Mr. Fourth Quarter hadn’t made an appearance in some time. The point guard phenom—also known as Kyrie Irving—was starting to heat up in the fourth quarter. After hitting his third shot in as many attempts within the final 12 minutes of regulation, I was impelled to tweet out this:
Kyrie 3 of 3 from the field in the fourth quarter. We’re due for an Irving game-winner, right?
— Right Down Euclid (@RDECavaliers) December 30, 2013
With 9.5 ticks left on the clock and the Cleveland Cavaliers (10-20, 8-7 home) down 99-96 to the Golden State Warriors (19-13) on Sunday, Dec. 29 at Quicken Loans Arena, Irving crisscrossed Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson, planted his feet and sank a 26-foot shot that would knot the game at 99.
Golden State had scoured a 17-point Cleveland lead—built up by a fast-paced offense that hadn’t graced the eyes of Wine & Gold fans in some time—over the final 1:13 of the first half, and the Cavaliers went into halftime up by nine points. The Warriors rode the eight-point swing into the third quarter and eventually overtook the Cavaliers with 10:29 remaining in regulation. Cleveland looked down and out with poorly decided jump shots clanking off of the iron ad nauseam in the second half.
But Kyrie wasn’t up for watching his team squander another big lead this season.
That aforementioned game-tying “Swoosh” sent the Q into an uproar. There was going to be at least five more minutes of basketball in which the Cavaliers could prove that they deserved that double-digit lead they had owned at one point on Sunday. And Irving was going to be the player to make this dream come true and end the Cavs’ four-game skid.
But that didn’t happen. Kyrie tried to do too much in the overtime period and ran into a brick wall of Warriors, resulting in the point guard missing all three of his attempts in the five-minute period. After a 23-foot dagger from Stephen Curry–who had a remarkable 29-point, 11-assist and nine-rebound effort–with 13.5 seconds remaining, the Cavaliers were put to rest. This produced a 108-104 loss.
“The last three games, we’ve had mental mistakes when closing out quarters and especially in that overtime (tonight),” Irving admitted after the game.
Irving tallied 27 points and nine assists, while shooting 9 of 19 from the field, and helped the Cleveland starters push the pace early on in the contest. Because of this newfound urgency, the team jumped out to a 12-point first quarter advantage with less than five minutes remaining in the frame. But that lead (and the above-mentioned 17-point lead that the Cavs held in the following quarter) was swiftly lessened because of an ongoing problem with this Cavaliers unit.
The man calling the shots for the Cavs pointed to one thing pestering the team throughout the course of Sunday’s game. And it was most evident over the contest’s final minutes and continued to be a progressing problem until the final buzzer.
“I think what happens to us at the end of ball games is that we forget about our pace and we slow down a little too much,” head coach Mike Brown said in the postgame presser.
Brown was so focused on addressing this issue to the players during timeouts and breaks, and this became evident during the press conference because of the multiple references he used to the words “pass” (four times) and pace (three) in his opening statement. It was a difference between night and day for the Cavaliers in regards to how they were moving the ball up the court on offensive possessions. In the first half, the fluidity of the offense was at an all-time high. The Warriors weren’t given the chance to get settled on defense, and because of the quick actions early on by the Cleveland guards, the Cavs shot 52.2 percent from the field and 6 of 8 from beyond the arc.
But, as we all know, the problems pestering this team stem from consistency in their level of play.
“Instead of just passing throughout different parts of the game, the pass just has to be engrained in us all the time,” Brown said. “We should never come up the floor and come to a standstill and not know what to do.”
And the latter statement is exactly what happened in the second half, leading to a measly eight points in the paint after halftime and a shooting percentage of 30.4 from the field.
“As the game went along, we thought we were getting a little tired,” Brown said. “We did not have the same pop or pace that we had in the first half. I was trying to encourage our guards, ‘Hey, we’ve got three ball handlers out there a lot of times. Whoever gets the rebound, whoever gets the outlet, push it, push it. Let’s look to attack before Golden State gets set.’”
Yet again Cleveland has to try and learn something from another close and disheartening loss. They will be taking the lessons they learned from this game into Bankers Life Fieldhouse for a matchup with the Indiana Pacers–a team boasting the best record in the East and a 14-1 mark at home. Tipoff for Tuesday’s game is set for 3 p.m.
PG Kyrie Irving – 27 points, nine assists and one turnover, while shooting 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) from the field, 3 of 3 from beyond the arc and 6 of 6 from the free throw line
While Dion Waiters was jacking up bad jump shot after bad jump shot, Irving wasn’t being fed the ball despite shooting 5 of 11 from the field entering the final quarter of play. He was hot from three-point land, but the Cavs weren’t able—or weren’t looking to—feed our best shooter the ball when Golden State was dismantling Cleveland’s double-digit lead. Because of this, the Wine & Gold entered the final frame only up by two points after being up by nine to start the second half. Then Kyrie had a hell of a fourth quarter, accounting for 11 of Cleveland’s 15 points in the 12-minute span (and he was only on the court for nine minutes and 50 seconds, while Waiters played all 12). Irving made good on 4 of 5 field goal attempts, hit both of his free throws and hit a game tying three that almost knocked the shoes off of shooting guard Klay Thompson. It would have been a magical performance to boast about had Cleveland came away with a victory.
