CLEVELAND — It sounds like an oxymoron, but a lack of execution killed the Cavaliers on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
Cleveland crumbled down the stretch and lost 102-94 to the Atlanta Hawks in front of 19,443 fans, many of whom were booing at the final buzzer.
The Cavs (7-24) had their first two-game winning streak of the season come to an end against a veteran Atlanta (18-9) team that is third in the Eastern Conference, but Byron Scott’s club had mostly itself to blame after being outscored 9-0 over the final 2:52.
After Kyrie Irving (28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals) put Cleveland up 94-93, the Cavs did nothing right at the offensive end and added a few mistakes on defense.
“That’s a good example of youth vs. experience,” Scott said. “If you don’t know what I mean, the last 3 minutes of the game, they did a heck of a job running their offense and getting the ball in the paint. We just settled on bad jump shots. That was the biggest difference.”
Cleveland’s last five possessions were a great example of what not to do down the stretch of a close game.
Making matters harder for Scott and the fans to accept, it started with the Cavs coming out of a timeout, as Irving launched an ill-advised 27-foot 3-pointer with 7 seconds still on the shot clock.
“That was a little surprising,” Scott said.
It continued with ice-cold rookie Dion Waiters (18 points, career-high 6 rebounds, 4 assists), who had 16 points in the first half but went 0-for-7 from the field in the second, attempting a 22-foot, step-back jumper with plenty of time on the clock.
“The guy has, all his life, played with the ball in his hands,” Scott said. “He’s still learning how to play without it. It’s a work in progress.”
The next time down, rookie center Tyler Zeller clanged a 17-footer. Then came a missed 16-footer by Irving and a runner by Waiters that was blocked.
Irving, however, did not agree with his coach’s assertion that the Cavs settled for too many jumpers.
“If we would have made them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.
Up 80-75 after the third period, the Cavs scored the first two points of the final quarter, but wound up getting outscored 27-14 in the fourth, when they were 5-for-21 from the field.
Part of the blame for that must also be put on Scott, who had Irving and Waiters out of the game at the same time to start the final quarter in favor of struggling Jeremy Pargo and C.J. Miles.
The Hawks, meanwhile, played like the veteran team they are despite the fact power forward Josh Smith sat out the final quarter with a hip-pointer.
Atlanta took the lead for good at 95-94 on an 18-footer by point guard Jeff Teague (career-high 27 points, 8 assists), then went up three on a jumper by Al Horford (14 points, 11 rebounds), who was playing power forward at the time.
The dagger came when backup center Zaza Pachulia missed inside, but got his own rebound and fed small forward Kyle Korver for a 3-pointer that made it 100-94 with 1:21 left. Two Horford free throws closed out the scoring.
“We didn’t move the ball,” Scott reiterated. “We settled on long jump shots. They did a much better job.”
Don’t tell that to Irving, whose 12-for-20 shooting night featured a running, double-pump 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer that pulled the Cavs within 55-54.
The way he saw it, the Cavs just missed shots at the wrong time. Never mind that the stats showed Irving was 3-for-7 from the floor in the final period and the rest of the Cavs were 2-for-14 in a quarter where the entire team attempted two free throws.
“I tried to be aggressive and make plays for our guys down the stretch,” Irving said. “I just didn’t make shots.”
Down 50-39 with 4 minutes left in the first half, the Cavs seemed to be taking total control when they went on a 29-9 run to go up 68-59 with 7:44 left in the third.
The Hawks, however, got right back in the game and took total control down the stretch. That led Scott to quote a stat saying the Cavs have been within six points or ahead 20 times heading into the fourth quarter of their 24 losses.
“I wasn’t really happy with the execution the last 2 or 3 minutes,” Scott said. “That’s an understatement, and I let them know.
“We’ve put ourselves in position,” he added. “We’ve been right there. It’s just learning how to close games out.”
|Daniel Gibson suffered a concussion and left the game with 6:54 left in the second quarter. He did not travel with the team for tonight’s game in Brooklyn.
l The Cavs were 14-for-14 at the line, making them 35-for-36 in two games against Atlanta this season.
l Tristan Thompson had his string of four straight double-doubles come to an end with eight points and eight rebounds. He had two points in the second half.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.