Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. ESPN Cleveland/Rob Lorenzo
Game Night Observations: An unlucky gamble, missing Allen, and putting this all in perspective
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The Cavs have lost five straight games, and the latest one comes against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday night in Milwaukee got away from the Cavs in the third quarter, when the team was outscored 34-18. Cleveland was never able to get back into it after that, losing to the Bucks 113-98.
Teams that play against Milwaukee have a choice to make. The choice for the Cavs on Wednesday was to either let two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo beat them, or take a chance that the rest of the team won’t be able to hit open shots from the outside.
Wednesday, the Cavs chose to do their best to contain Antetokounmpo and live with the results from the rest of the team on the outside. That’s the correct strategy to take, and really the only option the Cavs have while Jarrett Allen is out.
Sometimes it’s going to work, and sometimes the role players on the Bucks are going to hit shots. When that happens, it’s awfully tough to beat Milwaukee, and that’s exactly what happened.
Bucks starting center Brook Lopez finished with a game-high 29 points, making 10-of-13 shots, including 7-of-9 from 3-point range. It’s the most 3-pointers that Lopez has made in a single game since New Year’s Day of 2019 and the first time he’s made more than five 3-pointers in a single game since August 8, 2020. Bucks reserve Jordan Nwora made five 3-pointers off the bench and the team as a whole was 16-of-36 from deep. When those things happen, it’s pretty rare for Milwaukee to lose.
The Cavs picked the right strategy against Milwaukee. They held Antetokounmpo to just 16 points on 6-of-18 from the floor while adding in 12 rebounds and eight assists. By his standards, that’s an off game. The team did a good job defending him, especially considering that they were without All-Star center Jarrett Allen. Missing Allen defensively is a big deal not only for how the Cavs defend the rim, but how they can align themselves as well.
Lack of rebounding
One of the areas that really cost the Cavs – aside from 3-point shooting by Milwaukee – was the inability to corral rebounds on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs surrendered 13 offensive rebounds that turned into 21 points for the Bucks.
In the first half, the Bucks had 14 second chance points on seven rebounds.
In total, the Cavs were out rebounded 52-34 by Milwaukee. Teams aren’t going to win too many games with those type of numbers.
This is another area where Allen being out really hurts the Cavs. It’s not as if he solely solves their rebounding issues, but he certainly accounts for a large portion of it. When Allen is on the floor for the Cavs, he grabs 24.9% of the available defensive rebounds, second to Milwaukee’s Antetokounmpo for players that average 32 minutes or more per game.
When he returns, things will look a bit more back to normal on the defensive end of the floor. This current absence not only shows just how impactful Allen is for the Cavs in that facet, but also how good he is as a defender and rebounder overall.
Take a deep breath
As this gets published it’s late into the night on Nov. 16. Now is not the time to freak out about the Cavs. Yes, losing five straight games is never a good thing, but the world is not ending for this team. This group was never going to chase down the single-season wins record, and it was foolish to think they would – even after starting out 8-1.
Bickerstaff was asked about this before the team’s game on Sunday against Minnesota. Here’s his full response:
"I mean, we're fine. There's no reason for us to panic. We knew that these things take time. I think that's where we've been preaching that message to our guys from the beginning of the season. Like, you're gonna have some adversity, it's not just gonna go smoothly and you're gonna go 82-0, it doesn't happen. You go back and you just see the history of the game, I was with a Timberwolves team doing the radio when they brought in [Latrell] Sprewell and Sam Cassell, and they were around .500 to start Christmas. You go back to the Miami Heat teams when LeBron [James] went there with Chris Bosh, like, they were like 8-8 or 8-9 to start the season. When you add a talent like a Donovan Mitchell and you're building a team, especially with young guys who are still trying to figure themselves out at points too, it takes time to figure that out. So, our goal, again, is to continue to get better and play out best basketball towards the end of the year which I think we're capable of."
Good teams often don’t snap their fingers and become good teams. There’s almost always a process involved in it. When LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, the Heat started that first season 9-8. When James returned to Cleveland for his second stint with the Cavs, the team woke up the morning of January 14 with a 19-20 record. The 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves, that Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was a radio color commentator for, started 9-8 after adding Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell to a team that already had Kevin Garnett.
All those teams went on to have playoff success of different degrees.
This isn’t to say that’s a guarantee that the Cavs will go out and win the Eastern Conference or even make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but it’s a reminder that these things take time. The NBA season is a long one. After Wednesday’s loss in Milwaukee there are 68 regular season games left for the Wine and Gold.
Take a deep breath, there’s a lot of time for this to be figured out, and the pieces on this roster fit too well for it not to be.