Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavaliers fell 99-93 to the Chicago Bulls Thursday night at United Center.
1. Playing their 12th road game this month, the Cavs lost for the fifth time in their last seven games and slipped to 6-10 in March. But what happened on the court was secondary to what happened afterward.
2. In a rare and perhaps unprecedented move, LeBron James addressed the media before his coach. It was a first at least during Tyronn Lue’s tenure; it may have been a first in James’ two stints with the Cavs. James is usually the slowest to dress and habitually the last to leave, often pushing the second bus’s time past its scheduled departure.
3. But on this night, with the Cavs again falling out of first place in the East with just eight regular season games remaining, James spoke curtly and didn’t stay long. He talked for three minutes before leaving the arena. The security guard at the door to the visitor’s locker room said he’d never seen James depart so quickly.
4. Tristan Thompson practically ran a reporter over in his hurry to get out. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert bolted as well. By the time the locker room opened, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Deron Williams were the only players left, Irving and Love sitting with their feet in cold tubs.
5. Irving gave a hint of what had just happened, of what prompted the anger that seemed to ooze from James.
6. “Every journey’s different,” Irving said. “When you’re in it, it absolutely sucks, when you’re in a rut like this. We’re taking steps forward. After the game we took a step forward.”
7. Asked in what way, Irving said, “Just in a way that a team should take a step forward when we’re in a rut. I’ll leave it at that.”
8. James had been holding back on letting the Cavs know how he felt about their lack of effort, about their poor defense, about their inability to focus for 48 minutes. A couple veterans, including James Jones, who has been to six consecutive NBA Finals with James, had said some things in a more casual way.
9. But judging from his quick departure, it felt like this might have been the night James let loose.
10. “It’s just a feeling, when the feeling hits me. When it’s the right time for me, I’ll speak up,” James said at Thursday’s shoot-around. “Once I calibrate enough necessary data that I need, I’ll translate it to the team.”
11. There was plenty of data at his disposal. The Cavs’ bench was outscored 25-12. The defense of Smith and Shumpert was woeful. The Bulls outscored the Cavs 37-21 in the third quarter to turn the Cavs’ 50-41 halftime lead into a 78-71 deficit. The Bulls had a 51-44 edge on the boards. Rajon Rondo dished out nine of his season-high 15 assists in the second half and became the first Bull with 15 assists since Derrick Rose on Dec. 30, 2011. The Cavs committed 15 turnovers and the Bulls turned them into 17 points. Kevin Love spent the entire game in foul trouble. Jimmy Butler scored 15 for the Bulls in the second half. Nikola Mirotic equaled his season-high with 28 points.
12. Asked where the Cavs are mentally, Irving told the truth.
13. “To be perfectly honest, we’re probably all over the place,” Irving said. “But that’s natural because this is probably the first adversity that we’ve faced as a group, with new guys and old guys we’ve had since last year. You’ve just got to see how people respond and how to get the best out of them. That’s the challenging part. But if we see it as a challenge and we relish in that, then we’ll be all right.”
14. Irving knew the Cavs’ issues couldn’t be fixed in a day. Love and Smith are working their way back from surgeries. Kyle Korver missed his ninth game with an inflamed tendon in his left foot and will sit out No. 10 Friday at home against the 76ers.
15. “It won’t be perfect in one day, but it’s no time to hold your head, I’ll tell you that,” Irving said. “It’s no time to kind of back up into the wall and panic. I’m not panicking and I don’t think anyone in this locker room should panic. We’re going to be just fine. It’s ugly right now. It’s real, real ugly. But we’ll get out of this, we’ll be fine.”
16. There were a few things Irving liked.
17. “We definitely had a defensive mindset to start off the game,” he said. “Definitely taking away some easy baskets from them. Our rotations were great. They were decent in the second half, but we’ve just got to be able to sustain it.”
18. James surely thought the Cavs would play better after getting routed by the Spurs in San Antonio Monday, their third blowout loss in a four-game span.
19. “I think the effort was there,” James said. “I just don’t think the concentration for as close to 48 minutes is there yet. Which is unfortunate.
20. “We’re just in a bad spot right now. Not disappointed with the effort. We’re just in a bad spot. We’re going to try to figure it out.”
21. James said he wasn’t counting the hours until March is over, but some of his teammates might be.
22. “No. I’m never one to shortcut the process,” James said. “It’s all part of the process. It’s what I live by, that’s how I built my career, so tomorrow’s another day. It’s another opportunity, but we’ve got some work to do. We don’t have a lot of time.”
23. Thursday could mark the low moment in the three years James, Love and Irving have been together.
24. “Timing. Timing, that’s probably the biggest issue,” Love said. “I mentioned that since I’ve been back. You want to practice good habits and at least for me get my legs underneath me, move the ball and defensively show signs we can be a very good team. I think timing more than anything.”
25. James has been hard on his teammates before. On Nov. 25, 2015 after a loss to the Toronto Raptors, he and Jones called a players-only meeting when James was critical of inconsistent play. Even though Irving, Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova sat out that night with injuries, James told the Cavs injuries and fatigue were not an excuse for losing, according to ESPN.com. The Cavs held a team meeting before a preseason game in Toronto in October, 2015 in which James said the Cavs weren’t drawing enough motivation from their loss in The Finals that June. On the way to the 2016 championship, the Cavs also held a clear-the-air meeting in their Manhattan hotel after a March 25 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.
26. Perhaps James was waiting to let loose until March’s stressful road schedule was over. A three-game homestand opens Friday. On Wednesday, a crucial game at Boston looms.
27. Some feelings had to be hurt, some egos bruised on Thursday night. But Irving seemed almost happy that whatever happened after the game had finally happened. If the Cavs are to have a real shot at defending their championship, as Love said, it’s all about timing.