PHOENIX: It was a unanimous opinion among the coaches and players. After hammering the Phoenix Suns in the first quarter Friday night, the Cavaliers quit playing.
They got sloppy with the basketball, stopped rebounding and certainly stopped defending. They played the NFL equivalent to a prevent defense for three quarters, and as a result squandered a 26-point lead in a 107-105 loss to the Suns.
“I don’t know if we just thought they were going to stop playing or what,” coach Byron Scott said. “It just seemed like the more the game went on, the less focused we got, the more mistakes we started to make.”
The Cavs still had a shot to win it at the buzzer because of Dion Waiters’ big night and impressive fourth quarter, but Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim as the clock expired.
It never should’ve come down to a last-second shot.
The Cavs scored the first 10 points of the game and Suns coach Alvin Gentry was forced to use two timeouts as the Cavs built an 18-2 lead just 4 ½ minutes into the game. They led 37-16 after the first quarter and it swelled to 42-16 early in the second before things began to unravel.
Elias Sports Bureau didn’t immediately have the last time the Cavaliers blew a lead this big and lost. The best it could do was come up with Nov. 29, 2003, which was the last time the Cavs blew a 21-point lead after the first quarter and lost (122-115 to Memphis).
“We didn’t play smart at all,” in the second half, Anderson Varejao said. “Maybe because we had the big lead, we thought we were going to win the game. In the NBA, you have to play for 48 minutes. If you don’t do that, even if you have a big lead like we had, you’re going to lose games. It’s bad. We had a chance to get this win.”
Added Samardo Samuels: "It's always hard to play with the lead when you're up like that."
The Suns shot 31 percent in the first quarter and 52 percent after, outscoring the Cavs 91-68 over the final three quarters. The Cavs had a staggering 21 turnovers, including seven by Kyrie Irving to equal his career high.
Irving is still rebuilding his stamina after a bout with food poisoning earlier in the week, but was forced to play more than 37 minutes – the most he has played this season – because the Cavs were once again getting little production out of their bench. Daniel Gibson had 19 of the bench’s 26 points.
The Cavs were still clinging to an 83-76 lead to start the fourth, but turnovers by the reserves on the first two possessions ignited a Suns rally that tied the game at 83 two minutes into the fourth.
Scott was forced to bring a clearly gassed Irving back into the game sooner than he wanted. Irving played the entire third quarter and returned with 7:12 remaining in the game, but spent most of the Cavs’ offensive possessions in the corner of the court.
Irving was happy to defer to Waiters, who was dynamite offensively in the fourth quarter. He scored 10 consecutive points for the Cavs in less than two minutes and did his best to thwart off the charging Suns, finishing with 23 points. Waiters was questionable to even play because of a deep bruise on his right thigh. He made it through shootaround Friday morning without a problem, but the leg bothered him throughout the night. He had another x-ray on the leg after the game, which came back negative.
“It’s just sore man, real sore,” he said. “It’s got to take time on its own to heal, but the season is here. I’ve got to play through it. There’s no way around it.”
Irving had 17 points and eight assists, while Varejao had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Scott, however, was irritated with the defensive lapses after the first quarter.
“The story doesn’t change,” he said. “Still on the defensive end, 12 good minutes, as simple as that.”
Scott is nearing the point of addressing the reserves, beginning perhaps with C.J. Miles.
Miles battled a flu bug earlier this week, but missed all seven of his shots Friday – including a couple of layups – and went scoreless for the second time through four games on this road trip. Asked if Miles’ time in the rotation is running out, Scott said simply, “something I’m thinking about.”