MEMPHIS, TENN.: One NBA veteran who has been around the league for 20 years was talking about the Cavaliers on Monday night when he deduced their current struggles to one simple problem: They don’t know how to close.
Given another opportunity to beat one of the league’s top teams, the Cavaliers again crumbled in the final minutes and lost to the Memphis Grizzlies 84-78. The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 points in the first half and carried a 69-62 lead into the fourth, but went more than five minutes in the fourth quarter without scoring and managed just nine points in the quarter.
Jeremy Pargo’s jumper with 5:56 left gave the Cavs a 76-74 lead, but they didn’t score again until Alonzo Gee’s dunk off a miss with 44 seconds left. By then, the Grizzlies had rallied for their first lead since midway through the first quarter.
Gee’s dunk closed the deficit to 80-78, but Jerryd Bayless — whom the Grizzlies signed as a free agent over the summer to replace Pargo as their backup — hit a short jumper with 23 seconds left to extend the lead to 82-78. Bayless started in place of Mike Conley, who missed the game with flu-like symptoms.
Tony Allen knocked the ball away from Anderson Varejao on the Cavs’ ensuing possession, ultimately sending them to their second crushing loss in as many games.
Monday’s loss was similar to Saturday’s loss at Miami, when the Cavs held the lead from midway through the first quarter until the game’s final minute.
The loss of Kyrie Irving is particularly prevalent on nights like this, when the Cavs’ offense grinds to a halt because no one is capable of taking the game over when necessary.
The night featured the league’s top two rebounders in Varejao and the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph. Varejao entered leading the NBA in rebounding at 14.1, while Randolph was second at 13.6.
Varejao had a double-double by halftime and dominated, finishing with 15 points and 22 rebounds. He had seven rebounds before Randolph grabbed his first. Randolph finished with 19 points and a season-low eight rebounds, the first time he was held below 11 this season.
Dion Waiters had 15 points and Daniel Gibson had 11. No other Cavs player finished in double figures. Marc Gasol had 19 points and six rebounds and Rudy Gay had 15 points for the Grizzlies, who maintain the league’s best record at 10-2.
Daniel Gibson’s 3-pointer late in the second quarter gave him 544 for his career, moving him ahead of Danny Ferry and into sole possession of fourth place on the Cavs’ all-time list. Gibson later added one more and now trails Wes Person (550) for third place. LeBron James is second on the list with 771 and Mark Price is the franchise leader in 3-pointers with 802.
The Cavaliers return home today to host the Phoenix Suns. The Cavs squandered a 26-point lead when the teams met two weeks ago and lost, 107-105. It was the biggest blown lead in franchise history.