There’s enough raw talent on the Cleveland Cavaliers roster that even Tom Thibodeau would have a hard time keeping all of it on the bench. But that raw talent has also proved to be inconsistent, and Mike Brown’s group picked the wrong time to be careless in their 96-81 loss in Chicago on Monday night.
The Cavaliers committed 20 turnovers which the Bulls turned into 29 points, allowed 14 offensive rebounds which became 16 second-chance points for the hosts, and shot 41 percent from the field, slightly above their 28th-ranked field goal percentage entering Monday’s action.
“If you add those two together (points off turnovers and second-chance points) that’s almost 50 percent of their points,” Brown said. “And on the road versus a good team, if you give up 50 percent of your opponents’ points in turnovers and second-chance shots, it’s going to be hard to win. Beyond that, I just thought when we hit adversity tonight, we didn’t handle it well.”
Kyrie Irving, who was virtually non-existent in the first half, began to heat up in the fourth quarter but missed three straight shots and gave up a costly turnover during the Bulls’ 18-6 run to close the game. Irving, who was playing against Derrick Rose for the first time, was shut down by his fellow No. 1 overall pick, scoring two points in the first half on 0-of-5 shooting and one turnover.
Irving wound up scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter, but his efforts weren’t enough as the young Cavaliers slipped to 3-5, with all five losses coming on the road.
“A couple games where we’re in the game and key turnovers, they get stops and they convert on the offensive end. It’s tough to keep that three-point deficit the same, especially playing against a good team such as the Chicago Bulls.”
Tom Thibodeau wisely deployed a defensive strategy on the former Rookie of the Year to get the ball out of Irving’s hands whenever possible. That young talent was there to help keep Cleveland in the contest thanks to Dion Waiters (13 points) and Tristan Thompson (14 points, 13 rebounds), while veterans CJ Miles (nine points), Andrew Bynum (11 points, six rebounds) and Anderson Varejao (five points, six rebounds) helped slow the Bulls offensively.
Irving knew the Bulls may try to get it out of his hands, but he admitted he could have done a better job being more assertive and making the Bulls’ defense react to him, instead of the other way around.
“Every time I play against the Bulls, Coach Thibodeau does a great job of corralling me into a little bit of space,” Irving said, “and they do a great job of loading and making it tough on me.”
There’s room for the Cavaliers to improve, and their players have impressive ceilings. The last three seasons Cleveland has drafted six players in the first 17 picks of the draft, including a pair of first overall picks (Irving in 2011 and Anthony Bennett in 2013), the third overall pick (Dion Waiters in 2012), the fourth pick (Thompson) and Tyler Zeller, who went No. 17 overall in 2012.
They may compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on the back of Irving, Waiters, Thompson and potentially Bynum’s health, but on this night they were forced into poor situations and an elite defense made a young team pay.
“That’s going to happen different times in the game,” Irving said of the turnovers. “We were kind of being loose with it in the first half. We’re going to get better at it.”