The Big Three? Try one and three – the Cavaliers record through the first four games of the season. The Cavs stumbled during takeoff against the Knicks, left then ground in a win against the Bulls, and then promptly dived headfirst into the ground, crashed and burned. Against the Knicks, LeBron’s official homecoming, the Cavs were horrid in quite possibly every facet of the game. Their defense was porous and allowed 95 points to the Knicks offense which consists of Carmelo Anthony and no one else. Their offense was, somehow even worse; shooting a 45.7% overall form the floor compared to the Knicks 53.6%. LeBron shot 5-15 from the field, 1-5 from three, and finished -13 in plus/minus. The worst differential in the game. That’s right- the Cavs actually gave up more points with LeBron on the floor than they did with the likes of Matthew Dellavedova. But, it was okay. It was only the first game of the season after all. The new superstars would have to get used to each other.
In their next game, a dominant 114-108 win against the scrappy Bulls, everything had seemed to click into place. The Cavs had liftoff. Then came the game against Portland. The Cavs engine sputtered, groaned, and just shut off altogether as they stumbled to a 19 point loss in the Rose Garden. Once again, the Cavs defense failed to stop much of anything, allowing 4 of Portland’s starters to score in double digits. Kyrie struggled to 9 points on 3-17 shooting as opposed to Damian Lillard’s massive 27 points. LeBron seemed to lose his form almost as quickly as he found it, continuing on from a 36 point performance to score 11 on 4-12 from the field. Had this been against an elite defender such as Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard, it might have been acceptable. Unfortunately, the pathetic output James managed came against the likes of Nicholas Batum and Wesley Matthew, hardly the cream of the crop when it comes to defenders in the NBA. Once again, LeBron held the worst plus/minus in the game at -15. Even after such a crushing defeat, fans and analysts stayed optimistic nevertheless.
Their next game was against the Utah Jazz after all, the team who had given Gordon Hayward a max deal over the summer. Gordon Hayward. Turns out it was money well spent. The Cavs entered and started the game without any intensity, the Jazz led throughout the entire game, at one point by 16. The lead being able to be stretched to that extent was partially due to the Jazz shooting 50.6% to the Cavaliers 41.7%. But, in this game, LeBron finally seemed to wake up, hitting a massive three, then sinking three free throws to tie the game up with 3.4 seconds left. Unfortunately for him, Gordon Hayward had other ideas about how the game would end. Catching the inbound, Hayward faked, took a dribble, and as LeBron fell to the hardwood, let go of a smooth step back jumper. Nothing but net. On the surface, this game looks like one that could have gone either way, look deeper however, and you’ll notice huge flaws not only in the Cavs defense, but even more so in their offense.
In the loss to the Jazz, LeBron had 31 and Irving poured in 34 and Love chipped in with a respectable 14, so why did they lose? All three stars showed up and performed, right? Let’s dive a little deeper into the stats, LeBron did score 31, and shot quite nicely from the field, three point land and the charity strip, but he finished with just 3 boards and 4 assists. Way below his usual production, other than that he also had 4 turnovers, something very uncharacteristic of him. When I looked at Kyrie’s stat line I had to do a double-take, then a triple-take. Running the point for most of his 45 minutes on the floor, Kyrie Irving, while not a pass first guard, finished with a spectacular goose egg in the assists column. He scored 34 points on 12-23 shooting, which is quite a feat in itself. And he only turned the ball over once. Well, even I would only turn the ball over once if I NEVER PASSED. It is beyond me how one of the best point guards, albeit one with a scoring touch, finishes a whole game without a single assist. I’m not sure that’s even possible, especially when you have the likes of James and Love on your team. Well, in Kyrie’s defense, Love was pretty bad against the Jazz, mustering up 14 points on 2-10 shooting overall. So, how is it that a team as abundant in talent as the Cleveland Cavaliers manage to lose to the lowly Jazz? The reason is essentially the same as the one which plagued the Lakers all of 2013-2014. Too much heroball, pride, clashing egos and different styles. When superstars come together on a team, people expect them to naturally bond and suddenly turn into a super team worthy of dethroning the 95-96 Bulls. That doesn’t happen, and the Cavs are just one of the teams which has fallen victim to clashing superstars. The original Big Threes of San Antonio and Boston melded perfectly because each star knew their role. Tony Parker would be the facilitator and floor general, Ginobli was the go-to scorer in the clutch, and Duncan stayed his usual sturdy self in the post. Pierce was the leader of the team in Boston, Allen the clutch, and Garnett the intensity. In Cleveland, that synergy hasn’t formed yet. No one is willing to step down; Kyrie is the go-to scorer, along with LeBron and Kevin Love. The leader of the team is undoubtedly LeBron, except when Kyrie is bringing the ball up and when Love is starting the fast break. Always go to LeBron in clutch situations, but not if Kyrie is calling for the ball and/or Love is setting up at the three point line. If the Cavs stars can’t take a step back and accept that they will see reduced and less featured roles in order for the team to succeed, they will not succeed. They will become the second coming of the Lakers of 2013-14. And we will remember the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers as the super team that wasn’t all that super.
– Michael X.