NEW ORLEANS: Twenty-eight final thoughts on a night the Cavs found it hard to close in the Big Easy…
1. It was one of the most thrilling playoff games during last spring’s memorable postseason, yet nobody really remembers it because of how the NBA Finals unfolded. But Jarrett Jack remembers.
2. The Warriors led the Spurs by 16 with 4 minutes left in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals and somehow managed to lose the game in double overtime. Jack reflected on that game Friday in the wake of the Cavs blowing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes against the New Orleans Pelicans and losing 104-100.
3. “I thought we played hard, played the closest to a 48-minute ball game we could this season,” Jack said. “We came up short. It happens. I was in a playoff game last year we were up 16 with (4) minutes to go and lost. It happens. It’s just something you’ve got to learn from. The very next game, Game 2, we won. It was against this very same team.”
4. It’s true that in a small, strange twist of irony Jack and the Cavaliers will now face those same Spurs on Saturday. But this isn’t the Western Conference semifinals, this is a young, stumbling Cavs team still groping around in the dark.
5. The Cavs have no idea how to close out games. They were able to beat the Nets in a close game on opening night, but everyone else in the league is beating the Nets right now, too. They let the Timberwolves come all the way back from a 23-point deficit and nearly lost it at the buzzer, but Kevin Love’s final 3-pointer of the night bounced out. The Cavs beat an equally young and less talented Sixers team in double overtime. Their latest win, last Saturday in overtime against the Wizards, was made possible because the Wizards are equally inept at closing games late. That’s it. That’s all four wins in one paragraph.
6. Until the last five minutes, the Cavs played very well. They defended the right way, they moved the ball on offense. They got contributions from guys like Earl Clark and Jack was terrific in the fourth quarter. At one point late in the game, Jack was chatting courtside with a scout he’s known from previous stops in the NBA. “I love this s---,” Jack said. Then he scored 11 points in the fourth and nearly delivered a victory.
7. Kyrie Irving again missed on a shot at the rim that could’ve tied the game in the closing seconds. These game-winning shots were almost coming too easily for Irving last year. Game on the line, ball in his hands, it’s like he couldn’t miss. The game-winning 3-pointer at Toronto, sprinting baseline to basket to beat the Nuggets in Denver… Now comes the course correction. Those shots that were falling last year aren’t now.
8. Now he’s dribbling the ball off his foot at Milwaukee, missing big shots at Charlotte and his shot Friday was blocked by Anthony Davis. Now a foul easily could’ve been called, and one of the scouts sitting next to me thought it was absolutely a foul and Irving has done enough in the league to warrant getting those calls. Irving thought it was a foul, too, screaming “That’s bulls---,” at referee Ben Taylor. But afterward Irving correctly wouldn’t blame the loss on the non-call.
9. “It doesn’t matter now,” Irving said. “We lost the game. It could’ve gone either way.”
10. Like so much else early in this season, it went against the Cavs. Irving seemed to take the loss particularly hard. He sat at his locker with his back to reporters for an inordinate amount of time just thinking, then after his brief interview he again sat alone in his chair for quite a few minutes while the rest of his teammates dressed and left.
11. Mike Brown thought the Cavs gave the Pelicans 69 of their points: 25 second-chance points off 19 offensive rebounds, 23 points in transition and 21 points off 20 Cavs turnovers. “That’s 69 points just in stuff that you can control by getting back quick, boxing out and being smart with the basketball,” he said. “That’s where the game was won or lost for us.”
12. He’s right, but yet despite all that, the Cavs still held a 12-point lead with 4:44 to play. They just couldn’t finish.
13. Matthew Dellavedova was fairly ineffective as a starting shooting guard. He struggled staying in front of Eric Gordon and spent most of the evening in foul trouble, picking up five in 12 minutes. Brown could stick with Dellavedova on Saturday or he might turn to another rookie in Sergey Karasev, who made a couple of 3-pointers in 11 minutes but also picked up four fouls.
14. It doesn’t look as if it’ll be Dion Waiters. Brown seems committed to keeping Waiters in this bench role. It worked well in the first half when Waiters played with the ball in his hands quite a bit and scored 14 points (12 in the second quarter). But he was scoreless in the second half (he only took two shots). In 3 ½ minutes in the fourth quarter, he managed to turn the ball over twice.
15. It’s worth pointing out here that Byron Scott was the coach when Waiters was drafted, not Brown. And while GM Chris Grant was equally high on Waiters, Brown may not necessarily like him as much as Scott did.
16. I talked to Waiters prior to the game about the switch to the bench. He said he’s fine and seemed to get testy when I pressed the issue. It’s been a long week for him. He mentioned James Harden as a guy who flourished in a bench role, but I still question if he can truly embrace this role. We’ll see.
17. I got a little ahead of myself when I tweeted late in the second quarter that the reins were coming off Andrew Bynum. He left the game and re-entered in the same half for the first time all season and it appeared as if his minutes were increasing. Then he was held to 18 again for the game. He wasn’t a fan of the experiment because he left the game after just six minutes so he could return for the final few minutes of the half. “I don’t like that,” he said. “I’d rather just play.”
18. I’ll have more on Bynum in Sunday’s paper.
19. Carrick Felix made a strange NBA debut in the first quarter. Brown was ripping through every wing on the bench and it didn’t take him long to get to Felix, who entered before Karasev. Turns out, Brown was getting a little ahead of himself, too. He thought the Cavs could play faster and push the tempo more than they were, so he turned to Felix, who has been sidelined since the preseason with a hernia.
20. “The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Carrick is going to run.’ So I put Carrick out there, then I was like, ‘Oh crud, I meant to go to Sergey.’ I didn’t want to take the young fella out that quickly because it was early in the game and I didn’t think it would be a huge difference, so then I went to Sergey.”
21. Felix had two turnovers in 1:38 and didn’t play the rest of the night.
22. Only two players didn’t get into this game: Tyler Zeller (who was questionable anyway with a sprained ankle) and Anthony Bennett.
23. The Cavs don’t really have an explanation for why Bennett has been so awful offensively. It’s strange that they were expecting him to struggle defensively but be able to score some points. Instead he has been the exact opposite.
24. He was an offensive force in college. No one could stop him when he attacked the rim and he had a nice mid-range game as well. He hasn’t shown any of that yet, instead rarely budging off the 3-point line.
25. “I’m just thinking too much,” Bennett said Friday morning. “That’s what it is right now. I try not to mess up. There’s a lot of plays, a lot of things thrown at me. It’s not the same as college. One mistake is kind of crucial.”
26. One thing has been made clear in recent days: The Cavs have no intention of sending him to the Development League. That would probably damage his confidence more than anything he has experienced already. He will remain in Cleveland and try to sort out his issues.
27. I was talking to someone in the league this morning about confidence and what a role it plays with guys. Take Omri Casspi, who was a disaster here and is now flourishing with the Houston Rockets. Casspi was never a fit in Byron Scott’s system, but he’s playing some power forward for the Rockets and averaging 8.2 points while shooting 44 percent. It’s all confidence. And right now Bennett has none.
28. ““There’s no point hanging my head,” he said. “I just have to get better. “