CLEVELAND: This time the Phoenix Suns didn’t need to rally from 26 points behind. This time, they barely needed to show up because the Cavaliers didn’t.
Any momentum built in the past two games against two of the best teams in the league was flushed away Tuesday in the Cavs’ 91-78 loss to the Suns. The Cavs shot 36 percent, managed just 32 points in the first half and looked like a team playing its fourth game in five nights — which they were. But coach Byron Scott wasn’t about to use that as an excuse.
“Anderson Varejao was fantastic. Everyone else [stunk],” Scott said in his Christmas card sort of way.
Varejao continued his remarkable run with 20 points and 18 rebounds. He has double-doubles in each of his past six games, and each time has grabbed at least 15 rebounds.
But Varejao didn’t get any help. The Cavs’ starting backcourt of Jeremy Pargo and Dion Waiters combined to shoot 10-of-32. Waiters had a career-high seven assists, all in the second quarter. But he and Pargo also combined for eight turnovers.
Waiters had 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting, Alonzo Gee had 12 points and Tristan Thompson missed 6-of-7 shots, including a number of point-blank attempts around the basket.
“We didn’t play as a team tonight,” Varejao said. “The fourth quarter was terrible. We didn’t move the ball, we gave them easy fastbreaks and that’s why they won the game. When you don’t give yourself a chance to play defense, it’s hard. When you take bad shots, it leads to easy fastbreaks.”
Now the Cavs will wait to hear if a bad night makes for an even worse Wednesday. Both Waiters and Daniel Gibson are headed for MRIs today. Waiters banged his left hand on the rim in the second quarter and left before the half for the locker room clutching his left hand — eerily similar to how Kyrie Irving left the court nine days earlier.
Initial X-rays on Waiters’ hand were negative, as they were with Irving, but he’ll have the hand re-evaluated today. Waiters returned for the second half, but said he played with his hand “a little numb.”
“I should be fine,” Waiters said.
Gibson was a late scratch Tuesday when his sore right elbow flared up before the game. Scott didn’t realize he would be without his top reserve until minutes before tipoff. Gibson landed hard on the elbow during Friday’s loss to the Magic in Orlando, and conceded over the weekend it was still sore. He seemed to be moving past it, however, and Scott acknowledged after the game Tuesday he was a little concerned the issue has reappeared.
Gibson’s absence forced Scott to turn to C.J. Miles, who again struggled at both ends. Miles made just 3-of-11 shots and missed all five of his 3-pointers, dropping his shooting percentage for the season to .289 and his 3-point percentage to .268.
He probably didn’t need to, but Scott reminded his players before the game about the last time these two teams met three weeks ago in Phoenix. The Cavs blew a 26-point lead and lost by two, earning them the biggest blown lead in a loss in team history.
This one stung because of how well the Cavs competed against the Miami Heat and Memphis Grizzlies in their past two games. They managed the same amount of points Tuesday as they scored against the Grizzlies on Monday, but this performance was far worse.
“That’s probably the most frustrating part,” Scott said. “You played two real good, solid games and then you come home and play like this. That’s the most frustrating part. The Memphis game, you’re talking about one of the most physical teams in the league. Phoenix, no disrespect to the Suns, but I don’t look at them as a physical basketball team. But tonight they looked like one.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.