In a showdown between the league’s most prolific three point shooting teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers simply didn’t have enough gas to keep up with the shooting of the Houston Rockets. Despite a strong effort to start the game, the Cavs fell to the Rockets 117-112.
The Cavaliers came out with a surprising amount of energy, for their third game in four nights. Kyrie Irving came out with aggression in the first quarter and put a variety of Rockets wings in the blender, connecting on four of his first five shots for nine first quarter points.
Tristan Thompson showed off his ability to defend wings off of the switch, however with him on the perimeter it left the Cavs vulnerable on the defensive glass. With Kevin Love, Thompson has a safety net to defend on the perimeter. However, with Richard Jefferson at the small ball four the team simply gave up too many second chance opportunities.
For the Rockets, they showed off their potent offensive game with a barrage of three pointers, as well as their foul baiting. With both James Harden and Lou Williams, the Rockets have two guys that will make you pay any time you defend without discipline. It’s frustrating to watch, but they take full advantage of the rules that are in place.
To start the second, the Cavs were able to capitalize with James Harden sitting. They immediately went on an 11-0 run to take a two point lead, fueled by an aggressive effort by LeBron James in hunting the rim. Once James sat, the team kept the momentum rolling. With James sitting, the team went on a 20-5 run to give the team a 12 point lead. Fueled by hot shooting from Jefferson and great ball movement, the bench showed a spark that’s been missing lately. Some of it could be the growing chemistry between Deron Williams and Irving, but the intensity shown on the defensive end over that stretch really stood out.
The Cavs carried the momentum from the second into the third quarter, however you knew the Rockets would eventually make their run. As the quarter progressed, the Rockets poured in a three point barrage. Even with possessions where the Rockets missed, the Cavs inability to secure a defensive rebound allowed Houston to get back into the game. After three quarters, the Rockets held a 14-3 advantage on the offensive boards and a 90-86 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the legs became heavy for the Cavaliers. The team stopped moving off ball and the offense became stagnant. On the defensive end, the team wasn’t providing the effort level necessary to secure defensive rebounds in small ball line-ups. Many of the mistakes in the fourth came as a result of players not moving their legs. Reach in fouls, offensive rebounds, and blown assignments.
One of the more strange sights down the stretch was a reluctance from J.R. Smith to shoot the ball. It’s clear that the man with seemingly limitless amounts of confidence isn’t comfortable. While he still provided some play-making and other things that the Cavs missed in his absence, the offense needs him to take shots when he’s open. Even if he struggles, when he passes up open shots it results in the offense bogging down.
Ultimately it’s hard to be too upset with the result of the game. The Cavs came out with a lot of effort against a really good team on a night where they easily could have mailed it in. Instead the Cavs and Rockets treated everybody to a fantastic, entertaining showdown.
The absence of Kevin Love was really felt all night, especially on the defensive boards. While it may take some time before the Cavs are fully healthy/operational, the potential of the roster remains tremendous. The Cavs play next on Tuesday as they host the Detroit Pistons.