CLEVELAND — When Cavaliers coach Mike Brown got a technical foul for walking onto the floor midway through the third quarter, he did as good a job of slowing down the San Antonio Spurs as his players did over the final three periods.
After an outstanding first quarter, Cleveland had a defensive meltdown over the final three and lost 122-101 Tuesday in front of 17,966 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“You never could fall asleep,” Cavs guard Dion Waiters said. “A couple of plays, we fell asleep.”
The Cavs (24-38) held the Spurs to 13 points in the first period and led by 10, but gave up 109 the rest of the way, including 72 over the middle two quarters, when San Antonio (44-16) made 12-of-18 3-pointers and connected on 26-of-43 shots overall (.605).
On a night when they recorded an amazing 39 assists on 43 field goals, the Spurs’ quarter scoring totals over the final three periods were 37, 35 and 37. At one point, San Antonio had assists on 26 straight field goals.
“Everybody touched (the ball at least twice) in 24 seconds,” Waiters marveled. “I don’t know how they do it.”
Playing the same way they’ve played for 15 years, the unselfish, team-oriented, intelligent Spurs finished the night 14-for-33 on 3-pointers (.424) and went 13-for-26 from deep over the final three periods, when they often had time to set their feet, line up the laces and take a breath before shooting.
“We talked about running them off the 3-point line and making them drivers,” Brown said. “We didn’t always get the multiple effort we needed.”
Making matters worse for the Cavs, the Spurs’ stars didn’t kill them, as Tim Duncan (6), Tony Parker (7) and Manu Ginobili (11) combined for just 24 points. Rather, it was guys like former Cavs swingman Danny Green (24 points), Kawhi Leonard (18), Patty Mills (16) and Boris Diaw (16) who did the damage.
“Their second unit plays just like their first,” Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving said.
The Cavs frequently played solid defense for 18 or 20 seconds, but the Spurs, who made just 5-of-21 shots in the opening quarter, stayed patient, made the extra pass and repeatedly buried shots over the final 36 minutes.
“They’ve been playing the way they played tonight for many years,” Brown said.
The Southwest Division-leading Spurs have won seven of their last eight, while the Cavs have dropped five of their last seven after a six-game winning streak. They are four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Irving had 24 points, four rebounds, six assists and five turnovers, while Waiters had 24 points in 23 minutes after missing seven games with a hyperextended knee. Spencer Hawes was the team’s only other productive player, finishing with 20 points and 13 boards.
Anthony Bennett scored all 14 of his points in the fourth quarter, which consisted of nothing but garbage time after the Spurs, who led by as many as 28, scored the first six points to go up 23.
The other eight players who saw action totaled 19 points on 7-for-25 shooting. Starters Luol Deng (9 points, 3-for-10 shooting), Tristan Thompson (5, 2-for-8) and Jarrett Jack (4, 2-for-5) were particularly ineffective, but it was really a combination of San Antonio’s offense and Cleveland’s faulty defense that led to the blowout.
“We paid the price for it,” Brown said. “Watching and playing against these guys, these are things you hope you pick up on to make you a better team going forward.”
After its lowest-scoring first quarter of the season, San Antonio erupted for 37 points in the second quarter on 13-for-22 shooting to go up 50-40 at the half.
The Spurs made just 1-of-7 3-pointers in the first quarter, but hit six straight to start the second. They were down 12 points early in the period, but outscored the Cavs by 22 the rest of the half.
“We knew they were going to make shots,” Waiters said. “We knew they were going to run their offense. With that team, you can’t make mistakes. They make you pay.”
Backup point guard Mills jump-started the Spurs, putting up 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals in 13 first-half minutes, most coming against Irving. Mills’ effort made up for a poor first half by Parker, who had two points on 1-for-5 shooting, no rebounds and no assists.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to them,” Irving said. “After the first quarter, they buckled down.
“They started playing with a better pace,” he added. “We messed up our rotations here and there, but it’s tough to beat a good team when they’re making shots.”‘
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.