TORONTO — With his team reeling from six losses in its past nine games — including a 28-point blowout at the hands of the Minnesota Timberwolves this week — Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue opened Wednesday’s practice with an extensive film session to address the group’s defensive woes.
Rather than splice video of specific plays, Lue showed the entirety of the Cavs’ poor first quarter against the Wolves, multiple sources told ESPN, calling attention to the lack of effort his team showed from the start as Minnesota opened up a 32-18 lead.
What was Lue’s overall message after his team allowed 127 points for the second consecutive game?
“We just got to play harder,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We’ve got to play harder on both ends; we’ve got to push the pace offensively; we’ve got to pressure up defensively and take teams out of what they want to do. Teams are doing whatever they want to us at that end of the floor. I think if we do that then that will be half the battle. We’ll fix things on offense, but defensively we’ve just got to play harder, be more physical, take away what teams want to do.”
Cleveland got some good news Wednesday with Thomas not receiving any suspension for his hit to Andrew Wiggins‘ jaw and throat on Monday. The hit warranted a flagrant-2 foul, resulting in Thomas’ ejection. The league did announce a $20,000 fine on Thomas for the infraction, however.
Lue was hoping that the film session worked as a sort of slap in the face to his own team to grab players’ attention.
“I mean we watched film and you could just see it,” Thomas said. “[Lue] doesn’t even have to say anything. Film doesn’t lie, and we just got to be more physical. We’ve got to be the aggressor at both ends of the floor, and when we do that we’re a tough team to beat, no matter who we’re playing. When we don’t and we let teams do what they want offensively, it’s tough, especially when you’re not hitting on the offensive end. You’re in a lose-lose situation when you let things happen like that.”
The Cavs are no stranger to midseason lulls. In each of the past three seasons, they’ve had brutal stretches during the regular season but rallied in the postseason to make the NBA Finals three times straight.
Lue said he wants to leave that habit in the past.
“We got a lot of new guys, so hopefully they don’t know the old Cavs,” Lue said. “But it’s been a tough stretch for us. … I like getting everyone healthy and getting everyone back, but now we just got to figure it out.”
Indeed, the Cavs’ poor play has coincided with the returns of Thomas from a torn labrum in his hip and Tristan Thompson from a strained left calf.
Thomas, for one, sounded indignant at the thought of the Cavs simply going through the motions because the regular season can’t grab their attention the way the postseason does.
“I’ve only played three games,” Thomas said. “I can’t say I’ve slipped into that. I’m not the type of player or person to do that. I’m still trying to get back in the thick of things, getting my rhythm, get everything back for me individually. But at the same time as a leader, we can’t have lulls. I know everybody says, ‘Well, this happens to this team, and they’ve been to three straight Finals.’ But that’s not acceptable. I’m going to do my part to show these guys it’s not acceptable, and we’ll go from there.”
Lue reiterated that he would not be making any lineup changes — the slumping Jae Crowder and JR Smith will remain in the starting unit — but he did implore both players to be more aggressive when looking for their offensive opportunities.
“I think with JR and Jae, they just can’t turn down shots. If you have shots, you got to take them,” Lue said. “It doesn’t matter if you miss seven or eight in a row. If that’s your shot, you got to take that shot. So Jae and JR passed up on a few [recently] that I wanted them to take.”
And it will be imperative for the team to find a rhythm sooner than later, as the Cavs are looking to work two more injured players — Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert — back into the rotation soon. Lue said Rose, who previously told reporters there was “a chance” he’d play on the Cavs’ current five-game road trip, will not play against either Toronto or Indiana to end the trip. As for Shumpert, he suffered a setback from his left knee surgery rehabilitation, from soreness in his foot, Lue said.
“I’m not worried,” Lue said. “We’re the third seed right now with IT being out, D-Rose being out, T-Top being out. So we’re in a good position but we just got to start playing better offensively and defensively and we’ll be fine.”