Former Charlotte Bobcats coach Larry Brown used to say not all turnovers are the same.
Brown’s point was that he could live with a bold pass that gets intercepted if it had a chance to lead to a layup or dunk. It was the careless mid-court passes that perplexed Brown when he worked for Michael Jordan.
Suffice it to say Brown would have shaken his head throughout the Hornets’ 114-103 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. These were as bad as turnovers get.
At one point in this game, the Cavaliers had converted 11 Hornets turnovers into 20 Cleveland points. That’s an absurdly efficient conversion rate, and said as much about the Hornets’ sloppiness Wednesday as it did the Cavaliers’ intensity.
Hornets coach Steve Clifford had been warning his team about this for several games; that they’d gotten away with high-turnover performances and this would catch up to them. As in, you can beat the Milwaukee Bucks or the Brooklyn Nets with 15 or more turnovers, but you better clean that up against the teams you would be facing in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So the Hornets gave themselves no chance to win this one and extend a four-game road winning streak. With nine minutes left, the Cavaliers led by 20.
“Our turnovers were misleading – we had 14, but they led to 22 (Cleveland) points,” Clifford said. “Just careless. I just thought we had some really needless turnovers where we were floating passes. You can’t do stuff like that.”
As Clifford noted, the Cavaliers, leaders in the Eastern Conference, don’t emphasize takeaway defense. They are much more concerned with protecting the lane. But the Hornets made it so easy Wednesday for LeBron James (two steals) and J.R. Smith (three) to swipe the ball and have clear paths to the rim.
As telling as any statistic off this game: The Cavaliers scored 28 fast-break points to the Hornets’ seven. That is simply unacceptable for a team that stresses low-turnover and transition defense.
Unfortunately, this has been a nagging problem all season. Clifford’s first two Charlotte teams were more compliant concerning his priorities. This team is far more talented offensively, but it’s also more prone to the high-risk performance that led to Wednesday’s loss.
Nic Batum and Kemba Walker had three turnovers each, while Marvin Williams and Jeremy Lin each had two. Again, it wasn’t so much the number of turnovers committed as the nature of them.
“Bad ones that led directly to fast-break points,” Clifford described. “We’re not going to be able to play that game. We can’t expect to win a game here 117-115. If we score 103, we’ve got to win.”
It’s not as if the Hornets could afford to give the Cavaliers any help offensively. Cleveland has so many scoring options. It all revolves around James (23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists), but Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are established All-Stars and Smith is a dynamic complementary scorer at shooting guard.
So the Cavaliers can afford for Love to have an off night (eight points and two rebounds in 26 minutes). Irving, the former Duke star, made the game look so easy in scoring 23 points off 10-of-17 shooting. Smith added 16 points off 6-of-11 shooting.
“We just couldn’t guard them,” Clifford lamented.
Particularly not when the Hornets kept handing them the ball in the open court.