Thursday, November 8, 2007

Cavs Stumble in Utah

Cleveland lost on the final shot of the game, 103-101, in Utah on Wednesday. Cleveland could have won the game, but 18 (!) turnovers, excessive fouls, and missed free throws kept them from surpassing an equally sloppy Utah squad. The Cavs were 37-85 (43.5%) from the field and made just 65.5% of their free throws (19-29). They edged Utah on the boards with 47 rebounds and 7 blocks. Utah shot slightly better (45.9 FG%), but crushed the Cavs from the free throw line. The Jazz collected 1/3 of their total points from free throws, going 34-40 (85%) from the line.

It's always frustrating when the difference in the game comes down to free throws and this game was no exception. Utah was crashing the boards all night and seemed to collect many of their penalties in the second half. Cleveland looked lost trying to slow down the league's highest scoring offense, racking up quick fouls. Cleveland's inability to stop Utah in the paint was an issue all night. The Cavs would have brief spurts where it looked like they executed their defense properly, but struggled to keep up at other times.

Utah's aggressive approach really derailed the Cavs' comeback attempts, since they struggled to make clean defensive stops for long stretches. All five Cleveland starters finished with at least four fouls, with Gibson fouling out late. It may not have affected Coach Brown's game plan much, but his best sniper was on the bench with Cleveland down by three in the last few plays of the game.

I could go on all night about the little mistakes and apparent confusion the Cavs had on both ends of the floor, but I'll just chalk it up to an ugly game.

Cleveland had a few hot-streaks though, trailing by just 4 to end the first half and tying the game late in the third quarter. The Cavs sped up the pace of play on both ends of the floor in the third, allowing them to climb back in the game. Cleveland ran the ball more on offense and devastated Utah on the boards during their run. The defense swarmed the paint, preventing the Jazz from finishing plays or collecting many second chance shots. The game was tied at 101 with 6 seconds left in the fourth, but the Cavs earlier mistakes caught up to them as it came down to the last possession for Utah.

LeBron James was outstanding, finishing with 32 Pts, 15 Reb, and 13 Ast for his 11th career triple-double. Gooden had a bad night (2-11), while the bench contributed just 4 points. I don't think Coach Brown has much confidence in his bench right now. Ilgauskas (18 Pts, 14 Reb, 4 Blk) and Gibson (3-4 3PM, 4 Stl) were bright spots. Pavlovic still looks rusty, exhibiting a few mental lapses with bad turnovers (not entirely fair; the whole team turned it over tonight). He doesn't seem to have his shooting touch back either, despite his 17 points tonight. It's hard to say the team had a bad night judging from the box score, but the 101 points smooth over flaws in the team's overall play. Also, I don't like picking on LeBron, but he really needs to get his free throws straight. The King went a very mediocre 7-15 from the line on a night where fouls played a crucial role in the final score.

Utah never dominated the game; it was more like Cleveland just kept shooting itself in the foot with stupid mistakes. The Cavs certainly showed signs of life, but I got the sense this team is unable to operate as smoothly as it used to. The absence of two key bench players in Marshall and Varejao is hurting the Cavs depth off the bench and making consistent, quality play more difficult to maintain. The absence of Snow and Hughes to help run the floor puts most of the burden on LeBron to set up plays. I've discussed the Cavs' many injuries before, but after watching them live, I think injuries are the primary contributor to the team's poor play right now.

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