Earlier this week in the Weekly Roundtable, I mentioned that I wanted the Cleveland Cavaliers to make their 2013 resolution centered on becoming a better fourth quarter team. Through the first three games of the New Year, they have failed miserably at that. Despite matching the Sacramento Kings in the final frame, the Cavs have faltered against the Charlotte Bobcats and most recently the Houston Rockets. In those games, Cleveland’s opponents have outworked them in the final 12 minutes by 18 points.
I kept my resolution in the back of my mind because the Wine and Gold entered the fourth deadlocked with the Rockets, 78-78. The Cavaliers want to show the NBA that their inexperience doesn’t make them a vulnerable target at crucial points, and no better to do this than against the second-best fourth quarter scoring team in the Rockets. Houston is currently averaging 26.5 points in the fourth frame, which is good for second in the NBA. Alonzo Gee had kept the fifth-best scorer in the Association in James Harden to just 10 points and cooled down a hot Jeremy Lin in the third quarter. The stage was set, but the Cavaliers just aren’t ready to perform yet as a whole unit once the pressure sets in.
Costly turnovers and lousy three-point defense led to the Cavaliers demise at Quicken Loans Arena, as Houston and Harden closed out the game and finished with a 112-104 victory. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star totaled 19 points in the final quarter, while Kyrie Irving’s 11 points in the fourth period couldn’t quite match Harden’s offensive output. Three turnovers in that same time from Irving didn’t help the cause as well, as the Cavaliers’ floor general finished with eight total gaffes.
This team is far away from becoming a complete-game squad, but the first quarter offered some promising signs. With each successive game, Tristan Thompson is showing positive signs regarding the evolution of his game. He continued to show his aggressiveness on the offensive boards, as it seems that his follow-through ability is becoming a nightly occurrence in his game. A 12-4 run early in the first quarter gave Cleveland a 10-point lead, and it was capped off by a Thompson follow-up shot. He totaled four points and six boards in the opening frame, and finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds.
Besides Thompson, the duo of Alonzo Gee and Irving made the first quarter an electrifying show for Cavalier fans. Irving assisted on four of Gee’s 11 points to start the game, totaling four dimes in that same time. However, it was a beautiful spin move and finishing layup on Carlos Delfino that had the crowd oohing in the early going.
However, the poor performance from the bench coupled with a lack of discipline on defensive regarding the outside game caused things to sputter in the second quarter. After missing all five attempts from three in the first 12 minutes, Houston got hot before the second half, making 6-of-12 shots from beyond the arc. Lin exploded for 14 points and three assists in the second period, while Patrick Patterson had his way with Luke Walton. The mismatch allowed Patterson to score seven of his 15 points against Walton in the opening two minutes of the quarter. The Cavaliers saw a 10-point swing go in the opposite direction, and needed to recoup during halftime. The Rockets were getting multiple open looks from three, and finished the final three quarters shooting 40 percent from long range.
Luckily for the Cavs, Houston hit a cold patch, especially from the free throw line, in the third quarter. Cleveland’s backcourt of Dion Waiters and Irving countered that with sloppy play to open up the second half, totaling three turnovers in the third period. It was the play of Gee, who got back to where he left off in the first quarter, which helped the Cavaliers tie the game at 78 going into the final stretch. His 18 points made him one of five Clevelanders to finish in double digits. His airtight defense on Harden had the Cavalier small forward well on his way to one of his most impressive complete performances on the season.
But alas, there are four quarters in a basketball game. Kyrie, who finished with 30 points, couldn’t bail the Cavs out this time around. With 1:08 to go in the game, an Irving three and a free throw make brought the game to within three points. It was Harden, a nonfactor for most of the game, who closed out the game with Houston’s final six points. The backcourt duo of Lin and Harden finished with 49 points.
The Cavaliers (8-27) will continue to grow as a team next against the Chicago Bulls on Monday. Tipoff at United Center is set for 8 p.m.