By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
CHICAGO: The Cavaliers trailed the Chicago Bulls by eight points late in the third quarter on Saturday. Within two minutes, the Bulls had doubled the lead.
As the Cavs continue to learn how to play together and how to win, here’s another item for the to-do list: learning how to close quarters properly. It has been a recurring problem at times this season, but never more evident than Saturday.
Over the final five minutes of the first, second and third quarters Saturday, the Cavs were outscored by a combined score of 42-19.
“That’s something we’ve had problems with,” coach Mike Brown said. “The good teams are the ones that consistently close quarters the right way because they’re able to bear down and execute offensively without trying to make home run plays.”
Added C.J. Miles: “Lack of execution, lack of focus. It’s the same reason why they scored what seemed like 100 points in the first half.”
The big problems Saturday were at the end of the second and third quarters. The Cavs were within 48-41 with five minutes left in the second quarter, but the Bulls scored 12 of the final 14 points of the half as the Cavs had turnovers on three consecutive possessions.
Similarly, the Cavs were within 68-59 with five minutes left in the third after trailing by 19. They were within 73-65 with three minutes left, but the Bulls doubled the lead within two minutes.
The Cavs played terrific defense throughout the entire shot clock on one Bulls possession, forcing a difficult shot from Tony Snell as the buzzer sounded. But the Cavs were out of position to grab the rebound, which bounced all the way out of the lane, and Joakim Noah finally ran it down.
The ball was swung back to Snell, who made a 3-pointer. Following a miss from Andrew Bynum, Snell made another 3-pointer. The Bulls’ lead was 16 with a minute left in the third quarter, and the game was effectively over.
“When teams make runs on us, we have to continue doing our principles,” Tristan Thompson said. “We didn’t help ourselves on defense and it showed at the end of the second and end of the third.
Until the Cavs figure out how to close quarters more efficiently, they will continue struggling to win games against weaker opponents. They host the Detroit Pistons today.
As for when the game really matters, when the Cavs are within five points over the game’s final five minutes, the Cavs are shooting 35 percent to rank 23rd in the NBA. Yet opponents are only shooting 38 percent in those situations, which ranks ninth in the league.
“It’s in and out,” Brown said. “We’re trying to play the game the right way, then we try to make spectacular plays or go for steals on the defensive end of the floor and it’s hurting us.”
The Bulls’ Taj Gibson was given a flop warning by the league office Sunday for a play that occurred in the first quarter when Kyrie Irving was whistled for a foul.
The Bulls were running in transition when Gibson bumped into Irving. He spun around and threw his hands high in the air, and it worked. Irving was given a foul, and Gibson split the free throws.
Another flopping violation will earn Gibson a $5,000 fine.
After further review, Irving’s 39 points and career-high four blocked shots in Friday’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks was historic. Since blocked shots became an official stat for the 1973-74 season, no other Cavs guard has scored so many points and blocked at least four shots in team history.
“That’s impressive to get four blocks. A lot of them were hustle plays,” Brown said. “It makes you excited, proud, whatever you want to call that to get that type of effort out of your point guard.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.