CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Cavaliers head coach JB Bickerstaff was furious late Monday night. This time it wasn’t addressed to his team.
Bickerstaff doesn’t believe them lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, 115-108, due to insufficient effort or poor playability of the team ball that resulted in a better than expected start. The Cavs scrapped just like he asked. They bounced back from a 14 point deficit against the champions and went into the fourth quarter when they could have passed. They played better defense than they did on Sunday in the face of an old LeBron James show.
Sure, there were some costly mistakes too late, mistakes that cannot happen against mighty Los Angeles. The selection and execution of the shots at both ends could have been better. James dashed their hopes with a 21-point breakout in the fourth quarter fueled by an over-excited Cleveland manager.
As in most games, many factors contributed to the outcome. Above all, however, Bickerstaff’s anger was drawn upon afterwards.
“I think it was some momentum-changing calls that were made or not,” Bickerstaff said. “I think our guys showed up and went out of their way to deserve the respect that both teams should deserve. Tonight I don’t think that was the case. The Lakers are a hell of a basketball team, don’t get me wrong. They deserve everything they come. But our boys play hard and deserve the same. Were there any games we played on the track where we could have made better decisions? For sure. But it’s hard to beat the Champions Plus. “
Plus what? Hmm We can count, right? Everyone knows. Bickerstaff was clearly ticked throughout the game, tearing off his mask, waving his arms, anything that could convey his frustration. He just didn’t want to come out right after the game and blow up the three-man reigning crew – Tre Maddox, Tyler Ford, and Matt Myers. So Bickerstaff spoke with a little more flair to see how far he could go, and tried to get his point across without being fined.
Bickerstaff lost his vote after Friday night’s game against Brooklyn. He’s been talking a lot these days – daily zoom calls, barking instructions, teaching, messages of encouragement, and even protesting with officials through his mask in hopes that his brave bunch will get some respect. This part is also a way to show the players that he has his back. He’d rather deal with the officials while the players focus on the next possession.
That screaming has clearly taken a toll. Whichever voice he still had was shot after Monday evening. He used the last one to keep an ear to the acting crew throughout the game and then deliver one final message in his post-game meeting with reporters.
At the beginning of the third quarter, Bickerstaff challenged a defensive foul at the backup center Jarrett Allen. There was no chance of reversal. Bickerstaff knew that. He’s been around long enough to see which games have the best chance of being overturned. His guy fighting Davis in the Post isn’t one. It’s probably why Bickerstaff didn’t even bother looking at the board to see the replay.
His challenge seemed like a built-up frustration – a maneuver that, despite too many questionable whistles, was ingrained. It also gave him more time to communicate with the umpires before cooling off.
The Cavs were called to 25 fouls. The Lakers had 23. Nothing monstrous there.
But there was one particular non-call in the second half that got the Cavaliers going crazy. After a theft, Dylan Windler raced the floor for a transitional dunk, was hit in the head and shoved into the support by Kyle Kuzma. No phone call. Keep playing. Incredibly, Windler looked back at the nearest officer and then at another, pointed to his noggin, and jogged back to the defense with a questioning expression on his face.
Even General Manager Koby Altman, who sat in Cleveland’s leadership row across from the team bench, chatted about it with one of the officers during a break, pointing to the basket it had happened in and then pointing to his head as an effective replay before lifting his Palm trees to the sky.
There was another number that Bickerstaff noticed: three. Drummond’s number of free throws lasted 28 minutes.
“Another example of a man who continues to put pressure on the rim but doesn’t land on the free throw line as often as he should,” said Bickerstaff. “I know he’s big and difficult to referee, but if he continues to be so aggressive and make so much contact, he deserves to go into the free throw line like everyone else.
“That changes the game. That changes the rhythm. That brings us into the bonus. That gets them in bad trouble. We just have to keep asking him to keep doing what he’s doing because he’s doing a great job. “
Drummond was asked how to deal with an inconsistent and inconvenient pipe. He didn’t want to go there.
“We can’t control that,” he said. “We just have to play to the best of our ability, without playing our hands and just sliding our feet more. Hopefully I will stay away from these calls. “
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