CLEVELAND — Two different halves added up to a great big hole — and a whole lot of nothing — for the Cavaliers on Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
After arguably their best opening 24 minutes of the season, the Cavs played atrocious defense and even worse offense in losing 99-90 to the Phoenix Suns in front of 15,872 booing and angry fans.
“It was hard to watch,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
In falling to 1-3 on their current five-game homestand, the Cavs (16-28) blew a 20-point first-half lead, an 18-point lead at intermission and were outscored by a whopping 56-29 over the final two quarters.
Phoenix (25-18) won the third period 25-6 thanks to Cleveland’s putrid 2-for-22 shooting from the field (.091), tying Suns franchise records for fewest points and field goals allowed in a period.
The Cavs as a team bricked away at an Anthony Bennett-like .238 from the floor in the second half, making just 10 of their 42 attempts from the field.
“Every shot we took, we were hoping and praying it was going to go in,” Brown said.
By contrast, Phoenix suddenly woke up and made five 3-pointers in the third period, then extended its run to 38-9 to go up 81-70 with 8:28 left in the game.
The Cavs got within three on several occasions, only to resume blowing defensive assignments and/or bricking jumpers at key junctures.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” said Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving, who had 24 points on 8-for-23 shooting (3-for-14 in the second half) and nine assists. “We didn’t fight back.”
In what would have made a dreadful night even worse, Anderson Varejao went crashing to the floor with 4:25 left in the game and was clutching his left knee in agony.
Surrounded by all his teammates on the baseline by the Phoenix bench, Varejao, who was called for a loose-ball foul on the play, walked off while flexing his leg and stayed in the game after a timeout.
“I was worried,” Brown said. “His knee’s been bothering him a bit.”
The Cavs plan to evaluate their starting center again this morning, after which it will be determined if he needs an X-ray or MRI.
Such tests on the rest of the team would have shown no spine in the second half, when the Suns, who were without 18-point scorer Eric Bledsoe (knee), dominated behind Markieff Morris (27 points, season-high 15 rebounds), Channing Frye (16 points), P.J. Tucker (13 points, 10 boards, 6 assists) and Goran Dragic (15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists).
“We came out and did the opposite of everything we talked about at halftime and everything we did in the first half, which is very disappointing,” Brown said. “We weren’t making shots. On top of us not making shots, we did not contest.”
The truly shocking part was that the Cavs played arguably their best first half of the season, putting up 61 points on .545 shooting (24-for-44).
Cleveland shared the ball and attacked the rim — Irving had assists on six of the team’s first seven field goals — and played great defense, resulting in Phoenix shooting .395 from the field.
The Suns actually ended up shooting only .415 for the night, but Cleveland’s offense was so pathetic it seemed like Phoenix was a lot hotter.
“We just didn’t handle the success we had in the first half well,” Brown said. “I don’t know if we thought it was going to be easy because we were up 18 and that Phoenix was going to roll over, but everything we talked about and preached that we did in the first half went away.”
Luol Deng finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Cavs, while Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 13 boards. Varejao had 10 rebounds, but just two points on 1-for-9 shooting.
Cleveland’s bench was outscored 40-17 and Phoenix, which is supposed to be a finesse team, held a 50-43 edge on the glass.
“I wish I knew the reason,” Thompson said when asked about the difference between the two halves. “We’ve got to figure this out and we’ve got to figure it out quick because we can’t have games like this, especially at home.
“It’s embarrassing for us, to the fans, to the organization to come out like that. We’ve got to take it personally. If we don’t, we’re going to have more situations like this.”
Maryland center Alex Len, taken by Phoenix with the No. 5 pick in the draft , entered Sunday having played in just 14 games, in part due to an ankle injury. The 7-foot-1 Len, who was in the mix to be taken No. 1 before the Cavs opted for Anthony Bennett, was averaging 2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds.
• Bennett did not play for the sixth time in the last seven games.
• Prior to the game, the Cavs recalled rookies Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix from the Canton Charge of the NBA Developmental League. Both were inactive.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.