CLEVELAND — The Los Angeles Clippers are so deep, talented and athletic they would have been tough for the Cavaliers to beat with Kyrie Irving.
Sideline the point guard for the third straight game with a sore knee and the result was predictable, the Cavs falling 105-89 Friday at sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.
The Clippers (43-18) won for the eighth time in their last nine games and ended a 10-game losing streak at The Q, where they are now 3-15 lifetime. The Cavs, who had won two straight without Irving, fell to 20-39 overall and 4-2 since the All-Star break.
“That’s a very good team we just lost to,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “I thought we came out sluggish, for whatever reason. We were on our heels and soft. The first play was indicative of the whole game.”
The first play was an alley-oop from Chris Paul to Blake Griffin 8 seconds into the game, giving Los Angeles the lead it never relinquished. Unofficially, the Clippers added 11 more dunks en route to outscoring the Cavs 50-28 in the paint.
“We gave them a lot of easy baskets,” Cleveland power forward Tristan Thompson said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Shooting guard Jamal Crawford, drafted by the Cavs and immediately dealt to Chicago for Chris Mihm back in 2000, led the highly skilled Clippers with 24 points, most coming on long jumpers.
“We were soft against everybody else,” Scott said. “Why not be soft against him as well?”
The high-flying Griffin had six of the Clippers’ dunks en route to 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul had 11 points, 15 assists and zero turnovers. DeAndre Jordan added 10 points on five slams — the extent of the long-armed, 6-foot-11 center’s shooting range.
Los Angeles’ final dunk was by former Cavs big man Ryan Hollins in garbage time.
“They’ve got guys who can make plays,” Thompson said.
Dion Waiters had nine quick points in the first period and led the Cavs with 17 points and six assists, while C.J. Miles had 16 points and six rebounds off the bench. Thompson had 15 points and 12 boards.
The Cavs, who won 108-101 in Los Angeles early in the season, didn’t crumble until the fourth period, but could not match the Clippers in terms of talent or depth. Toss in a lack of intensity for stretches and it was too much to overcome, especially with Irving watching from the bench.
“The Clippers were just a much better basketball team than we were tonight,” Scott said.
Every time the Cavs clawed back, the Clippers put together some highlight-reel plays to take control again.
Down as many as 14 in the first half, Cleveland was within 62-59 with 5:48 left in the third period after a monster dunk by Waiters and a Waiters lob to Alonzo Gee for another slam.
Los Angeles came right back with a 7-0 run. The last five points were from Griffin, who threw down back-to-back slams — he added a free throw after the first — to put the Clippers up 69-59.
Early in the fourth period, the Cavs went from 11 down to 15 on one play, as Crawford made a 3-pointer from the corner and turned it into a four-point play after being fouled by Marreese Speights.
The final nail in the coffin came midway through the final quarter, when Crawford banked in a highly contested 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and Paul followed with another trifecta to put the Clippers up 93-75 with 5:51 to go.
Not long after that, the Cavs were down 23.
“We’d fight to get back in it and it was almost like we took a breath and said, ‘We’re right there,’” Scott said. “Boom, they’d turn it up a notch again.”
With Waiters, Gee and Thompson all picking up their third fouls in the second quarter, Daniel Gibson played for the first time since Feb. 6. The only statistical number he posted in 6 minutes was one assist as Cleveland’s bench was outscored 50-36.
“We were on our heels,” Scott said. “They were the aggressor.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.