There are a few ways to look at this game. On the one hand, the Cavs were pretty horrific defensively. The only effort they showed consistently in the game was denying Dirk Nowitzki possessions, and staying on him for tough shots as he continued his pursuit of Wilt Chamberlain in the scoring record books.
Nowitzki didn’t make it past Chamberlain. The Cavs did not beat the Dallas Mavericks. I don’t know that the Cavs were supposed to let Dirk score, but it was a little weird that it seemed to be the only real intensity they were able to find on that end.
There were some positive things. Kevin Love continues to play like a star, and Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman were okay. But the bench was ineffective, and the Mavericks persevered through Nowitzki face-guarding. Let’s get to it.
NEGATIVE: The Cavs made this competitive late, which is nice, but it seemed lame to deny Dirk Nowitzki his moment at home
If the Cavs were in a playoff race, it would make all of the sense to pull out every stop to try and beat the Mavericks. They’re professionals either way, and should take pride in going out and performing. I’m not suggesting the Cavs should have let Nowitzki score. But going out of your way to deny him the ball, and all of a sudden finding the energy to contest shots as he gets close to a big achievement? I don’t know. It rubbed me wrong. If that had been the game plan from the get-go because stopping Dirk was the way to win, fine. No issues.
That didn’t happen. Nowitzki will likely get there in his next game, so there’s no harm done, I just didn’t like the random energy from the Cavs. Maybe just play with it all the time!
NEGATIVE: The bench … was not helpful
We’ve done enough beating up on Marquese Chriss, but when you’re a -17 in 17 minutes in a game your team lost by just five, it’s something you have to look at. David Nwaba even had a rough go of things, and it seemed like he got lost a bit on defense. Players that came off the bench shot just 2-12 from three point range, and these guys weren’t defending to try and help cover up the defensive deficiencies. It’s not all Chriss’s fault of course, but the drop from Love to what he can do is steep.
POSITIVE: The young building blocks looked like building blocks
Collin Sexton had a first half where he looked completely uninterested to playing with his teammates and setting them up, but came back in the second with a more complete game. He finished with 28 points on 17 shots, handed out four assists with zero turnovers, and had a positive plus/minus. He got roasted a few times defensively himself, but you’ll take this game compared to where he’s been.
Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic were helpful as well. Osman made six of his seven three point attempts, and he’s looked really confident with it in 2019. He matched Sexton’s four assists with zero turnovers. Somehow he was just 2-9 on two point shots and didn’t get to the free throw line once. Zizic had the team’s best plus/minus at +14 in 31 minutes. He had 11 points on five shots. My view on him remains the same: there’s no real evidence that he can’t be a helpful player on a good team. Put caveats on what he’s done, that’s fine, but it’s been encouraging.