Despite losing a 20-point lead to start the second half, the Cavaliers held on in a closely fought game in Phoenix to open up their west coast road trip with a 120-116 win. The Cavs appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win on the road in Phoenix with a 69-53 lead at the half, but the were caught flat-footed in the third quarter by a Suns’ 25-7 run.
The Suns tied the game in the third, 90-90, before a buzzer beater three-pointer from Irving regained the lead for the Cavs. The Suns’ 37-point quarter was a combination of a few things: a fast break blitz from a young and motivated Phoenix team, a spurt of cold shooting (8-22 from the field), poor transitions and help on defense, and a lot of turnovers.
In fact, the Cavaliers had 20 team turnovers (giving up 24 points). The stat highlights troubling trend for the team in the second quarter of the season. The Cavaliers have had 6 games in November and December with 18 or more turnovers, and with tonight’s victory they are 1-5 when they turn over the ball at that rate.
Part of this stems from the Cavaliers lack of ball-handling beyond LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who have carried a high minutes burden in the past couple months. Part of it comes with the nature of a veteran team that is finding itself too comfortable with double-digit leads too early in the game. This problem is certainly fixable, and it hasn’t impacted the Cavs hold on first place in the Eastern Conference.
In the fourth quarter, despite some nice finishes from James and clutch shooting from Irving, the Suns just would not go away, keeping the game with two possessions. Eric Bledsoe had a game high 31 points (12-18 FGs), 8 assists, and 2 steals. Devon Booker added 28 points, almost all from inside the paint.
As for positive trends, James, Irving, and Kevin Love were again all above the 20-point mark on the game. The big three has continued to share the offensive load equally and has the wins to show for it. James had a team high 28 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. Irving was 4-7 on three-pointers with 27 points and seven assists. Love added another double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds. The offense was certainly clicking in Phoenix. The team as a whole just failed to control the ball and found themselves flat-footed on defense, especially in the paint and in transition.
120-116 with 40 minutes each for James and Irving is a difficult way to start the longest road trip of the Cavaliers season. (A road trip that will end in Golden State next Monday, January 16.) At 28-8, the Cavaliers now hold a 4.5-game lead for first place in the East (the Raptors lost to Houston earlier on Sunday). Next up for the Cavaliers is and back-to-back in Utah Tuesday (9 PM) and Portland on Wednesday (10:30 PM).