SG C.J. Miles – 17 points and three steals, while shooting 6 of 12 from the field and 3 of 6 from beyond the arc
Miles was quoted saying late last week that he is trying to do different things on the court in order to help his team out as a starter. Many think Miles doesn’t deserve this position, but he’s one of the hardest workers on the team and has been playing decent ball as of late. The bench needs Dion’s tenacity and scoring ability, so I believe in keeping him there. If C.J.—a known streaky shooter—can find consistency in his game, then I’m certain this lineup method will be for the best. The three steals that Miles came up with—a big part of the 17 total turnovers Cleveland forced against Golden State—is what C.J. is talking about in regards to evolving and adapting his game to help this team function like a unit. This type of play increases the pace on the court, and that’s something the Cavaliers need in their starting lineup right now.
SF Earl Clark – Six points, four rebounds and two blocked shots in 13 minutes played, while shooting 2 of 3 from the field and 1 of 3 from beyond the arc
Clark didn’t see much time tonight despite a decent start to the game. But neither did Alonzo Gee, so I’m fine with it. In fact, Gee was a DNP – Coach’s Decision on Sunday night. As Brown stated in the presser, he wanted to go with three-guard sets in order to push the pace of the offense. Although this worked well in the first half, it was a failed “experiment” over the final 29 minutes.
PF Tristan Thompson – 17 points, 12 rebounds (four offensive) and five turnovers, while shooting 8 of 14 (57.1 percent) from the field
Tristan was abused defensively by the likes of center Andrew Bogut and power forward David Lee (in the second half). Yes, Tristan was very involved on the offensive side of things and even converted one of the most impressive and-ones that he will make this season, but the problems Thompson has had with protecting the rim this season persisted. The Cavaliers went into the second half tied with the Warriors in points in the paint (16), but were outmuscled (to put it nicely) in the second half and overtime by 24 points. Tristan was a big part of this problem.
C Anderson Varejao – Eight points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots, while shooting 3 of 8 (37.5 percent) from the field
It was nice having Andy in the starting lineup to start the game, because immediately you could tell the difference between the pace of the offense with Andrew Bynum starting and with Wild Thing beginning the game. The hustle helped, as he corralled five boards in just under eight minutes in the first frame. The offense will only continue to get faster with Andy (and Tyler Zeller) receiving the playing time that was meant for Bynum.
PG Jarrett Jack – 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals, while shooting 5 of 11 (45.4 percent) from the field and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc
Despite some crucial mistakes late in this game, Jack is proving to be a great veteran leader for this team. If it wasn’t for his efforts in the first half, this game may have been a lot less enticing to watch in the second half.
I had the chance to attend the Warriors-Cavaliers game as a member of the press. Here are some quotes that didn’t fit with my story but I still found noteworthy in some way:
Brown on what he needs to get his players to do in order to start winning close ball games
I’ve got to keep helping our guys, but our guys (have) got to keep thinking pass and keep thinking pace. If they think pace, if they think pace—as well as compete—we’re going to start winning some of these games.
Brown on the effort from his players as of late
I’ve got to give our guys credit because they’re competing. They are competing. I just got to keep trying to help them at the end of games too.
Brown on what his team needs to do in order to have success when pushing the pace
Every time we can push the ball, we want to fast break the basketball, and that’s either on the dribble or the throw-ahead look to attack.
Brown on Kyrie taking the final shot in regulation and being aggressive in overtime
Not only does he have a ton of ability, but he has a ton of belief in himself.
Brown on what he’s trying to get his players to do on a nightly basis
What we’re continuing to try and tell our guys to do is do it now, do it now, do it now. Push the ball and then make a decision right away. Swing it or throw ahead and flow or run into your actions so the defense doesn’t have a chance to get set.
Brown on Dion’s game-tying attempt in overtime
I thought Dion got a great look late on the 15-foot pull-up jumper—he was wide open—and that resulted from a couple passes. But we could still do better and be better.
Brown on his team not being able to close out the end of quarters
One of the areas that we haven’t been very good at is at the end of quarters or closing quarters. We just talked to our team about it; that’s why I know the numbers. We talked to our team about it three days ago and we gave them stats and numbers and showed them on tape to continue to teach them and talk to them about how we should do it or what we should do about it. I think we’re 28th in net efficiency at the end of quarters, and on average we’re minus-seven points at the end of quarters if you add the +/- of every quarter that we’re involved with.