June 25, 2016


Cavs have big(s) issue

It’s one of those tricky situations where doing what is probably the right thing could end up being wrong, and doing nothing could end up being right.

At the same time, it’s also one of those situations where doing nothing —or doing something —isn’t likely to alter the outcome a whole lot.

All this mumbo-jumbo relates to the Cavaliers, specifically to coach Mike Brown and big men Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickson.

Three games into Cleveland’s first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, it’s becoming clear that having the quicker, more athletic Hickson on the floor will likely be more advantageous to the Cavaliers than going with the slow-footed, perimeter-shooting Ilgauskas.

Game 3, which Chicago won 108-106 to pull within 2-1 in the best-of-seven series heading into a Sunday afternoon encounter at the United Center, was a prime example, but not the only one.

Ilgauskas played just 5:17 Thursday night, but did nothing with those minutes other than grab an offensive rebound when a missed free throw landed right in his hands.

Ilgauskas certainly wasn’t the reason the Cavaliers lost —poor defense, bad foul shooting, too many 3-point attempts and a horrible start were responsible for that —but the 7-foot-3 center also didn’t do much in Games 1 and 2, when he scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in a total of 25 minutes.

To be fair to Ilgauskas, he’s not really getting many minutes, and his game is designed more for success over the long haul than making an immediate impact.

Hickson, however, might be able to make that impact while playing only 6-12 minutes a game. A fastbreak dunk here, a cut down the lane there, an athletic defensive play somewhere —those are things the Cavaliers aren’t getting from Ilgauskas.

With Joakim Noah at center and Taj Gibson at power forward, the Bulls are a smaller, quicker team that relies more on athleticism and energy than power and strength.

Now, this is not saying the Cavaliers should be reactive instead of proactive. It’s just saying that Ilgauskas is neither powerful nor strong on the interior. At this stage of his career, he’s merely tall, intelligent, hard-working and sometimes a decent perimeter shooter.

There’s no guarantee Hickson will do a better job on the boards —that remains one of the more inconsistent parts of his game —or won’t blow a defensive assignment or two, but giving him Ilgauskas’ minutes for the rest of the Chicago series is an option Brown should certainly consider.

Of course, Brown also has to look at the big picture —and that big picture shows a lot of big opponents could be in Cleveland’s future.

Boston, with Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett, looks like the Cavaliers’ likely opponent —yes, folks, Cleveland is going to move on —in the second round.

Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic could await in the Eastern Conference finals.

If all goes as planned, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers will be the Cavaliers’ opponent in the NBA Finals.

Ilgauskas has played well, sometimes alongside starting center Shaquille O’Neal, against Garnett and Gasol, so he could be a valuable piece in those series. He’s struggled against Howard, but he’s still a better option in relief of O’Neal than the undersized — and often overwhelmed — Hickson.

All this leaves Brown with a rather interesting dilemma.

Hickson is likely his best option against the Bulls, but he’s probably going to need Ilgauskas down the road. He can play Hickson in Game 4 and follow his own one-day, one-game-at-a-time approach, or he can look at the big picture and stick with Ilgauskas.

At the same time, to go back to the mumbo-jumbo we spouted at the beginning, Brown’s decision could mean a lot, but it should also mean relatively nothing.

If Brown sits Ilgauskas and goes with Hickson against the Bulls, Big Z, as a professional, should understand the rationale and keep himself ready to play — and produce — in the future.

If Brown doesn’t play Hickson and sticks with Ilgauskas against Chicago, it can be argued the coach is not making the best tactical decision for Games 4 or 5, but his long-term thinking would be understandable.

But the biggest reason this decision means a lot yet also means virtually nothing is this: No matter what Brown decides, the Cavaliers aren’t going to lose a series to the Bulls.

Diesel stalling

After a surprisingly good performance in Game 1, O’Neal looked like a guy who missed the last 23 regular-season contests in Games 2 and 3.

