By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Mike Brown said the players should be embarrassed. Kyrie Irving said they didn’t fight back. Tristan Thompson said they better figure this out quickly. Any of those work fine.
The Cavs followed what was arguably their best all-around first half Sunday with what was easily their worst second half in a 99-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns. They blew a 20-point lead, narrowly missed equaling a franchise record for fewest points in a quarter and bumbled out of Quicken Loans Arena with a second-low for points in a quarter and a half.
“It was hard to watch,” Brown said. “Very disappointing. Our guys should be embarrassed by the way we played in the second half.”
The Cavs led by 20 in the final minute of the first half and carried a 61-43 lead into the break before managing a season-low six points in the third quarter. It equaled the Suns’ franchise record for fewest points allowed in a quarter and barely missed the Cavs’ record of futility (four).
Following an easy win Friday against the woeful Milwaukee Bucks, there was reason for optimism. The Cavs were pushing the pace, they were defending, they were moving the ball. Then it all unraveled in a marvelous display of ineptitude.
The Suns made five 3-pointers in less than four minutes. By the time the fifth one fell, Gerald Green had sliced the Cavs’ lead to 65-61 as boos filled the Q. By the end of the quarter, the Suns had the lead. It was a double-digit lead within the first 3½ minutes of the fourth quarter.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth,” Irving said, “and we didn’t fight back.”
The collapse was stunning because the first half was so spectacular. Irving had six assists within the game’s first six minutes and ended the quarter with seven points and six assists. He shot 5-for-18 during his other 20 minutes and finished with 24 points and nine assists.
Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Luol Deng had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Markieff Morris had 27 points and 15 rebounds off the bench for the Suns.
Despite all their problems in the second half, the Cavs were still within 90-87 with 1:34 left, but Irving failed to get to Channing Frye on an open 3-pointer. Frye made the shot — the final of his four 3-pointers in the second half — with 1:13 left and the Cavs were done.
“I take full responsibility for the end of the game,” Irving said after leaving Frye open at the top of the 3-point line.
The Cavs began the second half as if the game was already over.
Players and Brown have bemoaned the lackadaisical attitude that has plagued this team after short bursts of success and it seemed to happen again in the third quarter.
They needed nearly four minutes to score their first basket and shot 2-for-22 as the Suns took control.
Brown and his staff praised the players at halftime for playing well in transition, refusing to give the Suns open looks and moving the ball across the floor.
“We came out and did the opposite of everything we talked about,” said Brown, who burned two timeouts within the first five minutes of the third quarter, but only made one sub until the lead was down to 66-63.
On top of everything else, Anderson Varejao went down with a knee injury with 4:25 left when Markieff Morris rolled into his left knee. Varejao didn’t have to leave the game and was diagnosed with a knee contusion. He is expected to be re-evaluated, but the team wasn’t sure if he’d need an MRI. For now, it’s considered general soreness.
“I was worried,” Brown said. “His knee was bothering him a little bit. It was tough to see.”
The Cavs have done this before. In an early-season game last year at Phoenix, they suffered the biggest collapse in franchise history when they blew a 26-point lead and lost.