CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers blew the game for good when they couldn’t get the ball inbounds with 2.8 seconds to go.
They did yeoman’s work to lose it much earlier, falling behind by 24 points in the first half and by 22 at intermission in what ended up being a 102-97 defeat to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
“You can’t win the game in the first half,” Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson said, “but you can dig yourself a big hole and it can cost you the game.”
The Cavs, who are 15-26 at the midpoint of the season, had won four of their last six games and were coming off a successful 3-2 road trip, but some old problems cropped up against the Mavs (25-18) in the first of a season-long five-game homestand.
Down three after Dallas’ Monta Ellis missed two free throws with 3.4 seconds left and Anderson Varejao rebounded with 2.8 ticks on the clock, the Cavs called their final timeout of the game.
Inbounding from just inside the timeline at the far side of the court, Cleveland had Kyrie Irving come off a pick and go to the far corner of the floor, approximately 55 feet away from where Jarrett Jack was being obstructed by 6-10, long-armed Brandan Wright.
Jack never released the ball and was called for a 5-second violation, the Cavs’ second of the game.
“Kyrie was wide open,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It was supposed to go to him on the weak side of the floor, but Jack said he couldn’t see him. They did a very good job of jumping up and down and defending the basketball on the inbounds pass.
“We did a great job of executing it,” the coach added. “I don’t know if we’ve ever been that wide open at the end of the game in a situation like that. Jack just couldn’t see him.”
In that sense, at least the play partially worked. On Dec. 28 in Boston, Earl Clark never got off a last-second shot because he dribbled first. On Jan. 5 against Indiana, Clark’s foot was on the sideline when he caught the inbounds pass.
This time, there simply was no inbounds pass.
“It was going to be a tough pass regardless,” said Irving, who had 26 points on 10-for-27 shooting, nine assists and four turnovers. “You have Brandon Wright defending Jarrett Jack on the inbounds pass. It was a crucial turnover.
“Whether I was open or not really doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to move on and get ready for the next game.”
The Cavs, as has been the case on a number of occasions at The Q, certainly weren’t ready for this one.
Cleveland reserves, who combined to shoot 3-for-16, were outscored 33-8 by their Dallas counterparts, including 21-2 in the first half, when the Cavs bench went a combined 1-for-9.
By contrast, Dallas’ DeJuan Blair, not exactly a scoring machine, had 11 first-half points in minutes, most at the expense of Tyler Zeller.
“When our second unit came on the floor, they were a little bit flat,” Brown said. “DeJuan Blair really hurt us. He had a huge impact on the game.”
With the Cavs down 59-37 at intermission, Irving went bonkers in the third quarter, scoring 16 points in the first 8:39 as Cleveland got within 10.
In the other three periods, however, Irving had 10 points on 4-for-18 shooting, including 1-for-8 in the fourth.
“There were some plays where I just have to be better,” the third-year pro said.
The Cavs eventually got within 91-89 with 3:25 to go and had a chance to tie and go ahead on their next possession, but Irving missed a runner and a 3-pointer.
Dallas ended up maintaining the lead for the rest of the game, with Ellis hitting a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds left to ice things after the Cavs’ botched inbounds play.
“It’s the NBA,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s supposed to get hairy.”
Irving, Luol Deng (18 points), who was making his debut for the Cavs at The Q, Thompson (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Anderson Varejao (18 points, 21 boards) combined for 83 points for the Cavs, but the rest of the team had just 14 on 5-for-23 shooting.
When Brown tried to get his starters a few minutes rest with the Cavs down 13 at the end of three, Dallas immediately built its lead to 17, but with Irving, Varejao and Thompson back on the floor, Cleveland went on a 16-2 spurt to get right back in it.
“Some things didn’t go our way,” Thompson said, “and now we go home with a loss.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.