All of the encouraging signs, all of the progress made by the Cavaliers in their late-season playoff push has disintegrated into selfish, lazy basketball amongst players who appear disinterested and distracted over the season’s final week.
The humiliating loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, the league’s worst team, was surpassed only by Saturday’s home loss to the equally inept Boston Celtics. The Cavs fell behind by 33 Saturday and recovered to make the score respectable only after Mike Brown benched most of his starters for the fourth quarter.
“We look like we’re playing, going through the motions,” he said. “It’s not good. It’s not good at all.”
Players have pointed to how deflating it was to win at home against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, only to return to the locker room to watch the final seconds of an Atlanta Hawks victory that mathematically eliminated the Cavs from postseason contention.
They haven’t been the same team since.
Kyrie Irving shot only twice in his first 19 minutes of Friday’s loss at the Bucks. He wrote on his Twitter account after the game about jumping fences and having no regrets, something that caught the attention of multiple Cavs personnel, then bolted the locker room early Saturday (along with Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters) before reporters were allowed in.
Irving shot 26 percent in the weekend losses (7-for-27) while totaling three rebounds and four assists in 63 minutes.
Brown is irritated with how long the Cavs are holding the ball on offense. He looks at the last two games as reminiscent of the season’s first two months, when ball movement was stagnant and the guards played isolation basketball.
He has been trying to get both Irving and Waiters to drive and kick, but lately it’s to no avail.
“It’s not necessarily about driving and trying to finish at the rim,” Brown said. “What I continue to preach to those two is drive the ball and get off of it. … If the jumper is not falling, drive the ball at the next guy.”
Brown’s point is the more guys drive and move the ball, the more defenders will start moving to help and the greater the likelihood of finding an open shot.
The Cavs have done that well at times in recent weeks, but not over the weekend. Brown was pleased with the fourth-quarter lineup of Jack, Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee, Matthew Dellavedova and Tyler Zeller, which totaled 41 points (against a Celtics defense that wasn’t very resistant) to make the final score respectable.
But it was the principles that lineup employed that Brown liked. He’s well aware, however, that the Cavs are kicking away any chance at improving the last couple of games prior to the offseason.
“It’s obviously a little tough for these guys to be consistent with what we’re trying to do,” Brown said. “Old habits, bad habits, however you want to call it, creep back into us as individuals or us as a team and it results in bad things. It’s part of coaching. I’ve got to keep showing film. We’ve got to keep drilling it. We’ve got to keep talking about it and we’ve got to repeat the process. Eventually if guys don’t get it, then somebody else has to step up and play.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.