One of the unofficial mottos for the Cleveland Cavaliers (5-20) this season has been “just battle.” Battling is nice, but when you come up short constantly in games that could swing either way, it gets very frustrating. One bad quarter or a few series can always be pointed out when looking at nail-biting games such as contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat, etc. You can look at the opening minutes of the third quarter, when the New York Knicks (18-5) went on a 10-3 run in the first three minutes.
But the Cavaliers did more than battle against arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference, who were also without their best player and MVP candidate in Carmelo Anthony.
Two turnovers by Alonzo Gee, something that has been a nagging problem for the Wine and Gold this season, led to three New York points. The Cavs ended up dropping their third straight game to the red-hot Knicks, 103-102.
With each successive game, it seems like we find an individual weakness from a single Cavalier player. This time around it happened to be Cleveland’s most consistent player, Anderson Varejao. The Wild Thing had a chance at the end of the game to send the game into overtime, but he missed the latter half of his two free throws with just one second to go. Varejao, who went into the game averaging 14.0 points and 14.9 rebounds, had one point and three rebounds going into the final 12 minutes of play. Yep, the Cavaliers were still in the game with the motor of the team turned off over the first three quarters. Tyson Chandler, his counterpart for the game, finished with 23 points (9-of-10 shooting from the field) and 10 rebounds. This is important to note because Andy has struggled against premier NBA centers this season, such as matchups with Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert.
The driving force on the offense yet again was the masked crusader Kyrie Irving, who finished with a career-high 41 points. Despite having an off night on Friday with six total turnovers, Irving quickly turned the page and shot 60 percent from the field. Kyrie, who was a consistent force throughout the game, added seven points to the Cleveland effort and had the Cavs within one point at the end of the first frame.
The Cavaliers did a good job at fighting off the New York three-point barrage in the first quarter, forcing them to shoot 2-of-8 from long. However, New York ended the second quarter 5-of-8 from deep, led by Steve Novak who made all four of his attempts in the first half. The Cavs were outscored by four points in the second quarter, their worst differential out of all four of their frames.
It was the second half where the Cavaliers tried to crawl back into the game. The New York run at the beginning of the third quarter was enough to keep the Wine and Gold at bay. It was the effort from Irving, who scored 17 of his 41 points in the fourth quarter. He also scored the final 10 points of the game for the Cavs, showing once again that his ability to shine in the fourth quarter is no fluke.
With Varejao playing inconsistent basketball right now, C.J. Miles has stepped up in his absence. Miles, who is attacking the rim now, finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. It’s good to have his production right now, but what will happen once Dion Waiters comes back?
Again, the Cavaliers fought the Knicks to their best ability, but they have nothing to show for it. Look at these quick comparisons to see what I mean:
Turnovers: New York 9, Cleveland 12
Three-point percentage: New York 37.1 percent, Cleveland 37.5 percent
Rebounds: New York 41, Cleveland 45
Field-goal percentage: New York 43.5 percent, Cleveland 48.8 percent
Riding off of a heart-breaking loss, the Cavs will try to halt yet another losing streak when the Toronto Raptors come to town on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., with Waiters most likely being inserted back in the lineup.