For 24 minutes, the Cleveland Cavaliers more than held their own against the Phoenix Suns – a playoff team in the loaded Western Conference. After 24 minutes, Cleveland was in full control, leading by 18 at the half after. And then – as they done several times so this season – the Cavaliers failed to play a complete 48 minutes of basketball and cost themselves a shot at victory. In the end, the Suns won by a final score of 99-90 after outscoring Cleveland by 27 in the second half.
In the second half, the Cavaliers scored as many points – 29 – as they did in the first quarter, while Phoenix took full control of the game and quickly pulled away in the second half. The key quarter was the third, as the Cavaliers put up six points as compared to the Suns 25. Seemingly every Cavalier who had a strong first half – from Kyrie Irving on down – struggled and looked out of the flow of the game.
One key difference in the halves was the pace and tempo that the Cavaliers played at. In the first, behind excellent ball movement and passing initiated by Irving, the Cavaliers pressed the action and, despite seemingly playing a pace that favored the high-octane Suns, excelled on both ends of the floor. Time and time again, Irving or another ball handler were able to find their way into the paint and either finish or make that key extra pass to the open man. It was the Cavaliers at their best.
And by comparison, the second half was the Cavaliers at their worst or perhaps just a hair above it. Cleveland lacked energy or any sort of consistently productive offense. To put it in perspective, who Irving lead the Cavaliers with 24 points on 8-23 shooting, only made one field goal in the second half. The third-year pro also only had two of his team high nine assists in the second half.
To make matters worse, Cleveland fans had to collectively hold their breath when beloved center Anderson Varejao went down in heap, clutching his left knee. Luckily, Varejao was able to stand up under his own power and even complained about a non-call on the play. He checked back into the game soon after and finished out the game on his bum knee.
When the final horn sounded, those in attendance at Quicken Loans Arena booed down in frustration and it’s easy to understand why. Each time the Cavaliers blow an opportunity like they did tonight, they lessen their chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time in what is starting to feel like forever.
PG Kyrie Irving – 37 minutes, 24 points, 8-23 shooting, nine assists, 8-8 from the line
24 points on 23 shots is by no means an efficient performance and, overall, this wasn’t one of Irving’s best games on the season. He played a strong first half and really helped the Cavaliers get way out ahead of Phoenix. But in the second half, he looked a little lost and was the jump shooting Irving that is incredibly frustrating at times to watch. Without question, you want to see more of the first half Irving and less of the second half one. The former is deserving of being a starting All-Star in the Eastern Conference. The second is not where near close to being worthy.
SG C.J. Miles – 20 minutes, 12 points, 5-11 shooting, 2-7 from three
Miles was hot early from all over the court, but just disappeared as the game wore on, particular in the second half. Not exactly what you want out of your starting two-guard.
SF Luol Deng – 41 minutes, 18 points, 7-18 shooting, 10 rebounds
Deng played heavy minutes tonight, presumably to help the Cavaliers get through the choppy water and make a late push towards victory. While it didn’t work, Deng played okay tonight in his 41 minutes. He often was able to get inside and get solid looks. It’s just slightly concerning that he couldn’t keep everyone in order in the times they needed him to.
PF Tristan Thompson – 39 minutes, 17 points, 6-9 shooting, 13 rebounds
I came away fairly happy with Thompson’s performance tonight. He was active, pulled down a fair share of boards that were in open space and even had a few nice moments on offense. He did have a few clanked shots, but that’s kind of the norm for him at this point. Overall, he may have had the best performance of any Cavalier tonight and if there’s a bright spot about this game, it’s him.
C Anderson Varejao – 34 minutes, two points, 1-9 shooting, 10 rebounds, +/- of 0
Varejao’s night was flat out confusing. He scored only two points, but had the highest +/- of any Cavaliers starter. It’s fairly clear this point how much better he makes everyone around him and his passing has been on point of late. His injury, which he somewhat brushed off when speaking to the media after the game, is his first of the season and hopefully won’t keep him out for any extended time. He has visibly lost some of his quickness, but he is still a treat to watch and the leader of this team. I can’t even imagine what they would look like without him on the floor for extended stretches.
No one on the bench tonight was particularly good tonight. Dion Waiters, for the third straight game, failed to get into the rhythm of the game and was a tad reckless when attacking the rim. Tyler Zeller was forgettable and Earl Clark was Earl Clark, despite actually making a three-pointer. Jarrett Jack may have been the best of the bunch, but even he was only 3-8 from the field.
Tonight was the type of game that the Cavaliers needed someone to come in and put energy back into the Cavaliers. They failed to do that tonight and, as a result, no one is worthy of a star.
Mike Brown coached possibly his best game of the season last week in the Cavaliers blowout win versus the Bucks and tonight was the exact opposite of this. In the first half, Brown pushed all the right buttons and had the Cavaliers preforming well on both sides of the ball. But his team came out flat in the second half and just collapsed down the stretch. Maybe there was nothing he could have done, but Brown stuck to his guns, his set rotation and nothing worked.
This has happened before and it’s a particularly ugly trend. And it would nice if the Cavaliers head honcho would do something to try and change it.