He was particularly ineffective Thursday, going 2-of-8 from the field and grabbing four rebounds in 20 minutes. Included were several missed bunnies and a wide-open dunk. Following the latter, O’Neal almost walked before making a dunk after Delonte West stole the ball and graciously gave it back to him.

Of more concern, however, is the 7-1, 325-pound O’Neal’s inability to keep Noah off the offensive boards. Noah had 15 more rebounds in Game 3, four on the offensive glass. In the last two games, Noah has 28 boards, with 11 coming on the offensive end.

Given all that, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for the Cavaliers to pound the ball inside to O’Neal early and often in Game 4. Let him be the aggressor and the offense is not only better for it, but Noah also runs the risk of getting in foul trouble.
Mo show

This may be premature and a tad harsh, but Mo Williams’ game is once again starting to look like Daniel Gibson’s in the playoffs.

Defensively, Derrick Rose is blowing by him at will —yes, Rose even did that against LeBron James a few times —and he’s relying way too much on the 3-point shot at the offensive end.

Williams was a very good 5-of-11 from beyond the arc in Game 3 and finished with 21 points, but he had just three assists and took just five two-point shots.

In the series, he’s attempted 38 shots. Twenty of them have been 3-pointers, with eight makes.

Yes, hitting 40 percent on threes is like shooting 60 percent on twos, but the Cavaliers are a better team if Williams does more than stand behind the arc.


Williams wasn’t the only Cleveland player bombing away in Game 3, as the Cavaliers hoisted a franchise playoff-record 35 3-pointers and made a team-record 14 (also a respectable 40 percent).

James was 4-of-8, Anthony Parker was 2-of-6, Antawn Jamison was 1-of-6 and Jamario Moon and West were both 1-of-2.

A number of the attempts were out of necessity in the closing minutes, but too often the Cavaliers went for the home run early in the shot clock instead of going inside.

Cleveland took an almost unbelievable 23 3-pointers in the second half, making nine. In the fourth quarter alone, the Cavaliers were 6-of-15. They took nine two-pointers in the period.

Yes, Cleveland scored 38 points in the final quarter and nearly pulled off a dramatic win, but outside of Noah’s shot-blocking abilities, the Bulls aren’t a very good defensive team on the interior. When the Cavaliers fail to attack, they also fail to capitalize on that weakness.

Crying foul

The Cavaliers had a few calls that didn’t go their way down the stretch, most notably a charging foul on James against Luol Deng that could have potentially been a three-point play, but quite a few whistles also went their way earlier in the game.

The worst free throw shooting team in the league during the regular season, Cleveland reverted to its old ways and went 20-of-31 at the line (.645). James, who was 12-of-13 over the first two games, went 7-of-13 at the stripe, while Williams, a perfect 8-of-8 coming in, went 2-of-5.

Make a few more and the Cavaliers are on the verge of a sweep right now.

On guard

Chicago guards Rose (31 points, 13-of-26 shooting) and Kirk Hinrich (27, 9-of-12) combined for 58 points on 22-of-38 shooting in Game 3. Add Deng (20 points, 9-of-16) and that grows to 78 points on 31-of-54.

The Bulls finished the night shooting an even 50 percent from the field (42-of-84), a number that is totally unsatisfactory to the defensive-minded Brown.

Expect the Cavaliers to challenge Chicago a lot more on the perimeter in Game 4, because guys like Brad Miller and Taj Gibson are not great interior scorers.

Just relax

Having just spent the majority of this column focusing on negatives, let’s take this opportunity to point out the consensus pick in this series was Cleveland winning in five games. Not only that, most prognosticators also felt if Chicago was going to win a game, it would be Game 3 at home.

That’s what the Bulls did, and they did it by just two points on a night when the Cavaliers came up short in numerous areas yet still almost rallied from a 21-point deficit.

The guess here is the Cavaliers will play much better Sunday and win Game 4, then come home and close out the series Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Of course, if Cleveland loses Game 4, the pressure to win Game 5 increases dramatically.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.