CLEVELAND — Ramon Sessions was missed. So were Consistent Energy and Sustained Effort.
The Cavaliers played Sunday for the first time since trading their backup point guard and never really gave themselves a chance against the more talented Atlanta Hawks, falling 103-87 in front of 15,645 at Quicken Loans Arena.
Atlanta (26-19) was without starters Al Horford and Marvin Williams, as well as three other injured players, but still led the Cavs (16-26) by 12 after one, by 17 in the second period and by 19 in the third.
“They came out and kind of punched us in the mouth,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “I don’t think we ever really responded after that.”
In dropping their third straight, the Cavs fell 3½ games back of New York and three behind Milwaukee in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland also dropped to 0-1 since trading Sessions, as veterans Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson could not get the team into much offense when starting point guard Kyrie Irving (19 points, 10 assists) went to the bench for a rest.
Case in point: The Cavs somehow clawed back from the 19-point hole and were within six late in the third period, but Irving needed a blow at the start of the fourth with his team down eight. By the time he came back in with 7:43 to play, Cleveland was down 16 again, all its hard work gone for naught.
With Gibson and Parker in the backcourt, the Cavs scored just four points in that span, three coming on a prayer by Gibson from beyond the arc.
Scott, however, said he never considered sticking with Irving because the 19-year-old was tired.
“We’ve got to still find a way when he comes out of the game to get the ball up and down the floor and run our offense a little smoother,” the coach said.
Other than a career-high-tying 20 points from Alonzo Gee, who also had nine rebounds, the Cavs weren’t able to make shots on the occasions when they did execute their offense.
Antawn Jamison got his points like he always does — in this case, 17 of them — but it took 6-for-22 shooting to do it. Parker was 3-for-10 from the field, while Gibson, who had a season-high eight rebounds, was 1-for-6.
Rookie Tristan Thompson, making his first career start, had seven points and six boards in 35 minutes and got outplayed by Zaza Pachulia (12 points, 9 rebounds).
Without Sessions to run the offense and score, Cleveland’s bench produced just 18 points, four of those coming courtesy of Manny Harris in total garbage time.
Cleveland’s defense wasn’t any better, as Atlanta shot .506 from the field (43-for-85) and got 28 points from small forward Joe Johnson, who was 11-for-16 from the field and probably could have scored 40 if he had desired.
“He was making a lot of tough shots,” Gee said. “He had a couple open looks, but he played a really good game. It’s hard to speed him up. He plays at the same pace.”
Scott tried to change things up, starting Gibson in place of Parker to begin the third period because Atlanta starts two smaller guards in Jeff Teague (18 points) and Kirk Hinrich (14), but that didn’t work.
The only time the Cavs actually stopped the Hawks was when power forward Josh Smith (7 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists) decided to stand on the perimeter and launch rainbow set shots for most of the third period.
Smith was 3-for-15 from the field, while the rest of the Hawks were 40-for-70. His miserable third quarter coincided with Cleveland’s brief rally late in the period, but Scott wasn’t fooled.
“It was more a case of Josh Smith shooting threes and missing them,” he said. “We were able to rebound and get out and run. Then they went back to normal.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.