Through the first half of tonight's game, all was seemingly going well for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They had played well on the offensive end and got some good defensive efforts from the likes of guys like Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. More importantly, the Cavs were up by nine at the break. If the second half were any similar to the first half, the Cavs would have walked out of Charlotte with their sixth straight win.
Unfortunately, the second 24 minutes for the Cavs couldn't have been any further from the first 24 minutes. The ball stopped moving, which resulted in the offense struggling to score. To compound things, the defense, which had looked good-not-great against a Hornets team playing without guard Kemba Walker and center Al Jefferson in the first, couldn't stop anyone (which includes Jeremy Lin, who somehow finished with 24 points). The combination of not scoring and not defending resulted in the Cavs being out-scored 57-39 in the second half, ultimately leading to a 106-97 loss.
With no Walker and no Jefferson, and the Cavs nearly at full strength (Matthew Dellavedova didn't play because of a hamstring issue he had been dealing with) and with a day of rest in between their overtime win over the Indiana Pacers, it appeared that this would be a walkthrough for the Cavs. The same feelings were held true after the Cavs finished the first half with a 13-1 run to take a nine-point lead heading into the break.
However, the third quarter took the life out of those particular thoughts, and it was the Cavs inability to stop Lin that took themselves out of any chance of getting that seventh straight win. In the third quarter particularly, Lin nearly out-scored the Cavs by himself, finishing with 11 points in the quarter to the Cavs 17, and was a big reason why they were able to erase that nine-point halftime deficit in matter of minutes.
The Cavs were able to make a run late in the fourth quarter, with a LeBron James ferocious dunk cutting a once 15-point Hornets lead down to six with 2:44 left to play. But as it had been for most of the second half, the inability to make stops hurt them, as two free throws and pull-up jumper from Lin on back-to-back possessions putting the Hornets back up by 10, and with the way the Cavs' offense had looked in the second half, put the game out of reach for them.
Coming into tonight's game, James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were all in their own grooves over the past three games, with each of them scoring 20 points in those games -- the only three times they were all able to eclipse those numbers this year. That streak would end tonight, as while James (23 points) and Irving (26 points) were able to get past the 20-point mark, Love, despite a strong defensive showing in the first half, struggled from the field, hitting only 4-of-his-12 shots and finishing with 14 points. In fact, outside of James and Irving, there wasn't much offense to go around for the Cavs.
You could see signs against the Pacers of heavy legs, and it ended up costing the Cavs tonight. Luckily for the Cavs they return home for five straight games at the Quicken Loans Arena. Hopefully that should put some energy back in their systems that was lacking at the backend of this road trip.
- The Cavs STRUGGLED on the glass tonight. They were out-rebounded 49-28, and gave up 11 offensive rebounds. This is the second straight games that they were unable to control the defensive glass, which is surprising for a team that is one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the league. This could be more of an outlier than a trend, but it's certainly worth noting.
- Speaking of trends, what about LeBron's three-point shooting? He's missed his last 13, and they've been some really, really bad misses. It's at the point where I have zero confidence that any three-pointer he takes has any sort of chance to go in. This won't be as big of a worry against the East, but if the Cavs want to beat the Golden State Warriors, they need for LeBron to make the Warriors pay when they sag off and force him to shoot.
- Any time J.R. Smith is involved in a scuffle, it's usually a bad thing. In fact it's always a bad thing. Except for tonight, when Smith shoved Spencer Hawes after an offensive foul. Hawes was getting out of hand, having throwing an ill-advised elbow of Smith after a jump ball in which Smith did nothing to provoke him. Smith's shove was simply him protecting his teammates, even getting the approval from LeBron.
- Not saying he would have made a difference in the final result, but I think Dellavedova's energy was missed tonight. The Cavs lacked plenty of it tonight, and he certainly would have helped their defensive effort in the second half.
- No Dellavedova also meant more Mo Williams, which is never a good thing.