CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Larry Drew gathered his players in the locker room for a much-needed team meeting following Friday night’s loss.
Drew had some things to say. Mostly, there was plenty he needed to hear.
“I don’t want to disclose what I said, but we did have a good discussion amongst the group,” Drew said following Cleveland’s eighth consecutive loss. “I really wanted to hear from them more than they heard from me. Just kind of get what they were thinking and looking at how we have been playing, particularly second halves.
“This has been a pattern. We can go back a few games and see where we’ve actually played some good halves, some very competitive halves, then we come out in the second half and we just completely lay an egg. I’ve got to get my finger on it.”
During this eight-game losing skid, the Cavs’ play in the second half has been repulsive.
They have won the second half just twice, once against Memphis and then versus Atlanta — their two most competitive games during this ugly stretch.
In eight second halves, Cleveland has been outscored 488-389, an average of 12.4 points. They are giving up 61.0 points while scoring just 48.6. Their offensive rating is a crummy 102.4, with a defensive rating of 129.4.
“I believe defense comes first. With everything,” Larry Nance Jr. said. “I believe it’s a defensive thing leading to offense. When they’re scoring, scoring, scoring, I mean, I don’t know how many times they scored in a row tonight, but it was a lot. That’s got to hurt. Right now, we are at a point where it’s not hurting us enough to make a change.”
Utah added to those hideous totals Friday night. The Cavs led by one at the end of the first half. They were moving the ball on offense and generating quality looks. They were competing on the defensive end, holding the Jazz to 46.2 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from 3-point range. The Cavs also forced eight turnovers.
Then they collapsed. Again.
The final autopsy of the last 24 minutes: Utah 69, Cleveland 42. The Jazz shot 55.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc.
“I think it’s a desire to want to defend. I think it’s a desire to want to care,” Tristan Thompson said. “I think Longo (Mike Longabardi) does a good job with the principles and the schemes because they work. If you do it the right way, you put teams in tough situations. You have to care and want to do it for 48 minutes, not one half.”
All of that frustration led to the postgame meeting. According to Drew, the tone of the meeting was “pretty somber.” But it wasn’t heated.
It didn’t turn physical like the Grizzlies’ recent team meeting. No one player specifically got called out. It wasn’t about finger-pointing or passing blame. It was about team-wide accountability. It was a chance to talk about what everyone needed to do before this streak can end.
According to Thompson, one of the team leaders, the chat was productive. Numerous players shared their opinions of what’s gone wrong.
“I think it was constructive,” Thompson said. “I think guys were respectable and just gave their ideas and we were adults about it.
“It’s fine to talk about stuff behind closed doors and air stuff out. At the end of the day we spend more time with each other than our own family. So if we’re a family, then we gotta speak up.”
Collin Sexton was one of the few that didn’t speak up. Instead, he took it all in and liked what he heard.
“We’ve just got to be honest with each other, don’t sugarcoat anything,” Sexton said. “We’ve just got to make improvements, we can’t go back in the wrong direction. We’ve got to go forward, we have to start picking it up. Towards the end of the season, we don’t want to leave the season just winning a few games. We’ve got to try and pick it up and win some more.”
Most of the players spoke about a lack of energy in the second half. Sometimes it’s poor offense leading to shaky defense, which zaps their spunk.
Other times it’s defensive breakdowns that lead to a lack of trust, a build-up of testiness and dirty looks.
“If my man scores or if you get beat, it’s about, ‘My bad. That’s not happening again.’ It’s about manning up,” Nance said. “All comes back to that. It’s about manning up, accountability and doing your job.”
So are the issues correctable?
“I think so. I think they’re very correctable. I heard ’em loud and I hear ’em clear and I totally agree with a lot of the things that they were saying,” Drew said. “But sometimes those type meetings have to take place, especially when you’re in a slump. I’m glad they were very open and were not afraid to step on any toes. I thought it was good to hear from them. Now it’s just a matter of rolling up our sleeves and taking action and I will be committed to doing that.”
The Cavs have the league’s worst record. Losing has become routine during this rebuild.
Thompson admitted that at this point players are resigned to what this season has become. The Cavs don’t have the talent to keep up most nights and that’s, no doubt, playing a part in the second-half woes.
While sophomore sensation Donovan Mitchell was putting his mark on the game, the Cavs’ first-half leading scorer Rodney Hood was disappearing. When Kyle Korver and Jae Crowder, a pair of former Cavaliers, were hitting outside shots, the Cavs were tossing bricks.
Eventually who you are will show by the end of 48 minutes. After a strong start Friday night, the Cavs reverted back to being a lousy eight-win team with the worst defense in the history of the league. No, that’s not hyperbole.
The Cavs’ defensive rating is 115.7. No team has ever finished worse. Only eight of their opponents this season have failed to crack the 100-point mark. That’s who they are. As Thompson said, winning takes a “damn-near-perfect” game.
But nobody in the organization will accept a lack of effort. That’s been happening too much lately.
The Cavs have lost by more than 20 points in four of the last eight. Their average margin of defeat during this losing skid is 16.6 points. That’s unacceptable. Everybody in that locker room Friday knows it.
“We’re not learning from our losses,” Nance said. “That’s probably what we needed. We needed to sit down and talk about it and have different guys voices be heard and opinions be heard. I think the right guys spoke up.”
Now, the next question: Will anything change Saturday night against New Orleans?
“These young guys, I’ve been around for a long time so I think I know how this s— goes,” he said. “I think at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror and say how can I be better for this team? How can I be an asset to this team to help us be successful?”
Nance echoed those sentiments. He said he will do his best to make Friday’s team meeting a positive.
“I plan on it,” Nance said. “I can control one guy. I will be ready. I hope everybody goes home, looks themselves in the mirror and asks themselves and thinks of what they can do better to bring it tomorrow.”