The embryonic heartbeat of the Cavaliers young season was more a swoohing noise Friday night than a visceral angry raging thump. The game itself was more like a display of slow cooking catharsis than competition, a bake which was yet incomplete at the conclusion in Charlotte. The Cavaliers lost, yes, 84-90 to the Bobcats, but in a way that exposed the nightmarish memories of last season and the season before and the season before.
Kemba Walker and Kyrie Irving look on, but Walker would get the best of him in this one. (NBAE/Getty Images)
Who is Kyrie Irving? Is he the fragile sometimes superstar, that dropped down game winning drives in critical end of game situations, but was always just as close to starting an All Star game as he was missing three weeks due to some not quite yet suffered injury? The injuries that kept him from playing games last season were, by his own acknowledgement, suspect. Irving was not only never asked to play though any type of physical pain for the Cavaliers, by the end of last season, on the doomed Fan Appreciation Night, when told he had suffered a heel injury, Irving himself responded “is that what they’re saying now?” “Am I out four to six weeks?”
Last night, Irving banged his elbow on the court in the third quarter. He could be seen stretching and rotating it, but he had lost feeling in the arm, which impacted his fourth quarter play and sent him for a x-ray after it was over. The x-ray was negative, Irving is expected to play the next day against the Indiana Pacers, a physical defensive team. But there was no Irving to answer the fourth quarter bell against Charlotte on Friday night.
The worst scenario possible for the Cavaliers this season is the loss of Irving. Yet, the poor start to the game - some of which should be credited to the shooting of Kemba Walker, who finished 8 of 14 for 23 points (and outplaying Kyrie Irving in this game), and some of which should be credited to a lack of cohesion and organization on the Cavalier offense did not drown the Cavs. As the Bobcats Shooting Coach Mark Price’s offense cooled off, Cavs defense settled in, and C.J. Miles’s shooting hand became the electric instrument of Roman gods, the Cavaliers and the steady playoff of Tristan Thompson made their way back into the game and fought to a dead even 76-76 score in the third quarter.
Had I told you at that point, that the Cavaliers would hold the Bobcats to only 15 fourth quarter points, you would expect that with my next breath I would expound on Mike Brownian defensive principles and how that alone could account for some third or so of the team’s success this season. How Mike Brown teams will always overachieve relative to the league and how games on the road are won by grinding opponents down, always.
This did not happen. After the game there was a discussion by Brown of “bad habits” and cited 15 “my bad”s during the first half and with an allusion to how mistakes were made that mirrored the lack of discipline that led to the disasters though last season. Disasters like blown 20 point leads. But there were new problems also, which permeated the fourth quarter and this game.
For example, Dion Waiters, who worked hard on his game though the offseason to develop a better jump shot, has not showed progress though the two games and has seen his minutes limited. Jarrett Jack and an incredibly poor shot selection effectively ended this game with 17 seconds to go and the Cavs down by 2 points when Jack hoisted a shot off an inbounds pass that would sail up and over the defender, but then to the left of the rim, the back board, and everything. Essentially sailing into oblivion. The tape was reviewed to determine whether the ball had been tipped, likely in no small part because, given the path of the ball, it seemed likely that the ball had been deflected rather than intentionally shot by Jack in that direction.
Dion Waiters should be on the floor at this point in a game. He should want to be on the floor. He should be fuming at 14:39 played (only about 4 minutes more than what the recovering Andrew Bynum would play). And he should know that that shot should be his. If this team is going to reply on Jarrett Jack and CJ Miles as the primary shooting guards, as they did last night, there is a longer term problem with the Cavaliers lack of an option at the position. There will be hell to pay all around if Waiters fails to improve.
Between Waiters and Irving in the fourth quarter, this is the second straight game in two games that the guard play struggled. Irving faced double teams and couldn’t find the open man, nor could he find a way to split the double team and get his shots off. Waiters was not a positive factor in any way in this game and spent the large majority of this game sitting down.
Strange things can happen in the start of the NBA season. Lesser teams can beat better teams for a week or so as game plans, strategy and roles work themselves out. The Bobcats are not a good team. Certainly not a playoff team, and not a team that the Cavaliers should lose to. On this night, the Bobcats played harder, with more focus and with more purpose. And with Irving hurting and Waiters unable to contribute that was enough.
Mike Brown expressed in the same breath of his disappointment with the Cavaliers mistakes that “we want to be a championship level team”. That’s the stated goal of Mike Brown, the head of this basketball franchise. But the scoreboard is the ultimate objective measure, and the freshly conceived Cavaliers are not yet ready to be born into contention.