 points and shot 9-for-14 in his return from a wrist injury. He had good looks and didn’t really force anything, although he also had five turnovers. Waiters said after the game one of the officials approached him and admitted he blew the call on one of Waiters’ traveling violations.
11. I found it interesting that when Brown was asked about Waiters and the jolt he brings to the offense both before and after the game, Brown spun it and instead spoke of the team’s lack of a defensive mentality. Brown also conceded that this team defends better when shots are falling, hence, having Waiters back helps the defensive mentality. But he stopped well short of saying Waiters contributes to the Cavs’ defense.
12. It’s clear, and Brown is quick to admit, the Cavs are a much better offensive team with Waiters on the floor. Not only because of the shots he makes, but Waiters is also an underrated passer. The Cavs shot 39 percent in the three games he missed and averaged 88 points in losses to the Bulls and Pistons. They shot 52 percent Thursday.
13. As for the injury itself, Waiters isn’t really sure what happened. He said the wrist has been bothering him for a couple weeks, and finally the swelling got to the point it was affecting his shot and passing.
14. He was put in a soft cast for a few days and said there is still discomfort, but it’s more tolerable now. He survived the entire game wearing a brace on the wrist after joking before the game he’ll take it off if he starts missing shots. “It’s going to linger because you have to shoot and dribble,” he said. “It’s way better. I can shoot and do things I couldn’t do before.”
15. The switch back to Earl Clark at small forward was a bit curious, I thought, because Clark has openly said on multiple occasions he feels much better at power forward and never really got comfortable playing on the wing. But there he is again on the wing.
16. He played 18 of a possible 58 minutes, something that will likely continue as Brown continues to play with three guards to overcome the team’s lack of a legitimate small forward.
17. Lost in all of this is Anthony Bennett, who played the first 4 minutes, 41 seconds of the second quarter … at power forward. Bennett was practicing and playing primarily small forward after Brown initially flipped Clark and Bennett last month. Now he appears to be flipping them back.
18. I asked Bennett after the game what his position was now, and he said he didn’t know. He seemed at a loss for words when I asked him where he had been practicing and what his role was moving forward. Clark was showered, dressed and out of the locker room by the time reporters entered.
19. The same is true of Andrew Bynum, who was long gone after the game. Bynum hit two quick baskets at the start of the game, then only shot once more. Brown yanked him early in the third quarter when he struggled defending Al Horford and never went back to him.
20. Brown subtly started shifting the responsibility on Bynum. After lamenting the fact the players were struggling getting him the ball for weeks, Brown said he feels comfortable with some of the adjustments the Cavs have made and feel they can get him the ball at any time, even when opponents double him.
21. Bynum took a total of 26 shots against the Pistons and Bulls. But he missed all 11 of his shots against the Pistons and he grabbed just one rebound in nearly 18 minutes against the Hawks.
22. “Bynum has been up and down,” Brown said before the game. “Sometimes his down has been because we can’t get him ball. But we have ways now we’ve figured out to get him the ball, now it’s a matter of him producing. The last couple of games we didn’t have a problem at all of getting him the ball, even when teams front him.”
23. C.J. Miles has battled turnovers the last couple of games. After he had three against the Pistons, Brown sat him down for a lengthy film session following Thursday morning’s shootaround. The tutorial was wide ranging, Miles said, but part of it centered on Miles’ passing. He still had two turnovers Thursday in less than 14 minutes.
24. The Cavs are on the road Saturday against the Celtics and face the Warriors at home on Sunday. If they’re not careful, they could be staring at 10-20 by next week. That would be a mild three-game improvement over this time last season. See you Saturday.