On their current West Coast road trip, the Cleveland Cavaliers have twice in two games come back from an early deficit. Against the Phoenix Suns last Wednesday, Cleveland was down by 13 after one quarter – and ultimately won by none. Against the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the Cavaliers were down by 16 after one – only to come back beat the Warriors by nine.
In both games, the Cavaliers started slow, digging themselves a hole that looked impossible to climb out of. In both games, the Cavaliers’ offense sputtered early and Kyrie Irving looked out of sorts. And in both games, the Cavaliers were able to mount a three-quarter comeback and ultimately win the game.
Both the Suns and Warriors are playoff caliber teams in a loaded Western Conference. As a result, heading into their contest against the Los Angeles Clippers (a team slotted above the Suns and Warriors in the West), the Cavaliers had momentum. While they weren’t expected to win by any means, there was some hope that they might be able to steal another game on the road.
The start to this game played out similarly to the others – the Cavaliers found themselves down early, were struggling from the field, etc. It was the same old song and dance – only this time the comeback didn’t come. There were signs of it late in the second half, but in the end, the Cavaliers found themselves on the wrong end of a 102-80 loss to the Clippers.
In the midst of the loss, Cleveland lost Irving to a left bicep injury midway through the second quarter. He did not return and the Cavaliers started Dion Waiters in his place in the second half.
During the second half – when the Cavaliers have completed their comeback over the past few games – Cleveland only fell further and further behind. There was no Dion Waiters run (which essentially won the Cavaliers the Suns game) and no Spencer Hawes double-double (which carried the Cavaliers offense during the Warriors game). In this game, Hawes received two technicals and was ejected during the fourth quarter. Waiters, on the other hand, finished the game 5-15 from the field.
As a result, the Cavaliers never could recover and now find themselves another game back East’s eighth seed.
- Another angle to this game: Blake Griffin was spectacular tonight and played much better than he did in the first game between these teams. The Cavaliers, too, had an opposite performance and looked like a totally different team than the one who beat the Clippers 88-82 on Dec. 7.
- Anderson Varejao looked surprising spry on the floor tonight – getting up and down with ease, playing pests defense, etc. It was the best he’s looked in some time.
- Luol Deng also played well. Over the past three games, Deng is 21-38 from the field and looks a lot like the Luol Deng the Cavaliers expected to acquire. I still wouldn’t pay him the $10-$13 million he is looking for, but I’d be more open to his return at this point.
- Tristan Thompson had a rough night against Blake Griffin. He finished with a +/- of -31, only scored two points, only pulled down one rebound and only played 20 minutes. Not good, but not totally unexpected considering how good Griffin is.
- If Kyrie Irving is out any extended amount of time, expect the narrative about his brittleness to be brought up again. But a word for the wise on Irving’s injury: Operate only in fact here. Don’t read the random bloggers analyzing the injury. Just wait until a reputable reporter (Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Mary-Schmidt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, etc) breaks the news or the Cavs announce something themselves. Every else is purely wild speculation – so just ignore it.