The Cavaliers are still favorites to win the eastern conference, but they've sure looked beatable over the past week or so. What's happening?
The Cleveland Cavaliers are losing basketball games. In a vacuum, this isn't a huge problem: they're still widely regarded as the best team in the East, they're "built for the playoffs" (whatever that means), and they're the defending NBA champs. A few losses around Thanksgiving won't make or break their season.
On the other hand, there have been some serious problems over the past five games for the Cavaliers.
Coming into Monday's game, the Cavaliers had given up 113.5 points per game over their previous four games, winning one of those games. In a weird coincidence, they allowed 58 in the first half of the first three, then 59 against the Bulls (and 61 against Toronto). None of those opponents average more than 108 a game.
Milwaukee scored 60 points in the paint, the Clippers scored wherever they wanted to, and the Bulls scored 78 points in the paint. 78. Points. In. The. Paint.
However you want to frame it, the Cavaliers defense has looked bad for quarters, halves, and wholes so far this year.
In Monday's game, the Cavaliers allowed 112 points to the Raptors in a tight win. The Raptors are a talented team, but they also didn't have to do much to get open looks. Toronto scored 61 in the first half, more or less scoring at will.
The Cavs slowed down Toronto in the third quarter, but over the past five games, it's hard to tell which one is the anomaly. Allowing 30 point quarters left and right is only the outlier if they stop doing it. Here's an incomplete list of things that happened in just the first half of Monday night's game against the Raptors:
- Kyrie Irving gets beat off the dribble by Cory Joseph without anyone setting a screen
- Shump tries to go over a pick and roll while Kevin Love sticks with his man, leaving Lowry an easy layup
- Frye and Irving double DeRozan when he catches the ball near the corner but neither of them stops him from going to the middle, drawing a foul
- DeAndre Liggins fouls arguably the worst three-point shooter on the Raptors (Carroll) on the rare three that he hits, giving Toronto a four-point play
- Ensuing possession, Liggins sprints, and leaps on a Valanciunas pump fake where the ball barely even moved (that is, it wasn't much of a fake), thus opening up a teammate for an easy two
- Next possession Liggins leaves Kyle Lowry at the three point line to guard Pascal Siakam. Lowry misses, thankfully
- Patrick Patterson gets multiple looks from the corner on the same possession, missing each
- Down the stretch, the Cavs basically opened the door to the bucket, playing classic "ole" defense
Cleveland is playing terribly against the pick and roll, and Toronto is strong in running it. The result was Kyle Lowry dominating the first half. It was ugly.
Ty Lue reportedly had a very intense practice this week to address all the problems and laziness, but it apparently only worked for the third quarter. Part of the problem tonight was that JR Smith was hurt, and DeAndre Liggins doesn't have the chemistry that the shirtless wonder typically has, but Liggins played an okay game after the early adjustment. We saw a lot of Shumpert down the stretch, but even he wasn't able to control Lowry and Liggins (or Terrence Ross, for that matter).
There are serious problems at play here. No pick and roll defense, poor help defense, and the fact that LeBron James is set to shatter his own NBA record for under-the-basket shoulder shrugs (spoiler alert, it was probably his guy).
The theory has been that the Cavs will either shoot themselves out of these slumps or buckle down when the time is right. Until this is proven wrong, we just have to trust it.