The Cavs have had uneven effort all year. It’s somewhat been their MO to start the 2016-17 season. The inconsistent play finally caught up to the Cavs Tuesday night, as they dropped their first game of the year, a 110-106 home loss to Atlanta.
After playing fairly lackadaisically for most of the game, the Cavs got a spark in the third quarter when Kevin Love came up with a steal and forwarded it ahead to Kyrie Irving, who then dropped a between-the-legs pass to LeBron for the finish. James then hit a 3-pointer on the next possession to cut the Hawks’ lead to 66-56. The Cavs chipped away at Atlanta’s lead even further thanks to a Channing Frye triple and two James layups that brought the Cavs to within six at 69-63.
When Cleveland got stops, it was able to get out and push the ball and play at a pace that suited the Cavs much more than the slow, half court pace the Hawks prefer. The issue Tuesday night was that Cleveland did not play hard defensively until about halfway through third quarter.
The Cavs had managed to get the Hawks lead down to 82-79 after a Frye 3-pointer in the final seconds of the tird quarter. Atlanta went into the fourth quarter with an 84-79 lead because Shumpert fouled Kent Bazemore on a last second 3-point attempt, and Bazemore made all three free throw attempts.
It seemed as though Bazemore’s free throws to close out the third quarter helped Atlanta regain some of its composure, as the Hawks went on a 12-2 run to open up the fourth quarter. Atlanta started the fourth quarter by hitting five of its first seven shots while Cleveland made just one of its first seven.
Irving lit a spark for the Cavs’ offense midway through the fourth quarter when he went on an 8-0 run on his own to cut Atlanta’s lead to 96-89 with 6:43 remaining in the game. After four Kevin Love free throws and a Frye 3-pointer, the Cavs were within one possession at 98-95 with 3:14 to go in the game. The Hawks responded and got their lead back up to 106-97 thanks to five points from Dennis Schroder and a 3-pointer from Kent Bazemore.
Even then, the Cavs were not completely out of the game. Thanks to a 3-pointer from LeBron and an and-1 from Love the Cavs had the lead down to 108-106 with just 25 seconds to. On the next possession, the Cavaliers elected not to foul, and Bazemore made them pay by hitting a jump shot to close out the win for the Hawks.
Bazemore and Schroder led the way for the Hawks with 25 and 28 points, respectively. What’s even more impressive than that is that they did it on a combined 18-29 shooting. Unlike the Hawks, who shot 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from deep, the Cavaliers struggled shooting all night, shooting just 37 percent overall and 26 percent from 3-point range.
Irving, James and Love finished the game with 29, 23 and 24 points, respectively. However, Love and Irving struggled from the field, going a combined 18-44 Tuesday night.
Tuesday night’s game was ugly for most of the first half. Neither team could get things going for most of the first and second quarter. It looked as though the Cavs offense was gaining some momentum when Cleveland grabbed a 36-31 lead after a Shumpert 3-pointer, a Shumpert steal and transition layup and an Irving mid-range jump shot on consecutive possessions.
However, the Cavs only scored six more points in the remaining six minutes of the half. To make matters worse for Cleveland, Atlanta’s offense came alive, and the Hawks closed out the first half on a 22-6 run to take a 53-42 lead into halftime.
The Cavs will be back in action Friday when they look to get back on track against Washington.