CLEVELAND: There were plenty of reasons for coach Byron Scott to be angry following Friday’s 90-86 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Cavaliers had 27 turnovers, easily the most in a game this season and the most in a regulation game this year in the NBA. The only team to have more, the Dallas Mavericks, committed 28 through two overtimes.
The Cavs played with little energy on either end. They shot 40 percent, fell victim to three shot-clock violations and were rushed into numerous other questionable shots because of the clock. Then Scott ripped Kyrie Irving’s defensive play, or lack thereof, in recent games.
The initial plan was to use Alonzo Gee to defend Monta Ellis, the Bucks’ leading scorer. But Scott wasn’t happy with the way Irving was defending Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, so he switched and put Gee on Jennings. That’s when the Cavs finally started making a dent in the Bucks’ 16-point lead, but without Gee in his face, Ellis finished with a season-high 33 points.
Asked what prompted the switch of Gee to Jennings, Scott quickly replied, “Kyrie wasn’t guarding him.”
For all of his offensive abilities, Irving’s inconsistent effort on defense has occasionally drawn the ire of Scott. Friday night happened to be one of those nights.
“He had gotten better [defensively], he’s taken a couple of steps back,” Scott said. “But it’s something he can correct. Defense, you don’t have to have a whole lot of talent, but you’ve got to have a whole lot of heart and desire. It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world to do it, but if you want to succeed in this league, you have to do it and it has to be one through five.”
Irving struggled through a difficult night all around. He had 26 points and three assists, but he shot just 9-of-23 and turned it over six times — one shy of his season high. He also suffered a nasty fall in the first quarter, when his face bounced off the court on a drive to the basket.
The Bucks’ Luc Mbah a Moute was initially assessed a flagrant foul on the play, but the flagrant was retracted after officials reviewed it. Irving lay on the court holding his mouth and writhing in pain. He was attended to by trainer Max Benton, but he never left the game.
Irving was not available after the game, because he was having his face checked again before the team departed for New York for tonight’s game against the New York Knicks.
Irving wasn’t alone in his struggles. Anderson Varejao had 18 rebounds, but turned it over three times and left the game late in the first half after he was kicked in the calf. He missed only a few minutes of the third quarter before returning, although Scott expects both Varejao and Irving to be sore when they face a Knicks team that possesses the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Irving and Varejao combined to shoot 13-of-32 and totaled nine turnovers, but they were hardly alone. Daniel Gibson and Tyler Zeller each had four turnovers, meaning the Cavs’ centers (Varejao and Zeller) combined for seven turnovers.
With Irving and Varejao both struggling, the Cavs had few other options on offense. They shot 24 percent in the first quarter and 13 turnovers at the half. Their biggest deficit was 39-23 on a 3-pointer from Jennings with 5:34 left in the half, prompting the defensive switch between Gee and Irving.
The Cavs briefly led in the third quarter, and the game was tied at 63 when officials took away a basket from Tristan Thompson, ruling it was instead a shot-clock violation. That two-point deficit grew to 11 in two minutes, and the Cavs never recovered.
Scott had no explanation for how the Cavs could come out so flat.
“If I knew that I’d bottle it up and make a lot of money because I have no idea,” he said. “We had a good day this morning going through stuff, a day off yesterday, so there’s no reason in the world to come out with a lack of energy.”
The Cavs are 3-7 at home and have dropped seven in a row within the division. Asked if all the losing was wearing on the Cavs mentally, Zeller said he wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know. I’d like to say no, but you just have to get back in the flow and get back on the same page with each other,” Zeller said. “It’s tough, but we just have to make sure we make those plays at the end of the game.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.