CLEVELAND -- There was a minor recalibration of the Cleveland Cavaliers' offense this week, engineered by Kyrie Irving, and it seems to have paid off in back-to-back victories over the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers after a letdown loss against the Golden State Warriors.
Irving hatched the idea in a conversation with Kevin Love at the Cavs' shootaround in New York on Wednesday. The loss to Golden State exposed Cleveland every which way, but one area Irving figured could be solved easily was the team's energy.
By forcing a quicker tempo when he takes the ball up the court to begin each possession, Irving could enact change in his teammates, making them move faster along with him. Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden famously said, "Never mistake activity for achievement," but there was more to this plan than Irving putting his foot on the gas.
The faster the Cavs started their offense -- with, say, 20 or 21 seconds remaining on the shot clock instead of 16 or 17 -- the more time they would have to drill down beyond simple one-pass-and-shoot or isolation-ball-bailout possessions.
"I've just tried to make a conscious effort just to get it up [the court] whether we have numbers or not," Irving said after Cavs' 115-102 win over the Clippers on Thursday. "Just getting it up and then we flow better. We flow a lot better. We look like a better team when we're playing faster. When we're playing slow, it gets into isolation basketball and we want to stay away from that."
The Cavs came into the game ranked fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 105.2 points per 100 possessions but only 28th in pace, averaging 95 possessions per game.
In the victories against the Nets and Clippers, they actually averaged only 94 possessions -- slightly slower than their normal pace -- but the adjustment fueled the team's passing mentality. Perhaps feeling as though the shot clock wasn't so much of an issue, Cleveland was more thorough in moving the ball from side to side to try to get the defense in a vulnerable position. In the two games, the Cavs assisted on 44 of their 78 made field goals (56.4 percent).
Whether it was a direct byproduct of Irving's initiative or not, Cleveland showed a balanced attack the past two games. Four Cavs scored in double figures against the Nets, and eight players hoisted seven attempts or more. Five players hit double digits against the Clippers -- the entire starting lineup -- and again there was shot distribution, with eight players attempting six shots or more.
"That makes a huge difference when you have four or five extra seconds," Irving said. "That way, not everyone is getting the ball with five or six seconds left on the shot clock and we have to take a tough shot. Not that we don't have the talent to do so, we just want to stay away from possessions like that."
Both Irving and LeBron James said coach David Blatt has been emphasizing ball movement and body movement, crediting him for his involvement in the positive development.
"When you're rushing, either you don't get a good look at the basket or sometimes it results in a lot of turnovers," James said. "So to be able to get up the floor in four seconds, five seconds, to be able to have 19 or 20 seconds on the shot clock for us to execute, that's more than enough time."
Ideally, if the quickened pace continues, the offense will lead to more possessions per game, which will lead to more shots doled out among the Cavs. Even though Irving said "it doesn't really matter who is shooting" after the Clippers game, everyone knows the great panacea for most basketball players is touches. If there's a bigger pie to cut up, everybody eats more.
It's also apparent that other than Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and maybe Iman Shumpert, this isn't a group that motivates itself on the defensive end alone. It needs the carrot of offensive involvement to boost its effort on the other end.
Perhaps Irving's idea can help allow that equal-opportunity offense to continue.
"We were just being too passive," Irving said. "We're not that type of team. When we're passive and we become stagnant and it becomes isolation basketball, we're really not good. We're good when we're moving the basketball and it doesn't matter who is getting shots, we're all creating for one another and we look like a team that has a sense of urgency.
"When we come out and our body movement is really slow and lethargic -- I mean, Coach Blatt comments on it all the time and we agree with him. We just have to make that conscious effort, no matter if it's a back-to-back, no matter who we're playing against, we have to play the same exact way and find that consistency. And when we do so, we're really, really F'ing good. We're really good. It doesn't matter who we're playing against. When we're playing like that, it's hard to beat us.”