CLEVELAND — Cavaliers rookie Dion Waiters was part of a double technical when he exchanged words with former Cleveland guard Shannon Brown in the third quarter.
Fellow rookie Tyler Zeller got a foul and 34-year-old veteran Jermaine O’Neal received a “T” after they got tangled up in the fourth period.
Other than a sensational 20-point, 18-rebound effort from Anderson Varejao, those were about the only signs of life the Cavs showed Tuesday night while suffering a 91-78 loss to the Phoenix Suns at less-than-half-full Quicken Loans Arena.
In suffering their fourth straight defeat and 10th in 11 games, the Cavs (3-12) turned a two-point lead into a 12-point deficit by being outscored 14-0 to end the third period.
Not a team to rest on its laurels, the Cavs allowed the Suns (7-8) to stretch that run to 34-11 while falling behind 91-70 late in the game.
But, hey, at least Cleveland didn’t blow a 26-point lead like it did while losing 107-105 in Phoenix on Nov. 9.
“I’ll make this a real quick statement,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “Andy Varejao was fantastic. Everybody else sucked tonight. Anything else you need to know?”
Scott didn’t want to hear about the Cavs playing their fourth game in five nights, the first three coming on the road.
He did acknowledge that having Daniel Gibson (elbow) become a last-minute scratch hurt his rotation at guard, where the Cavs are already without Kyrie Irving (fractured left index finger).
But stinking up the joint is stinking up the joint, and doing it after holding double-figure leads in tough road losses to powerful Miami and Memphis made it even harder to stomach.
“You play two real solid games, then you come home and play like this,” Scott said. “That’s probably the most frustrating part.”
There were plenty of reasons the Cavs lost, beginning with their .357 shooting (30-for-84), which matched a season low.
Tristan Thompson was 1-for-7, Jeremy Pargo was 3-for-12 and is now 11-for-37 over his last three games, C.J. Miles was 3-for-11 and is shooting .289 for the season, Samardo Samuels was 0-for-4 and Zeller was 1-for-4.
The even worse news for Cleveland was that Waiters bruised his left hand when he hit it on the rim in the second period and will undergo a follow-up MRI this morning, as will Gibson on his elbow.
Irving played in another game after first hurting his finger and is now out for four weeks, so optimism probably isn’t high among Cavs fans.
That Waiters was 7-for-20 from the field and is now 59-for-173 over his last 11 games (.341) was almost an afterthought on this night, as was the fact his career-high seven assists all came in the third period.
“We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency being at home,” the rookie said. “We didn’t do that tonight.”
The only bright spot was Varejao, who became the first Cleveland player to grab at least 15 rebounds in six straight games since current radio analyst Jim Chones in 1978.
Varejao, who was 10-for-15 from the field, had 14 points in the first 8 minutes of the third period, giving him 20 points and 14 rebounds at that stage of the game. He didn’t score again, and the rest of the Cavs, who combined to go 20-for-69 (.290), did absolutely nothing to pick up the slack.
“We didn’t play as a team tonight,” Varejao said. “The fourth quarter was terrible.”
In a dead arena that didn’t have 5,000 fans in it at tipoff but eventually got up to about 8,000, the Cavs missed their first six shots while falling behind 7-0.
They were 5-for-20 from the field and down 19-13 after one, but were still within 37-32 at intermission thanks to a 12-1 edge on the offensive glass.
Cleveland tied the game at 41 on Thompson’s only hoop of the night, an uncontested dunk with 9:15 left in the third, and took its first lead 39 seconds later on a Varejao slam.
Not long after that, the Suns went on their 14-0 run to end the third and never looked back.
Goran Dragic led Phoenix with 19 points, five rebounds and seven assists, while Michael Beasley had 15 points. Reserves Luis Scola (14) and Jared Dudley (11) also scored in double figures as the Suns bench outscored Cleveland’s 38-17.
“They wanted it more,” Waiters said.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.