CHRIS GRANTLAND: WASHINGTON, WASHINGTON. RANDY WITTMAN RETURNS FOR HIS CAVALIER POUND OF FLESH.

In the stands, we become cannibals.   Angry twisted hungry to our bones, gnawing on fresh flesh of a slow, ongoing, drawn out defeat – while it took place – and while a futile, last 5 minute attempt by Kyrie Irving lingered and died.  This was a loss.    

RANDY WITTMAN AND HIS PERPETUALLY FURROWED BROW WERE 9-3 THROUGH 12 GAMES IN 2000-01 AS THE CAVALIERS HEAD COACH.  HE WAS FIRED AT THE END OF THAT SEASON, BUT ON WEDNESDAY HE WAS RELOADED AND RETURNED AS THE WIZARDS HEAD COACH (screenshot from TV by misterirrelevant.com)

In an era of moments that have become the wrong kind of historic for over three years now, last night will be counted among them.   They did not compete and the failure to compete has compounded itself with interest upon the loss of games, the slow development of a cognizable offensive plan, the inability to keep players on the court, of that haunting 26 game losing streak, of that game 5 and 6 against the Celtics, of Mo Williams depression of 2010, of that Kyrie Irving broken wrist and Anderson Varejao blood clot.  Anthony Bennett’s slow start is a bitter meal with the foul taste of Zydrunas Illgauskus’s 1998 feet and Brad Daugherty’s 1994 lower back.  This was a complete loss.

This is 4-8.

We didn’t compete.  We had one guy that competed the entire time he was on the floor, that’s Matthew Dellavedova.” Said Coach Mike Brown, both opening and concluding his press conference opening statement.  Dellavedova’s feel good story of the desire and triumph and lockdown defense on Bradley Beal and one thousand percent exertion is nothing but amplified by the complete lack of effort exerted by everyone working around him on the floor.

They were lethargic, slow and they made poor decisions.  The heart of the Cavaliers, Tristan Thompson, shot 0-5 from the floor, and was completely overmatched.   The battle of Brazillian big men between Anderson Varejao and the Wizards Nene was physically dominated by the massive shoulders of Nene.  Varejao, the Wild Thing, was backed down repeatedly into the paint, while Nene worked an inside outside game single handedly.

There was spillover into guardplay when Nene robbed Kyrie Irving of the ball and drove the floor himself, finishing hard in the visitor rim.  An observer might have casually wondered aloud whether the NBA would wait until the end of the game to punch Nene’s ticket to Naismith’s Hall of Fame.

This game and the game the night before against Washington bore little resemblance to the sometimes bitter rivalry of the late 00s.  Tension filled closely played series between even teams in two cities.  A Verizon Center that howled and a deafening, ear splitting Quicken Loans Arena.  There were harsh judgments being made by the eyes of anyone watching.   Everyone wanted that back.   Here was John Wall, here was Kyrie Irving.  Here was Bradley Beal, here was Dion Waiters.

This game is further than Damon Jones and Papa John’s “CRYBABY 23” T-shirts, of Soldja Boy sitting courtside.  It starts with 4 days off that the Cavaliers have, and the fact that the Wizards were in the second night of a back to back last night.  It starts with Kyrie Irving scoring 41 in Washington D.C. on Saturday night, forcing a Cavaliers win in overtime.

It starts in 2000.  It is November 24, 2000 and things were fucking weird then.   The 11th game of the season was a Cavalier win in Miami that took place just 2 days after the famous Miami-Dade County “Brooks Brothers Riot” over the Presidential Election Recount.  They started, but they never finished  counting the ballots, and the United States Supreme Court later tells them not to.  But the Cavaliers destroyed the Miami Heat, 86-67.

Andre Miller and Zydrunas are a machine duo.  Not flash, no stars, but substance, 100% substance.  The Cavaliers are dominating rebounding battles.  Playing suffocating defense.  They are down, they are dirty, they are backboned by the massive bodies of Clarence Weatherspoon and Chris Gatling and Robert Traylor.  They crush people.  People who are Knicks, people who are Celtics, people who are Heat.

 Randy Whitman is not unhappy.  Randy Whitman is walking through the tunnel from the locker room at Gund Arena and out to the light blue and black swooshed Cavs logo on the court.  He is coaching at the highest level of his professional career after taking the head coaching position from Mike Fratello the season before.   They are responding to him, playing defense.

