Today is yet another dark day in the history of Cleveland sports.
But what’s it matter? They’re all dark days. Collectively, the point has been reached where, even on the rare occasions when things are going staggeringly well, you know the storm of futility is coming.
It’s going to rain on your parade. Piddle in your cornflakes. Trade Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers, and then watch LeBron James fool the entire country into thinking he isn’t going to turn his back on his home state team, again and again and again.
Today: It was announced that Andrew Bynum has been suspended indefinitely from the Cavaliers for conduct detrimental to the team. Mum seems to be the word throughout the Cavaliers organization at the moment, but it seems reasonable enough to believe that Bynum is being a jerk, and no one is amused.
Everyone’s talking trade. Bynum didn’t travel with the team to the game in Boston that was played earlier today. Bill Simmons is tweeting madly about the situation, claiming he’s heard that Bynum wants to play for the Heat or Clippers.
It’s as if Bynum had no understanding of what he was doing when he agreed to play in Cleveland.
So, the Cavaliers were without their starting center on the road today. If the move to suspend Bynum is better for the team’s chemistry going forward, you wouldn’t have known it watching the first half of their outing against the Celtics.
The first quarter was punchy—the Cavaliers were outplayed, but they managed to keep things tight courtesy of hot shooting from Kyrie Irving and Earl Clark.
Clark had twelve points in the game’s initial half. Mike Brown rewarded him for this in the second half with a seat on the pine. This isn’t the first time this has happened: early in the season the Cavaliers were playing the Timberwolves—Earl came out shooting the ball well, and he didn’t leave the bench in the second half. When asked about this strange happening during his post-game presser from that game, Mike Brown responded largely in gibberish.
Things got ugly in the second quarter of today’s game. Defensively, Bynum’s presence was missed dearly on the interior. Celtics’ big men Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger had their way on the offensive boards, as Anderson Varejao was pushed around like a schoolboy chump.
And it wasn’t any better on the perimeter. Celts guards Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford scored seemingly at will off long jumpers, as Cavaliers defenders were lost between picks and botched attempts at double-teaming the ball in the post.
After a timeout in the second, Cavaliers announcer Austin Carr asserted that a Cavs assistant coach could be heard repeatedly yelling, “Play the game the way it’s supposed to be played!”
To think that people are paid many thousands of dollars to give this sort of advice is enough to numb one’s brain, at the very least.
The Cavs found themselves down 15 points going into the half. The Celts canned 65% of their field goals in the second quarter, and it looked as if they were ready to run away with an easy win in the second. This persisted into the third.
Halfway through the quarter, former Buckeye Jared Sullinger was given the ball in the low post—backing down Anderson Varejao. As Sullinger went up with his shot attempt, he delivered a mean elbow into Varejao’s face, missed the shot, and left Anderson wailing on the floor like a child, as the Cavaliers sprinted away on the break.
In a frenzy of action, Dion Waiters had the ball ripped from him by Celts guard Avery Bradley, who tore down the floor and crammed home an uncontested dunk.
All the while, Anderson Varejao sat on the ground near the basket, rubbing his face and pouting like his lunch money had been stolen. I repeat: Bradley crammed home an uncontested dunk, meaning Anderson sat and watched as Bradley took two free points.
The Cavaliers called a timeout, and a moment later Varejao was pulled from the ground by two of his teammates. He was fine. Absolutely fine—not a scratch on him. He immediately walked over to a nearby referee and began complaining.
This is the behavior of a man who spent too much time playing with a young LeBron James. This is the behavior of a man who is entirely unfit to go toe-to-toe with the most talented giants of the basketball world. This is the behavior of a whiny, prepubescent child.
What was Andrew Bynum suspended for, again?
The Cavs were down 19 points at the end of the third. Things looked characteristically bleak. . . . and then the unthinkable happened: Anthony Bennett scored the ball.
He took an open jumper, missed it, stormed in to grab the rebound and stuffed the ball through the cylinder with the ferocity of a steroid-addled juggernaut.
Suddenly, the Cavaliers had energy. Bennett, it seems, provided the spark they needed, and he didn’t come off the floor the rest of the game—in doing so, he had his best outing yet as a professional basketball player, even though he dribbled the ball off his foot at one point.
“That’s okay, that’s fine,” Austin Carr said in response to the miscue, in the tone of a nurturing father. That was okay, because the comeback was on: Waiters and Irving started drilling home difficult jumpshots; Tyler Zeller, who some assumed to be dead due to a lack of playing time, took advantage of the absence of Bynum and tore down many rebounds; Jarrett Jack found rhythm, at one point canning three-point shots on two straight possessions, cutting the Celts lead to four with under three minutes to go.
This fourth quarter explosion was the Cavs as they can be. Anyone who watched this game saw the two sides the Cavaliers have shown all season: the timid, clumsy, lazy Dr. Jeckel who meandered around the floor throughout the first three quarters, and the vicious, world-beating Mr. Hyde who emerged in the fourth after Anthony Bennett started playing like a man who has seen a basketball before.
It was as if someone dumped a bag of speed into the Gatorade between quarters.
In the final minute of the game, the Cavs closed the lead to two points after a successful trip to the free-throw line by Dion Waiters. Chaos ensued on the offensive end for the Celtics, ending in a desperate three-point attempt by Jared Sullinger as the shot-clock expired, which soared beautifully through the air and out of bounds without ever contacting the rim.
The Cavs took a timeout, and the ball was in hand with 19 seconds left on the clock. After the inbound, it was traded between the hands of Cavs players like a hot potato before it was handed to Dion Waiters, who said “screw it!” and drove to the rack in his attempt to be the hero of the day.
Waiters went up for a layup, and Celts forward Brandon Bass stuffed him into last month.
That was the game. The Cavs fouled and had a shot at a game-tying three with a second to go, but the ball was inbounded to Earl Clark, and he never got the shot off. It had been an hour since Clark had last been on the floor, leading one to wonder how exactly Mike Brown expected him to can a game-winner with a collection of frozen muscles at his disposal.
The Boston Celtics escaped with a 103-100 win, and the Cavaliers tanked their fourth straight.
These are the kinds of games the Cavaliers are playing this season. They get blown out of the gym, lose in an improbable shootout, beat a similarly losing team by a small margin, or somehow sneak by with a win at the end of a close one.
They couldn’t pull that last scenario off on Saturday afternoon. They rarely do. When it does occur, it all seems so strange and implausible that you wander right out your front door to go buy yourself a lottery ticket.
This is a team that is still in transition. And it would have been nice if somebody had mentioned that to Andrew Bynum.