Spurs Knockout and Embarrass The Cavs

28 Mar, 2017

It was a blowout, plain and simple.

The San Antonio Spurs ran all over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, winning 103-74 in a game that didn’t even feel that close.

LeBron James and Co. looked totally overwhelmed by the size and speed of the Spurs – more on that to come – and unable to handle the play of surging MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who finished with a 25-6-6 line despite an ice-cold shooting night from deep. (When you go 0-7 from 3, as Kawhi did on Monday night, and still torch a team, that’s a bad sign for the team that you just torched.) When James left the game after being inadvertently elbowed by the Spurs’ David Lee, it was already over.

The loss dropped the Cavaliers to second place in the East, a half-game back of the Celtics, and left Cleveland fans wondering what on earth has been going on over the last week or two.

The answer, right now at least: Teams are figuring out how to beat the Cavaliers. They aren’t afraid of them anymore. And the way the Cavaliers roster is constructed has left them vulnerable, a vulnerability that the Spurs were all too ready to exploit.

The loss to the Spurs on Monday night showed a true problem right now with the Cavaliers – they’re not quite small and quick enough to outrun teams, but they aren’t big enough to gut out wins in the paint. With fatigue setting in at the worst time, they’re a terrible hybrid of two styles, an aging, slow team that isn’t big enough to handle opponents’ post players. And for now at least, it’s killing them.

Especially last night with the absence of Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith continuing his season-long funk, the Cavaliers don’t have enough quickness on the wings to stay in front of smaller teams. And with really only one viable defensive big on the roster in Tristan Thompson, they are basically forced to try and play small anyway. This is turning, quickly, into a mess.

It’s also why the loss of Andrew Bogut, who joined the team mid-season and was quickly injured for the rest of the year, was a bigger deal than people made it out to be. Bogut would have given the Cavaliers an option when the energy levels weren’t high enough or opponents tried to bully them. He could do exactly what he had done for the Warriors when they faced similar issues – he could get planted in the paint and provide tough cover on defense. On those nights where the Cavaliers’ wings couldn’t get those feet moving quick enough to stay in front of their opponents, he could have bailed them out.

With Bogut out, the Cavaliers have Tristan Thompson to protect the rim and, uh … Derrick Williams? Channing Frye? Kevin Love? Let me try that again: With Bogut out, the Cavaliers have Tristan Thompson to protect the rim and no one else. That’s it. It’s Thompson.

And when the Cavaliers face an opponent who have a few players who can make Thompson’s life hard down low (it’s hard to focus on bailing out your guards when you have to worry about LaMarcus Aldridge, for example) the Cavaliers are toast. They don’t have any defensive cover, and their wing players don’t have the speed to keep up with opponents. There were several plays last night when 36-year-old Richard Jefferson was trying to guard 25-year-old Kawhi Leonard, one of the greatest pure athletes not only in basketball but all of sport.

Jefferson was asked to do this without any real cover behind him, because Thompson was busy trying to deny an entry pass to Aldridge in the block. How did everyone think that would turn out?

The Cavaliers have gotten so desperate that they’re trying to revive the career of Larry Sanders to give them some interior support, which … good luck.

I should say that the Cavaliers can still hang with anyone. If the wing players are totally committed and the opponent doesn’t have such an intimidating post presence, they can still elevate their game. On most nights, even if their defense is a mess, they can still score with anyone, because LeBron and Kyrie Irving are two of the most gifted creators and scorers alive. They’ll get one big Kevin Love game in a series. They can still hang with any team in the NBA, and they’re still my pick to come out of the East.

But this isn’t the same Cavaliers team we’ve seen. They’ve gotten a bit older. They’ve gotten a bit slower. And without that extra rim protection, they have serious questions about their defense. That might be enough for an upstart team like the Celtics or Wizards to sneak in there and knock them off. If it was ever going to happen, this would be the year.

Fox Sports

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