The Cleveland Cavaliers danced to an unfortunately familiar tune on Monday night in Atlanta; a song that the Wine and Gold have been listening to for the last nine games. The common theme has been second-half implosions and the piling on of L after L. Even after tripping up the Atlanta Hawks with a tricky zone defense early on, Cleveland could not hang around with the Hawks in the second half.
After falling to the Hawks 102-94 to bring the season series to an even 2-2, Cleveland’s losing streak was extended to nine games. This is still the longest losing streak that the Cavs have been on all season long. As stated earlier, the common theme has been defensive breakdowns.
The leading scorer in this contest, guard Devin Harris, fought hard from the beginning for a season- and game-high 25 points. He scored 11 of Atlanta’s 25 first-quarter points to pace his team to an early 25-19 lead. But, as coach Byron Scott said in his postgame comments, the short-handed Cavs fought to their best ability with the help of a shifting defense. At this point in the season, making little tweaks to a team’s usual scheme means no harm. In fact, many have been calling out to Scott to play around with the players left on the depleting roster.
Some forced bad shots and turnovers allowed the Cavaliers to close the gap from a 10-point deficit to six points entering the second frame. Rookie center Tyler Zeller was a big factor in closing the gap all game long. He scored eight first-half points, but made little noise in the second act.
When the starting bigs (Tristan Thompson and Zeller) went missing, power forward Marreese Speights was there to help lift the team. A player that looked to have disappeared over the past couple weeks emerged in a big way, along with starting point guard Shaun Livingston. Livingston was aggressive in getting to the hoop all night long, and the duo of Speights and Shaun combined for 12 of Cleveland’s 25 second-quarter points.
Those two were a huge reason that everything didn’t fall down once Daniel Gibson got ejected for getting it on with DeShawn Stevenson. Gibson, who looks like he may be well on his way out of Cleveland, was providing good play for the Cavaliers in his 10 minutes of play, but his hot head led to an early goodbye.
The second half started off much better than many anticipated after the Hawks extended their lead to eight points just before the end of the second quarter. Through four minutes of play Cleveland had cut the lead to two points, providing life for a team that has been dead in the second set of 24 minutes as of late.
It wasn’t until after an Atlanta timeout that the team went on a 16-4 run due to the continuing terrific play of Harris. After going down by as much as 15 points in the fourth quarter, Cleveland still continued to battle. Speights’ terrific offensive night (11-of-15 from the field, team-high 23 points) kept the motor running, while rugged play from Wine and Gold members such as Omri Casspi also kept alive a glimmering hope of something Cleveland hasn’t experienced since March 12. However, the clock was against a team that looked like they wanted to win more than anything.
If Cleveland doesn’t win within the next six games, they would have gone a whole month (!) without a W. Only nine games remain on the schedule, and the next matchup will come against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.