CLEVELAND: While all the other players quickly shower, dress and scurry out of the locker room following games, C.J. Miles is typically one of the last players to leave.
Kyrie Irving was already showered, dressed and out the door Friday while Miles was still in front of his locker wearing shorts and a towel draped over his waist, almost in a meditative state.
He had plenty to think about Friday night, given the Cavs’ 103-92 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Cavs were terrible again in the third quarter – a recurring theme most of the season – and a furious fourth-quarter scramble wasn’t enough this time to salvage a victory.
The Cavs have been outscored in the third quarter in each of the last three games. Miles actually has plenty of experience with this – one of the Utah Jazz teams he played on a few years ago had the same problem. Only that team had enough veteran leadership to eventually pull the Jazz out of it.
This time, no one in the locker room – not coach Byron Scott, not Irving, not Miles nor any other player – has any answers.
“A young, athletic team on their home floor, every team should be scared to come in this building,” Miles said. “You should not want to play in this building. But people come in here and they don’t feel like that. They’re coming in feeling like, ‘We should go win this game.’”
Scott was particularly annoyed Friday with the start of the third quarter, when the Cavs missed their first five shots and turned it over three times within their first five possessions.
They stopped attacking the basket and began settling for jump shots. Their first basket of the third wasn’t until 8:20 remained, and by that time the Grizzlies had scored the first 10 points of the quarter.
The Cavs had similar problems in recent home games against the New York Knicks and Utah Jazz. They blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Knicks thanks in part to a terrible third quarter, but they rallied for a win Wednesday after the Jazz gagged the game away in the final minutes.
Scott openly admits he has no idea – never a good sign – why the Cavs can’t muster a better effort to start third quarters. Earlier in the season he made a concerted effort to conclude all the halftime adjustments quicker to give the players more time on the floor to warm up at the end of the half. No one really knows if that did any good, but he’s willing to try it again.
He isn’t making lineup changes yet, but did threaten he’ll go to the bench sooner if the starters continue to fail in the third quarter.
“We have to figure out a way to regain that focus when we come back out,” Scott said “The game starts and we’re still somewhere else until we get down and the game kind of catches our attention.”
They were outscored 32-18 in the third quarter Friday, meaning the slow start on the offensive end is only half the problem. The Grizzlies are a defensive-based team ranked 26th in the league in scoring, averaging less than 94 points per game. They’re 22nd in shooting and make about 44 percent of their shots most nights.
Yet against the Cavs, the Grizzlies scored 103 points and shot 52 percent.
Irving scored 24 points on a night he wasn’t even expected to play. He fell victim Thursday night to flu-like symptoms tearing through the team, but it wasn’t as bad as the bug that caught Dion Waiters, Daniel Gibson and Tyler Zeller before him.
Irving slept 13 hours, missed shootaround Friday morning and felt well enough by Friday night to play.
Waiters, in his first game back from the flu, missed all four of his attempts and then grumbled about his lack of touches.
Scott thought the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen, perhaps the league’s best perimeter defender, did a nice job of closing off Waiters. But Waiters thought it was his lack of involvement in the offense.
“I feel a little dizzy and my stomach still hurts, but I just didn’t feel like sitting out anymore so I thought I’d give it a go,” Waiters said. “(Allen) played good defense as far as denying me the ball, but I feel if I’d have gotten in more pick-and-roll situations, it would’ve been a different story.”
Asked why he didn’t get the ball more in pick-and-roll plays, Waiters didn’t have an answer.
“Anytime I had the ball off the screen, I was able to do something,” he said. “We didn’t call it for me enough.”
But the Cavs didn’t lose this game because Waiters didn’t touch the ball as much as he would’ve liked. They lost the game because they failed to show up for the third quarter again. It was a problem earlier in the season, then they seemed to correct it. Only now it’s back – which is exactly what Miles witnessed in Utah.
“Guys got sick of it happening and started playing hard, then we thought we got it fixed and they relaxed and it happened again,” he said. “Then it dawned on us that, ‘Oh we didn’t relax, that’s why we fixed it.’
“We’ve got to take that ‘cool factor’ out. You can’t force it, but you have to play with a controlled chaos. That’s what we need to find.”