Randy Wittman is sitting on the bench beside Mike Woodson, who is his assistant.  They are considered two of the brightest young coaches in the league and they are charged with coaching a Cavaliers team rebuilt after the sudden and tragic collapse of Shawn Kemp following the 1998 NBA lockout- god damn that cursed lockout and all its food and drugs and lethargy.  They are under talented and, to this point, overachieving.  He is a young Fratello, mastering pace with a physical game that relies rebounding and defense.  He is grit that screams Cleveland it the top of its lungs until they bleed.

ROBERT TRAYLOR WAS AN ENORMOUS MAN, EVEN WHEN CONTAINED BY THE KNICKS. (via Cavs History/Flickr)

It is game 12 and his Cavaliers outmuscle the Miami Heat again, sweeping the away and home two game set.   It is Miller’s workmanlike but complete game that leads them.  He runs the team with a passionate dedication to principles requiring play within himself.  He is a slow jog off the court and into the tunnel with his team.

After 12 games the Cavaliers are 9-3.  We don’t know what these 12 games with a still relatively new coach mean.   There are new players, this is a new system.   We overreact because we need to feel something, need to express it, but why?  Why? 

Because, essentially it will mean nothing.  Wittman never gets his chance to complete the job in Cleveland.  The Cavaliers will collapse in December, January will be worse, lowlighted by a 10 game losing streak, and February, let’s not get into that.  December 22, Ilgauskas suffers a season ending injury.  Traylor was held out because of being overweight, Gatling complained to the press about his playing time.  And the scapegoat for the margins of the losses doom Wittman. 

They were outtalented, but even on his way out, even after that last mortifying loss of the season, an overtime loss at home to the Pacers, and with his job in question, Wittman stood up for his players, for their effort.

After everything we've gone through, this team didn't quit playing.”  They just weren’t good enough to win, or in many cases, to stay in games.

Whitman was fired approximately two hours after he gave that quote, with a head coaching record of 62-102.  All the Cavaliers at that point.

Whitman has come to Cleveland for his pound of flesh.

This Wizards team has all the tools that Wittman’s first team lacked.  Actual talented veterans up front, youthful sky-is-the-limit talent in the backcourt.   A true number one pick at Point guard in John Wall.  A sweet shooting, slashing young Ray Allen in Bradley Beal.  Beal will seal this win with his play, threatening for a triple double behind 9-20 shooting, 6-7 from three point range.  7 rebounds, 8 assists.  This is his second year in the league.  He might have scored 50 if he hadn’t met Dellavedova’s ferocious defense in the fourth quarter.

Cleveland is watching the birth of a superstar in a Wizards uniform tempered only by the maximum effort of this Australian man trying to create an NBA career for himself.  It is a weapon Randy Wittman imagined, could never before have, and who ripped apart the Cavaliers on this night by building a massive lead that Kyrie Irving, even aided by Dellavedova cannot overcome.

What has become of the Cavaliers? 

CJ Miles, inserted into the starting lineup, sprained his calf and was removed after only 2 minutes.  He will not play at least two more games.   Dion Waiters, out two days for “illness” and the subject of speculation regarding the closed door players only meeting in Minnesota one week ago, has shot 2-13 in replacing Miles.  

Alonzo Gee played 8 minutes, resuming his role as a reserve while Earl Clark shot 1-6, several of which were late game misses when the score was tightened to 4 late in the game.

Anthony Bennett heard boos from the crowd after an airball, seemed overmatched by Wizards reserve small forward Jan Vesely, who is not known for being either strong, tough, or particularly skilled.  To his credit, he played a physical game, but seemed to get lost in the action on the court.  Mike Brown was asked and did not deny that the D-League may be an option for Bennett.

This current Cavs team is more talented than the 2000-2001 Cavaliers that won only 30 games for Randy Wittman after starting the season at 9-3.  And we can dissect the problems on the Cavaliers, and bemoan the early season losses that shouldn’t have been.  And we can blow up the 4-8 record, and the team meeting in Minnesota, and the struggles of Anthony Bennett, and the problems scoring on offense. 

But it’s only 12 games.  And 9-3 or 4-8 in the microcosm of a 12 win season and a team 3 years removed from the playoffs, it feels like it can mean something that it doesn’t, because the hunger doesn’t go away even when the mind and all reason tries to temper it.  We have been and always will succomb.

 

 

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