HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Cleveland Cavaliers ended a two-game losing streak, avenged a weekend loss, and improved to 9-3 with a 115-100 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.
The Cavs shot 56 percent and scored 115 points on just 86 possessions, which says a lot about both their offense and Milwaukee’s defense. The Bucks (5-7) went from 29th in defensive efficiency in 2013-14 to second in Jason Kidd‘s first season, but are right back where they started after 11 games.
NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent “Bones” Barry, who called the game for TNT, went back and forth afterward, discussing the Bucks’ issues on both ends of the floor and where they are in their development.
Schuhmann: So what’s the difference between last season’s Milwaukee defense and this season’s Milwaukee defense?
Barry: Some tell-tale signs have to do with some basic fundamentals of a very good NBA defense. And that’s one, communication and, two, trust in one another that guys are going to be in the right spots at the right times.
Talking to Jason Kidd, in the early part of this season, the Bucks are doing A decently and doing B decently, but when they get to C, there’s nobody home. There’s missing the last step to finish off a possession.
Some of that has to do with a variety of lineups. They’ve had seven different starting lineups to start the season. They’ve had key pieces out of games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, Jabari Parker, John Henson and O.J. Mayo have all missed games. Greg Monroe is a new addition.
So there’s so much disconnect in terms of who’s playing that it’s affected how much they trust one another to begin the year. They’re not playing as hard on that end as they’re capable of, and they know it.
The main thing that Jason kept talking about was “We’re young. We miss Zaza [Pachulia] and we miss Jared Dudley and we miss Ersan [Ilyasova], because those guys have experience. We have no veteran players.”
So there’s nobody but the coaching staff to talk about what it’s like to come in every day to work and what your role is.
Schuhmann: Going back to their defense, their scheme puts so much pressure on those second and third rotations. They load up the strong side and when the ball is swung, the pressure is on the weak-side guys to close out, contest and contain.
Barry: They have to close out properly. Great defenses close out on shooters to direct the ball to a certain area of the floor, because you trust that the next guy in the rotation is there.
Last night, there were glaring examples of how ineffective and how inactive the Bucks’ hands are, in terms of deflections and denials. I’ve looked at some numbers on their pressure rate, and it’s way down.
They had so many miscommunications on switches. That’s something that they absolutely can do, but they don’t communicate well. When they give space, they’re going to get beat. Especially in the first half against Cleveland, they had no awareness of where shooters were. They were much better in the second half, but that cost them and gave them such a deficit that their offense is incapable of having bursts to catch up to teams, especially Cleveland.
Schuhmann: That Milwaukee offense is very slow and deliberate. The Bucks rank 30th in pace and they’ve attempted just 10.8 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the sixth lowest rate in the league.
Barry: They run corner series. They don’t run a lot of pick-and-rolls. Maybe other than Jerryd Bayless, they don’t have effective pick-and-roll players. And they don’t go in transition.
They’re trying to get better ball movement, but better slashing. But when you have combinations of players who haven’t played with one another, it’s very difficult to read your teammates if you don’t know what they like to do and when they like to do it. And that’s costing them a lot of possessions on offense, where they just aren’t in synch.
Schuhmann: They did have a relatively efficient offensive game on Thursday and had some success in the third quarter with Greivis Vasquez and Khris Middleton running side pick-and-roll to get a switch against Middleton in the post.
Barry: The 1-2. But that was against Matthew Dellavedova and Richard Jefferson. I don’t know if it’s that effective against a quicker, better defensive backcourt.
Jason went to that several times and it helped them get some shots, but that’s a single-option thing. If you score a couple of times and then they double you, what’s next? Right now, there’s no next on the offensive end of the floor.
Schuhmann: A similar thing that they do is set a back-screen to get the opposing point guard switching onto Middleton in the post. It gets them some good looks, but like you said, opponents are going to adjust to it pretty quickly.
Barry: I don’t know how much more effective that is late in the shot clock. It’s probably better to get side-to-side movement and then that action late, rather than broadcast it with the post-up on the first pass, where the defense can load up and be in good rebounding position.
One thing that bothered me is that they’re getting pushed up so high on the initial catch in the corner series. When Monroe sets up at the elbow and a guy like Tristan Thompson pushes him from the elbow to the 3-point line, the corner series doesn’t work.
You can’t make passes to back-door cutters from the 3-point line. A dribble hand-off is too far away to create a good angle for the offense.
Schuhmann: When Kidd was coaching in Brooklyn, I covered a Knicks-Nets game where the Nets didn’t run pick-and-roll for most of the first half against an opponent that was just dreadful at defending pick-and-rolls (and coincidentally employed Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire).
That Nets team did have some good pick-and-roll guards, but just kept running the offense through the bigs at the elbow, which was often a struggle. You have to have a pick-and-roll game to take advantage of the Bargnanis and Enes Kanters of the world.
Barry: Now, there was some signs tonight. Giannis was spectacular. He showed so much versatility in his game and did a decent job on LeBron James.
VIDEO: Giannis’ 33 points
When you play Giannis and Parker together, you can pick and choose weaker defenders at the three and four spots to take advantage of their quickness and what they can do handling the ball. Jason explored that in the second half to the Bucks’ advantage. They picked on Kevin Love a little bit, on Thompson a little bit, with those guys playing off the elbow to create some offense.
But until they’re complete and until they do some growing up… It just sounds like where they want to go is three or four years down the road.
Barry: The Cavs did do a nice job. And with Mo Williams out, Dellavedova had 13 assists, doing a nice job of taking what the defense was going to give him. He penetrated and drew two guys…
And that’s part of the learning process for the Bucks. What’s the point in going over to double-team Dellavedova? Why would you step over the median line and commit to the strong side, when that’s the guy you’d rather have try and score on you?
But yeah, that was encouraging for the Cavs to move the ball like they did and not have LeBron need to take over multiple possessions in a row to make things happen. They had other guys making things happen.
Schuhmann: I can’t remember a single possession where LeBron stopped the ball, backed out to the 3-point line and killed clock with his isolation dance.
Barry: We flashed a graphic with a little over a minute to go in the fourth quarter that LeBron had 19 passes and zero field goal attempts in the period. That was probably the least amount of energy he’s had to expend in the fourth quarter to help the Cavs secure a win.
Schuhmann: And their shot chart – minimal mid-range shots, mostly layups and threes – was what you’d want.
You mentioned in the broadcast how they also took advantage of the Bucks’ weak-side guards having to defend duck-ins from the Cleveland bigs.
Barry: When the ball was on the wing, the Bucks’ brought a second defender over, where they weren’t coming to double-team, but just coming over and squatting on the box. I understand the strategy, but you’re committing a guy to space and not to double the ball, which is [expletive].
So they got caught on that a lot.
Schuhmann: The Bucks’ defense, even when it’s playing well, is banking on the fact that they can recover to the weak side before you get the ball there. But there’s no skip-passer in the league better than LeBron.
Barry: J-Kidd said before the game, “We can not allow fastballs.” I hadn’t heard that term before, but I knew what he was talking about. He said, “You let LeBron throw fastballs for threes, we’re never going to get to the shooters.”
If you don’t get into his body, you’re going to get killed.