Thursday, May 21, 2009

It happened, We're Over It, We're Moving On

Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. The sky is not falling . . . .

I attended game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last night expecting to be treated to another 48 minutes of Cavalier poetry. Needless to say, 24 of those minutes fell a bit short of my expectations. I left the Q hoarse, angry, and exhausted.

I'm not going to recap the game. I'm not going to point out all of the obvious and ridiculous things that the Cavs botched, both in their execution and strategy in the second half. All I'm going to do is offer a few suggestions that I think might help the Cavs handle a team that they just don't match up with particularly well; and yes, I'm well aware that "don't stand around on offense" is probably near the top of the list of adjustments that need to be made, but we're going for a few things that are a little more subtle:

1. Take 75% of Szczerbiak and Gibson's minutes and give them to Sasha. Keep in mind, I am not a Pavlovic fan. But I just don't see how you can justify playing a guy a) whose feet are glued to the floor, or b) who is undersized and brings nothing to the table right now, over a guy who is 6'7, agile, and can also put the ball on the floor on the offensive end. Listen, I'm well aware of Sasha's deficiencies. I just think that with both Lewis and Turkoglu out on the floor, when the Cavs decide to change things up by going to the bench, the should do it by bringing out a big perimeter player who can bother Orlando's shooters a little bit.

2. Increase Lebron's minutes. I know, this sounds a little bit ridiculous since he only sat about 90 seconds in the 4th quarter but part of what has made the Cavs such a tough playoff out for the last couple of years is that the team becomes significantly better when Lebron is playing 48 minutes. I thought it was a costly mistake to put him on the bench to start the 4th last night. Playoff leads are too hard to build. It is senseless to have a guy work all game to build and maintain a lead just to let it slip away so that he can get a quick blow. There are no back-to-backs in the playoffs. The TV timeouts are endless. Lebron can go 48 minutes without a problem. Let him do it. At the very least, eliminate the rest at the start of the 4th. The Cavs can't afford to take him off of the floor for defensive reasons, let alone offense.

3. Give Andy a crack at Howard. I completely agreed with the strategy of forcing Howard to beat single defenders to win the game. Boiled down to its simplest form, in a pure pissing contest between Howard and Lebron, Howard loses 99 times out of 100. He just doesn't have the offensive arsenal to score every time down the floor like Lebron does. That said, having Z guard him all game is making things a little too easy. At least Andy might be able to stay in front of him and draw a cheap charge or two. I'm not saying the Cavs should do it all game because they can't afford to have Varejeo in foul trouble but he definitely needs to spend a little more time on Howard, if only to force him to make a few more baby hooks. Obviously, if the Cavs do this, it means more time for Wallace and Joe Smith because one of them is going to have to guard Rashard Lewis. I'm fine with that (assuming they stop screwing up the switch-offs on the sideline pick and roll). I love Z but unless the Cavs are going to run offensive set through him in the low post (which they won't as long as Howard is down there), then there isn't much reason to have him out there all game.

4. Stick Lebron on Alston and leave him there until somebody else gets hot. I'm not sure why the Cavs switched the assignment last night when Orlando's perimeter players were quiet in the first half. Plus, having Lebron on Alston gives him a little more flexibility to be a helpside defender down low. I'm not saying he can just go roam and block shots, but it's not like Turkoglu or Lewis where helping equals instant death.

5. Stop making Z show on screens 30 feet from the basket.

6. Push the perimeter defense out even further out. I know, it sounds absurd but Orlando can't win games with 2 point shots. On that last possession, I wished Varejao had just waved Rashard Lewis by him and made him make an uncontested 8 footer. I know, putting guys in a position to beat you off the dribble forces defenders to help and causes things to break down. Still, I'd rather take my chances with that than allow Lewis and Turkoglue to get good looks at the rim all game. The Cavs defenders need to be up in Lewis and Turkoglu's chests swatting at the ball trying to make their lives difficult and disrupt their shooting motions.

Aside from the aforementioned, there are a host of other obvious adjustments that need to be made (e.g. Mike Brown not doing his best S.V.G. impression by pissing his pants and overreacting to his opponent's play by abandoning his gameplan) but I have confidence that the Cavs will make them. The Cavs are a 66 win team. The Magic are a team that is built to succeed one night and fail the next. The sky is not falling. The Cavs have spent 8 months convincing us that they're the best team in the league. One bad half doesn't change that. Keep the faith everyone. This series is going to be a roller-coaster but I still believe the Cavs will prevail.


lenny k said...

Im not so sure playing Lebron 48 minutes a game is a good idea, halfway through the fourth quarter he was dead tired and made Brown call a timeout so he could rest. Im hoping it was the 9 day layoff, but the cavs looked like they didnt have their legs in them and think it bothered their jumpshots as they most shooters didnt have the lift in the 3rd-4th quarters. Still kind of pissed they let Orlando get a 3 off, Andy did contest it but he should be up on him so far that he shouldnt even be thinking about taking a 3, 2 only ties you, 3 is a Loss.
I agree you have to make Lewis and Hedo put the ball on the floor inside the 3 pt line- if they do this the cavs will be in much better shape.

Biff said...

