Cleveland fell to the Phoenix Suns, 115-100,
in a nationally televised game, which means that the entire nation had
the chance to see just how much the Cavs need to improve. LeBron
James showed no effects from the injured toe that kept him out of Friday’s
game at Philadelphia, as he led all scorers with 30 points. Drew
Gooden had another double-double as he scored 19 points and grabbed
a game-high 14 rebounds, and Donyell Marshall came off the bench to
score 15. No other Cavalier scored in double digits. Steve
Nash and Shawn Marion each had 23 points for the Suns, who won their
17th game in a row to improve to a ridiculous 36-8.
(How exactly was this team 1-4 after the first five games of the season?)
While the final score suggests that the
game was something of a blowout, it was actually a rather close contest
through three quarters. Cleveland led by as many as five points
early on and held a 26-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Phoenix took the lead for good early in the second quarter on a barrage
of three-pointers from Nash (two), Leandro Barbosa, and Raja Bell.
(The guy sitting in front of me left to take a leak when the Cavs were
still up by five; he came back moments later after Nash’s second trey
gave the Suns a seven-point lead, and asked, “what the hell happened?”)
Cleveland refused to roll over the way
they did against Phoenix earlier this month, and rallied to cut the
lead by two at halftime. (Somewhere out there, Austin Carr was
saying, “if they can just cut it to five by the half, they’ll be
all right.”) The Cavs did tie the game early in the third quarter
on a Larry Hughes jumper, but Phoenix then rattled off nine points in
a row. The teams trade baskets the rest of the way, with a three-pointer
by Donyell Marshall cutting the lead to 91-87 at the end of the third
quarter. However, Phoenix put the game away by scoring 12 of the
first 14 points in the fourth quarter, and by the time Amare Stoudemire
slammed home a dunk to extend the Suns’ lead to 113-97, a good portion
of the Cavs’ fans were already waiting in their cars on the I-77 onramp.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE GAME:
Another Double-Double: Gooden
had a very impressive game. Eight of those 14 rebounds came at
the offensive end, and his efforts gave Cleveland a sizable advantage
(42-30) on the boards for the game. He also looked very comfortable
posting up his man as well as shooting face-up jumpers. He even
had a sweet drop-step move, although he wound up too far under the basket
and the rim “rejected” his shot. Longtime readers of the column
(also known as my wife) know that Gooden is certain to stink up arenas
across the country if I keep praising him, so I will stop there.
Rumors, Greatly Exaggerated:
Since my piece wondering if he was going to pull his game together,
Marshall has put together a couple of very strong games. He not
only scored 15 points today; he didn’t do it by hiding at the three-point
line and waiting for LeBron to kick the ball his way. In much
the same way that he did against Philadelphia on Friday, Marshall established
his inside game first, with a couple of hook shots from the paint and
a drive or two to the basket. Those interior moves opened up the
outside game for him, and he capitalized, hitting three three-pointers.
Not Coaching By The Book:
Give Coach Mike Brown credit for re-inserting Daniel Gibson into the
game midway through the second quarter. Gibson picked up three
quick fouls earlier in the game (one in which he made the unforgivable
sin of breathing on Shawn Marion as Marion dunked). The Book (where
is this book, anyway?) says that you sit Gibson until the third quarter.
And Coach Brown did sit Gibson for a few minutes … then put him back
into the game with five minutes remaining in the half. Gibson
made Coach Brown look like a genius by hitting a pair of three-pointers
and assisting on two other baskets before the half was over.
Free Stuff!: The Cavs gave
away 500-piece jigsaw puzzles to all fans attending the game.
(I’m sure a few will pop up on eBay before too long, although none
are there as of this writing.) Ours is about halfway put together
as I write this, although I am quite confident that the cat has eaten
at least two pieces while I’ve stepped away. Rather unique as
professional sports giveaways go, and certainly a notch above Twelve
Sponsors Crammed On The Back Magnet Night.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE GAME:
This Is A Defensive Genius
At Work?: As we’ve noted recently in this space, the Cavs’
defense has been shredded repeatedly in recent weeks. They’ve
fallen to seventh in the league in opposition points per game at 94.1,
and their opponents’ field goal percentage has risen to .450, which
puts Cleveland ninth in the league. (Earlier in the season, the
Cavs were among the league leaders in both categories.) Today’s
game won’t help matters any, as Phoenix scored 115 points while shooting
57% from the field (including 46% from three-point range, which is ridiculous).
