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Cleveland’s Blueprint For Closing Games, Making Playoff Push

December 14th, 2012 at 4:58 PM
By Bryan Pauquette

'Byron Scott' photo (c) 2011, Erik Drost - license:
Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers reminded all of us that the Cavs are no Kyra Sedgwick. They simply cannot close. It’s plagued them the entire year; recall the Phoenix game when Cleveland blew a 26 point lead. Against the Pacers, the Cavs jumped out to a 16 point lead only to see it crumble away in the second half. So here is a blueprint for closing out games and getting some wins.

First of all they need to be in a position where they are winning, or at least still in the game towards the end. To get to that point it is all about Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao. They need to carry the team. Irving as the leader and ball handler; Varejao as the hustler and relentless rebounder. They also need to make shots. We painfully watched them go a collective 4 for 21 against the Pacers. At times they looked like James Catusco aka the worst basketball player ever. Dion Waiters who is day-today with a sprained ankle has shown the glimpses of greatness the Cavs had hoped for. He’ll need to put in a more consistent effort, but this trio can be very dangerous because they complement each other very nicely. Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee are solid supporting players. Thompson is averaging over seven boards per game, which is good because apparently no one outside of him and Varejao seem to enjoy rebounding. Or even trying for them. Zeller being the exception, averaging five rebounds off the bench. When it comes to Alonzo Gee I want to start a chant. If you attend a game at the Q this year you have a responsibility. Every time he has the ball beyond the arc yell as loud as you can, “GEE DON”T SHOOT A THREE!” He’s averaging 3.4 threes a game and hits 28.2% of them. That’s not good enough for the NBA, and it’s costing Cleveland vital possessions. Recall from earlier, they don’t have many rebounders on the squad.

Speaking of the lack of rebounders, Anderson Varejao seems to be fatigued. He gives everything he has on every single play, and that’s why he’s leading the league in rebounding. But the NBA schedule can be grueling at times, and he is starting to get worn down. As a result he seems to require more minutes of rest. When he is not on the floor the rest of the Cavaliers need to step up and start crashing the boards with authority.

Now comes the most important part of the plan: bench support. While the bench doesn’t seem too deep, there is a lot of potential. Coach Byron Scott likes to offer breathers for starters around the end of the third into the beginning of the fourth. Obviously, this is a very crucial part of the game. So the subs need to come in and at least hold the lead. Tyler Zeller has put in some hard minutes this year, and that is great to see. Daniel Gibson has been firing the three like he always does, but he is hot and cold. The guy that is flying under the radar, but may be crucial to Cleveland victories is Samardo Samuels. Samuels hasn’t been seeing much playing time, but Byron Scott was so fed up with his starters he played him for 22 minutes. He didn’t waste the opportunity, putting up ten points and a couple boards. His season average to that point was 3.3 points per game in less than 11 minutes on average. Coach Scott is proud of this kid’s new found work ethic, but is still weary of his mental approach to each game.  "It probably is the mental aspect," Scott said. "It's nothing physical. The way he worked this summer, the way he came into training camp, what he did in the summer league . . . it's all between the ears right now. It's just getting that part of the game down pat. Once he does, he's going to be in the rotation on a steady basis.”

He says he still keeps in touch with his mentor Antawn Jamison, and continually gets some inspiration from the former Cavalier. "I've just been working every day. Every day I go to the gym, I have the same routine, the same attitude. I saw 'Tawn [on Tuesday, when the Lakers were in town]. He's like, 'Just keep your head up.' I told him: 'You've got nothing to worry about. I've got a work ethic now.'"

Lastly off the bench (once Waiters comes back) is C.J. Miles. This veteran has had back to back 28 point games, and singlehandedly drove the Cavs to their big lead in Indiana. If he can do half of this on a nightly basis he could (and should) steal a starting spot from Gee. As of right now it is probably safe to assume he’ll be coming off the bench when Dion returns. Don’t forget he was in Scott’s doghouse just a few weeks ago.

In the end the blueprint is simply, the starters need to operate on a consistent basis and play their roles. When they need to rest, the bench needs to step up and give everything they got. While the Cavaliers may be undersized and less athletic than some teams, the pieces are there. There is a real chance to operate a solid 9-man rotation. If Scott can get these players to become consistently efficient in his system, not only can the Cavaliers put themselves in a position to win late in games, but also be able to close them out.

Scott needs to make this happen soon, but if he does Cleveland will have a real shot to make playoff push. They may be the most overlooked and underrated teams in the NBA. Every team thinks they are a free win, and the Cavs will hopefully be using that to their advantage in the near future.

Cleveland takes on Milwaukee tonight in the Q. Game tips at 7:30 pm. 


Tags: Alonzo Gee, Anderson Varejao, Basketball, Cleveland, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dion Waiters, Kyrie Irving, NBA, Samardo Samuels, Tyler Zeller

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