CLEVELAND, Ohio – Before the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Miami Heat on Thursday night, coach John Beilein mentioned his team is ranked 27th in the league for assists per game.
“That tells stories about everything, that the ball is not moving the way it can move,” Beilein said in his pregame presser.
For the Cavs, learning to consistently share the ball is going to be a process. The Cavs lost 108-97 to the Heat, and they had 18 assists.
Beilein talked before the game about how the Heat are a team the Cavs could emulate. A team that moves the ball well, the Heat are fifth in assists per game.
While the offense has looked promising at times, Thursday night was an example of how far the Cavs have to go when it comes to moving the ball.
“I don’t think we’re intentionally not doing it,” Beilein said. “I think we’re just trying to find out. The pass that nobody talks about, anywhere, any of you guys talk about, really leads to the assist. And we can’t make that play just yet.”
Beilein mentioned how the film session on Saturday should help the Cavs make strides in their ball movement. He asked his assistants after the game to chart each time the team could have made an assist or converted a simple play.
“You can just see that extra pass all the time,” Beilein said of Miami. “They engage two people and then they see the other four teammates. When we engage two sometimes, we don’t see the other teammates, and that’s something we’re working on.
In the first half, Darius Garland went into the paint and was swarmed by defenders. Garland made a bad pass, and it resulted in Kendrick Nunn recording a steal. Garland has good court vision, but on this play missed Collin Sexton open on the wing.
The Cavs usually run their sets from the top and then go inside, or they work from the wing in. They like to feed Tristan Thompson inside, or get Kevin Love in post and feed off the attention he draws. Yet Love had one assist Thursday, tying a season-low.
Their guards were thwarted on the perimeter because of the Heat’s pressure, which stymied their offense. They had 18 turnovers, and Garland, Matthew Dellavedova and Jordan Clarkson combined for six.
With the Heat’s good defense, the Cavs struggled to consistently do any of what’s given them success this season. The first quarter was arguably Cleveland’s worst in moving the ball, with just three assists.
“We just weren’t on the same page both sides of the ball,” Love said. “I mean, they’re a very good team. They shrink on defense and make you have to get into the paint and spray for threes. But we just felt like we weren’t necessarily looking for each other. There was a lot of one-pass or no-pass shots.”
The Heat have the length to guard most teams on the perimeter, and with the Cavs being a small team that isn’t yet shooting well, it was easy for Miami to force Cleveland to take bad shots. But as Beilein alluded, the Cavs will be tasked to learn from the experience.
“They cut so well, they move the ball,” Love said of the Heat. “Between Bam (Adebayo) and (Meyers) Leonard and they’re big guys, they had a ton of assists.”
“So I think their willingness to share the ball is something that we can look at and feed off of because sometimes we get stuck, sometimes it’s a one-pass or no-pass shot that I mentioned.”
In three of their four wins, the Cavs have had 20 or more assists. The lone win without at least 20 assists was against the Washington Wizards, when the Cavs had 18.