Part of that may have been that Lebron was dehydrated and Cramping. I think under normal circumstances, he can play 45-48 minutes without any problems. The timeouts during playoff games are endless and frequent.

lenny k said...

That is true, watched game on tv, there was a commercial every 5 minutes it seemed wasnt just lebron, it seemeed like we were sluggish, in which i blame the layoff- Im confident that they will have their legs under them the rest of the series, second half physically the Cavs didnt bring it.

I would rather watch the Cavs compete with a team compared to the first 2 series, looking forward to game 2.

Art Brosef said...

The illogical part of me is a nervous wreck. The pragmatic part of me agrees with the final portion of the post.

It is almost impossible to beat teams when they shoot 55 percent from the field. Combine that with very sub par performance from your starting back court and you are almost certainly in for a long night. And yet, the Cavs still almost won.

I highly doubt anyone thought that the Cavs were going to sweep the Magic. Sure they stole a game at the Q. But their reliance on their outside shooting is the same reason they are the most dangerous road team, but also the most vulnerable home team. The Magic still have to beat the Cavs 3 more times.

I think (hope) this game will help them get their legs back underneath them and get them into playoff basketball mode. Partys over, its time to play.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Nice post Biff. I spent last evening tossing and turning and mentally writing a similar post in my head.

Nights like last night remind me why I hate sports - because I get so impacted by them. After the first half, I felt pretty confident that the game was in the bag, despite the fact that Orlando seemed able to score at will in the paint. And then I watched as this Cavs team morphed into that awful habit of watching Lebron play.

So today, I have to avoid reading the papers, watching ESPN - because hearing about the Magic winning puts me in such a foul mood. I still have confidence in this team - I just really wish they had gotten off on the right foot. This is just going to fuel that media fire for the Magic.

Biff said...

A couple things:

1. Alvaro, normally, I'm right with you. I can't stand to look at any media comments after my team loses. For some reason, as gut-wrenching as that game was last night, I don't feel that way this morning. I'm actually interested to read opinions from basketball people (not just the talking heads)as to why the Cavs broke down last night. I guess the big difference between now and the past is that I know my team is better. I know, matchup problems aside, that if they execute properly, they're going to advance. So instead of sticking my head in the sand, I want to understand what went wrong and what has to be done to fix it.

2. I understand the "legs" and "rust" points but I disagree with them. The Cavs came out ready to play yesterday. Their defensive rotations were crisp, their shots were falling . . . everything was just as it should have been. It wasn't until the second half that things broke down. To me, that discounts the rust argument.

3. Another part of the problem last night was the crowd. They were alive in the first half and the end of the 4th quarter. From the opening tip of the 3rd to the point where the Cavs lead was erased, they were dead. I don't blame them. I was having trouble myself staying vocal during the 3rd. Still, we as fans have to do a better job than that. For game 1 of the Hawks series, the crowd felt like it was going nuts the entire game. It sounds dumb to think we can really have an impact on the game but if we're being honest, those of us who attended the game last night should take a very small part of the blame for that 3rd quarter collapse. We fell asleep at the switch. Especially when it comes to role players, they need that constant crowd energy to feed off of.

4. Art, you're exactly right. No team shoots 55% unless there is a serious defensive breakdown occurring. The Cavs kept screwing up their rotations in the second half. That cost them the game, offensive ineptitute aside.

Talking about this is making me feel better. We're going to get past this and come out on a mission in game 2. This series hasn't even started yet!

lenny k said...

My point about the "legs" is that yes they came out ready to play, but their legs were not in game shape, shown by their second half, they were a step slow on their defensive rotations and jumpers stopped falling for them...that is a sign of them getting tired/worn down. Again, I think they will be fine as you only need a game or two to get your legs under you for the whole game-not just the first half, but thats what the long layoffs will do to a team, especially at the level these athletes are playing at.

Art Brosef said...

I agree that the Cavs "came out to play". However, and you can call it what you want (rust, legs, whatever, but the fact of the matter is 9 days off was a factor in the second half. There is no way it cant be. Had the Cavs not been playing the pathetic Hawks, wed have seen it last series too.

Cmon, weve all been with a nice young lady and been ready to "come out to play." But if its been 9 days since the last time youve gotten one out, your intial performance is solid and purposeful, but your usual resiliance and stamina arent there....

Biff said...

I see your points but I'll respectfully disagree. I think the Cavs got complacent, stopped playing with the same engery (by subconscious choice and not because of a lack of stamina), and Mike Brown and his staff got out-manuevered.

Just my take.

Art Brosef said...

A choice cannot be made subconsciously. Choices are, by definition conscious.

And it may not even be a lack of stamina necessarily. They just hadnt played 48 meaningful minutes in a while, and when you take that much time off, no matter what the activity, you are affected the next time out.

lenny k said...

Ill agree with Art on this one, just couldnt bring the physicality to the 2nd half-which is understandable they havnt had to do that in a long time.

JWGuidinger said...

Yes, the Cavs definitely lost their legs in the second half. And, yeah, they failed to adjust to just about anything Orlando was doing. But, why has no one brought up the fact that there was a little panic on the floor, not just on the sidelines. In the last 5 minutes, just about everyone outside of Lebron treated the basketball like it was carrying swine flu. There's something to the fact that the Cavs' last truly meaningful game was sometime in March.