At the end of the game, LeBron James looked spent. Doubled over and with his hands on his knees, he smiled exhaustedly. He didn’t appear angry, overly upset or even disappointed he just looked tired. His Cavs lost for a fifth time in six games and this time to an Atlanta team that is arguably the worst in the NBA. LeBron’s steady, consistent hand and an out of this world fourth quarter performance by Kyle Korver weren’t enough to complete the comeback and lift the Cavs to an unlikely victory.
Yes, their problem is on defense, but how many times can we write, talk, argue and pontificate on that? It’s not a secret, we know it, the players know it, the coach knows it, heck, every fan in the arena knows it. The sole culprit for the more down than up, up and down season thus far, is the curious absence of any and all defense. If the hardest part of dealing with a problem is admitting that you have one, then surely, by now, the Cavs should have righted the ship, right? At the very least they should be visibly working on the problem. Failing due to the lack of ability is unfortunate but understandable. Failing because of a lack of effort, on the other hand, is both embarrassing and unacceptable.
While it is true that due to the type of basketball they play the expectations relating to the efficacy of the Cleveland defense have to be tempered, they should not be entirely absent. It would be unreasonable to expect Cleveland to become a defensive juggernaut or to expect the players to perform beyond their capabilities but it is more than reasonable to expect them to put forth a genuine effort. This is something they have been doing only in spurts. The concerning thing is that most of the time the players don’t look confused or lost on defense, they look lethargic and unwilling. If there was a team in need of, I am about to use that annoying phrase that is used far too often, a culture change, Cleveland is it.
The Cavs hunker down on defense, they rotate, contest, stand their ground and play defense with hunger. You can see the focus in their eyes, and you can appreciate the effort, but never for too long. Defense just doesn’t come naturally to them. The moment their instincts take over, everything falls apart because everything they seem to be thinking about is on the other end of the floor. For the Cavs to address their problems on the defensive end, they have to actually start playing defense. It’s like expecting the guy from Memento to sort out the intricacies of “Inception” in spite of the fact that after going for popcorn he can’t even remember why he was at the movies, let alone what auditorium he was in, what he was watching or what it was about. That is exactly what the Cavs look like on defense, like a confused and scared, overly tattooed, popcorn munching Guy Pierce surrounded by auditoriums trying to remember his name.
At the end of the game LeBron was smiling, he had fallen short, again. It was a smile of acknowledgment and exasperation. In the previous contest against the Wizards, he carried the team by playing otherworldly basketball. He probably thought that his team would be energized and ready to go on a tear. He probably thought that all they needed was a shot of adrenaline and a taste of victory. Against Washington, he single-handedly delivered a win. Against the Hawks, his teammates made it clear that they horribly misunderstood his point as they stood around, no doubt expecting another fifty plus point explosion from their leader.
As a sign of unity, the players should all go and get tattoos that say “defense” so they have something to remind them of what they should be doing. Fans can do their bit too, holding up signs and chanting “defense” throughout the game and doing so with as much passion in the first minute of the first quarter as they would in the last minute of the fourth. Send the team a message, the same message you would send Guy Pierce, stop eating popcorn, pick an auditorium, sit down, shut up and watch the movie, any movie. After all, anything is better than just standing there.