NEW YORK: In order for the Cavs to slide into the playoffs in a few weeks, the feeling throughout the organization was they had to find a way to split against two of the best teams in the East this weekend.
After Friday’s 108-97 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, that puts the focus squarely on Sunday’s game against the conference-leading Indiana Pacers — and the Cavs have lost their last nine games in that series.
They slipped to 3› games behind the idle Atlanta Hawks with eight games left after they were unable to capitalize on the momentum from the buzzer-beating win at Detroit. They surrendered 14 3-pointers and allowed the Nets to shoot 55 percent in a disappointing loss that ended their three-game winning streak.
“I’ve come to the conclusion of expecting more from us,” coach Mike Brown said. “That’s why it’s disappointing to see us play that way.”
Cavs players complained of the Nets’ slow pace, and this team has struggled to play in slower-paced games all season. The Nets had no trouble getting in the lane and collapsing the Cavs’ defense, which resulted in a number of uncontested looks around the 3-point line.
The Nets’ smaller lineup forced Tristan Thompson to unsuccessfully chase Paul Pierce around the 3-point line in the first quarter. Pierce scored 17 points in the quarter and made all four of his 3-point attempts to set the tone. Pierce scored all 22 of his points in the first half, staking the Nets to a 61-50 halftime lead that wasn’t really threatened.
Thompson conceded he isn’t used to chasing guys around the 3-point line, and often left Pierce to double the post. But he blamed the Cavs’ poor rotations for why Pierce had so many open looks early and Brown would only say the players didn’t follow the game plan.
“We weren’t doing what we were supposed to do,” Brown said, adding the one time they did resulted in Jarrett Jack fouling Pierce on a 3-point attempt. “We weren’t locked into what we were supposed to be doing, we were just kind of out there running around.”
The Cavs never led after the Nets bolted to a 12-2 lead to start the game, which unfortunately has become a staple of many Cavs games lately, and they spent the rest of the quarter digging themselves out.
They had the score tied going to the second, but the bench was ineffective at the start of the second quarter and the Nets scored the first 12 points to regain command. They never let it go, extending the lead to as many as 18 points.
The Cavs’ bench went scoreless in the first half, and aside from five rebounds by Anderson Varejao, contributed practically nothing in the half. Yet they still managed to pull within 82-77 on a dunk from Alonzo Gee in the final minute of the third quarter, but a big 3-pointer from Marcus Thornton on the Nets’ ensuing possession extended their lead to 85-77 entering the fourth.
Andray Blatche followed his long jumper by beating Spencer Hawes off the dribble for an easy layup and former Cav Shaun Livingston drove the middle of the lane for another dunk to bury any chance at another dramatic rally.
“Those guys play so slow and methodical,” Dion Waiters said. “They take their time. We have to do a better job coming out in the first quarter and not always falling behind by a big margin so we have to fight back.”
Waiters was Wednesday’s hero with the shot at the buzzer, but he missed his first seven shots on Friday. He still managed to finish with 20 points and five assists after catching fire in the second half. Luol Deng had 20 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Jack had nine points and seven rebounds.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.