INDEPENDENCE: Confused and frustrated following a season full of blown coverages and missed defensive assignments, Cavaliers coach Byron Scott stood up at the end of Thursday’s prolonged film session and asked his players if the coaches aren’t doing a good job of explaining things or if the players simply aren’t getting it.
It’s a strange question to ask after 70 games, and either way the answer isn’t encouraging. With three weeks remaining in a five-month season, it’s hardly the right time for startling revelations, but Scott said the consensus was the players just aren’t doing their part.
“They said, ‘We’ve got to do it. We understand our coverages. We go through it every single day. We have to do a better job of doing it,’?” Scott said.
The breakdowns at the end of Wednesday’s loss to the Boston Celtics yet again illustrate the ongoing problems within the franchise. As a former player, Scott puts the responsibility on the players to know their assignments and execute them. Following Wednesday’s loss, he said the coaches often do a better job of communicating than the players.
“Players and coaches are frustrated with losing,” Luke Walton said. “Stuff that we’re doing has happened to us multiple times. Coaches are frustrated why we’re not as players making the changes and doing things differently to stop letting that happen. As players, it’s tough to keep losing these games.”
For all the instances when the Cavs’ youth has been blamed for breakdowns offensively and defensively, it was two veterans — Walton and Wayne Ellington — who blew the defensive assignment on the final play Wednesday that gave the Celtics’ Jeff Green a clear path to the basket.
The idea was to force Green into taking a contested jumper, and at the very least, make him a left-handed driver. Yet as the final two seconds ticked off the clock, Walton was in the wrong position on the floor and Ellington had his back turned to the play as Green stormed to the basket with his dominant right hand.
Asked if it’s more disheartening when it’s the veterans blowing the assignments, Scott never hesitated.
“It is more disheartening when you have two veterans that mess up a play like that,” said Scott, who celebrated his 52nd birthday with Thursday’s film session and practice. He said he and top assistant Paul Pressey often wish their ages were inverted and they could still play.
“I wish I was 25 and could still go out there and play and maybe it’d be a little bit of a different story,” Scott said. “But we can’t play, so all we can do is give you the game plan and hope that you go out there and follow it.”
That hints at arrogance from a three-time NBA champion, but it doesn’t excuse Scott from all criticism. He ended Wednesday’s game with three timeouts and refused to use one despite the Cavs finishing the game 1-of-8 shooting with no assists and three turnovers in the game’s final 5:49. As the offensive engine began to sputter and leak oil, the coach allowed the Cavs to play on and try to figure it out for themselves.
Given the benefit of hindsight, Scott conceded Thursday he should’ve called a timeout before the Cavs’ final offensive possession. His thinking at the time was the Celtics would switch defensively and the Cavs would’ve gotten the same look they ended up with — which was a good shot. Shaun Livingston got in the paint to the elbow and got off his patented turnaround jumper, he just missed the shot.
But without Kyrie Irving, without a star to rely on for the game’s biggest shots at crucial moments, Scott concedes this team needs more structure. There was a time when he could put the ball in Irving’s hands, spread the floor and tell his star, “Go make a play.” Now with Irving and Dion Waiters out, that is no longer an option.
“The biggest thing [with calling a timeout] is you give them a chance to set up on defense, and sometimes just having that spontaneity, just letting guys go, is sometimes the best thing to do,” Scott said. “But sometimes with the group we have now, it might not be the best thing to do. That’s one of the things I probably learned [Wednesday] night. We get in that situation [tonight] or any other game, maybe I’ll just go ahead and burn that one and set up something, especially for that person to try to get a better shot.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.