The Honeymoon Is Over

Chad W. Lutz
"I feel like, at this point, we have to hold ourselves accountable. We're all professionals here, and we should all be communicating with each other and helping each other on the defensive end of the floor."
-Cavs Shooting GuardWayne Ellington

Ahead by one with just over 9 seconds remaining in the contest, it looked as if the Cavaliers might come away with a victory over Boston last night. Ahead for a majority of the second half, Cleveland held the always dangerous Paul Pierce mostly at bay and stymied the rest of the Celtic ensemble to a game-low 21 points in the third quarter. But, Boston was able to recover, and came back late in the fourth to bring themselves within a point of tying the game after a Paul Pierce fade-away, and with only nine seconds left in the game had control of the basketball.

The Celtics inbounded the ball to Pierce, who was immediately confronted by the always energetic Alonzo Gee. The two danced awhile eye to eye before Gee poked the ball out of bounds, which left only 2.1 seconds on the clock. Boston called a time out to reassess the situation and discuss strategy. The crowd was electric. It looked as though the Cavaliers might squeak by with a win. An ugly win, but a win that would stop a five-game slide. However, Boston, too, was on a five-game skid, and when the ball inbounded to Jeff Green and, two seconds later, found itself scraping net through the wrought-iron goal before time expired, all hope for a Cavalier victory was suddenly sucked out of the area, and along with it the fun and games that had taken place over the months of January and February.

Let's call it; the honeymoon is over. John Schuhmann of said in his March 25 Weekly Power Rankings recap, "…at least their used to it." Schuhmann was referring to the sucker punch to the gut the Miami Heat put to the Cavs on Wednesday, March 20. Ahead by 27 early in the third quarter, Lebron James stormed back against his old team and sunk the Cavaliers' hopes of ending the then 23-game win streak for Miami in the process, along with a myriad of 3s. Whatever ignorant bliss the Wine and Gold married into over the months of January and February with the addition of Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington faded into domestic obscurity in March as the Cavaliers played so badly they probably couldn't win a pickup game in a blind neighborhood if they tried. I won't even make more than a mention of the 20+ point loss to Indiana two nights before the Miami stinger and subsequent 38-point thrashing put to the Cavs by Houston two nights after. Sometimes even typing the truth hurts.
Tristan Thompson hangs his head in apparent disgust after losing a 27-point advantage over Miami.
The same issues the Cavaliers faced in the beginning of the season came back to haunt them over the last ten games, much like marital problems swept under the proverbial rug. Cleveland holds a 2-8 record and averaged only 94.6ppg over that stretch, while giving up 103.6ppg to opponents. A month ago the Cavaliers were sharing the ball more, executing their offense more effectively, and buckling down on defense. Now, that same team, minus key pieces in Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters for a majority of the last ten games, accounts for only 20.6apg (5th worst in the NBA) and shoots a 4th worst 43.4% from the field.

What is interesting to note is that Cleveland plays exceptionally well down to the final minute. The only problem is they are generally on the losing side of the tally board when the final buzzer sounds. During the last five minutes of games decided by five points or less, the Wine and Gold rank 6th in the NBA in overall efficiency shooting 44.6% from the field and allowing only 48 turnovers in the final minutes of 43 close games. But, unlike defensive teams like Chicago (who have scored the least amount of points during the NBA regular season thru March 28 and still sit eight games above .500 and hold a potential playoff spot), Cleveland lacks the prowess and tenacity to execute down the stretch, most notably evidenced by the driving layup game winner Boston's Jeff Green easily dropped in during the closing moments of last night's game.

The only real enjoyable highlight over the last ten games was seeing a deranged Lebron James fan storm the court late in the fourth quarter during the loss to Miami. His shirt read, "We Miss You. Come Back 2014." Reports say the man was drunk and hobbling. How he ever got past security is a complete mystery considering the high-profile nature of the Miami Heat and Lebron James's entourage. That same game saw a Jumbotron malfunction in which the giant fire guns used during the Cavaliers pre-game fanfare leaked kerosene all over the court delaying the game by 35 minutes. Coach Byron Scott, in an interview with media after the game, said the additional time caused by the delay, "allowed [sic] fans to have a few more beers." Needless to say, our court-stormer probably won't be attending any Wine and Gold games in the near future.

We're now into the final stage of the season. As other team's rally the troops and prepare to talk playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are on their way to a regular season exit for the third straight year in a row. The Cavs enter the final twelve games in search of an improved record and signs of defensive toughness to build on for next year. The question still remains whether or not Cleveland will activate Kyrie Irving or Dion Waiters or continue to let them rest for the remainder of the 2012-2013 campaign. There's no telling what the last ten games would have held if Kyrie, Andy, and Dion were healthy. Andy has been out since December. My money says they let Dion develop considering his rookie status and any in-game experience will only benefit him at this point in his career and Kyrie Irving sticks to the pine having already experienced a number of injuries throughout the year.
The problems seemed to mount for Kyrie and Dion in Games 60-70. Here, they share cooking tips.
Whatever the Cavs decide to do, the final twelve could prove a turnaround and dispelling of the dismal ball play we've seen over the previous ten. A few wins may point this team in the right direction closing out the season and could give rise to an empowered training camp and kickoff to next year's season.

At least Casspi hasn't been playing much.