What really bothered me were two trends
that cost the Cavs any numbers of baskets:
1. Their defensive switches were
hideous. Phoenix kept running picks at the three-point line.
Every time – every time – the Cavs would switch defenders,
with a big man defending a Suns guard on the perimeter while the Cavs’
guards would try to fend off one of Phoenix’s big men. In other
words, Phoenix created two mismatches on almost every possession in
the half-court set. More than once, we saw Daniel Gibson or Damon
Jones trying to guard Amare Stoudemire. That’s just wrong.
Stoudemire would have scored 40 had he not been holding his sides and
laughing hysterically so often. On the flip side, we also saw
Zydrunas Ilgauskas or Drew Gooden stepping out on Steve Nash; also wrong.
If it happens once or twice, so be it. If it happens as a regular
pattern, then it must have been a deliberate strategy by the Cavs’
coaching staff … and it was about the worst decision since Sonny Corleone
decided to take the toll road.
2. When the Cavs actually did have guards playing defense against
Phoenix’s guards … stop it there. The whole problem is that
they weren’t playing defense against Phoenix’s guards.
If you’re under six-foot-eight and you wear a Suns’ uniform, chances
are good that you can hit three-pointers like they are layups.
I know this. You know this. But this fact seems to have
eluded those brain cells responsible for Cleveland’s defensive sets
today. The Cavs’ guards kept giving the Suns’ guards room
to shoot. And the Suns did. Boy, did they ever. Barbosa
hit four three-pointers, and Nash and Raja Bell each made three.
Memo To Larry Hughes: You’re
back in your habit of shooting the ball on the way down. When
you do that, you shoot 3-for-13 … if you’re hot.
Flashback to June 26, 2002:
On that date, the Cavs selected Dajuan Wagner with the sixth pick in
the 2002 NBA draft. A few minutes later, the Suns selected Stoudemire
with the ninth overall selection. Well done, Jim Paxson and John
Flashback to July 14, 2004:
That’s the day that Phoenix inked Nash to a six-year, $63 million
contract. It’s not like the Cavs ever had any sort of a chance
to sign Nash (thanks to a lack of sufficient salary cap room and a shortage
of talent outside of LeBron; although I think they could have made a
compelling case based on the warm Cleveland winters). But we see
what Phoenix is getting for its $60-some million with Nash … and then
compare it to what we are getting for our (well, Dan Gilbert’s) $60-some
million with Hughes … and that’s yet another reason why Lucy pulling
the football away from Charlie Brown is the official logo of Cleveland
Here’s the real issue: once,
before I go, I want to see Nash and LeBron James on the same team.
I want Nash running the break while LeBron flies down the wing.
I want to see a puddle appear below the shorts of the lone defender.
Unfortunately for all basketball fans, it’s very unlikely that LeBron
and Nash will ever play on the same team. They almost certainly
won’t suit up for the same NBA team. (The lone possibility would
have a petrified Nash signing his transition-to-retirement contract
with Cleveland, say for the 2012-13 season; that doesn’t count.)
They’re in different conferences, so an All-Star pairing isn’t going
to happen. And unless Nash renounces his Canadian citizenship
or LeBron decides to move to Saskatchewan, they won’t find themselves
on the same international/Olympic team.
Every 19 Minnits, The Plaise Goes
Crazee: Maybe it’s just me, but I find it very odd that
the Cavs would prominently display the misspelled name of a sponsor
on its mini-scoreboards. I’m not a language commando or a spelling
Nazi; I do not treat typos as a sign of moral weakness, nor do I lament
the state of the public educational system every time I see a mistake.
I just know that if I were Northfiled … um, Northfield Park, I’d
want an explanation.
WHAT LIES AHEAD: