Cavaliers fall to .500 with 117-112 loss to Nets
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - One could say injuries are the worst part of sports, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are feeling them.
The Cavs are missing two of their most promising youngsters in Evan Mobley (sprained right elbow) and Collin Sexton, the latter of which will miss the entire 2021-22 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Other Cavaliers have been in-and-out of the lineup this season, including Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Isaac Okoro, Lauri Markkanen, Kevin Love, Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens, while only Ricky Rubio has played in every game for Cleveland this season.
The injuries, particularly to Mobley and Sexton, have severely hurt the Cavs of late, as the team has lost a season-high four games in a row. The latest loss came at home on Monday night in a 117-112 nail-biter to the Brooklyn Nets. It was the Cavs second loss to the Nets in the last week, while the Nets picked up their third straight win overall.
The Cavs led most of the night against Brooklyn, but the turning point may have come midway through the third quarter as Cleveland clung to a nine-point lead, 73-64. Hustling for a loose ball, Garland collided with Nets forward DeAndre’ Bembry and appeared to take a blow to the head. The Cavs point guard was on the floor several minutes before slowly strolling to the locker room. By the time he came back with 1:13 to play in the third quarter, the Cavs lead had vanished with the scoreboard showing both teams tied at 80 apiece.
“Obviously, we missed him being on the floor,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said about Garland’s late third-quarter absence. “He’s one of our guys who can create his own shot and help create shots for other people. They’re a good team. They had the opportunity to start to make their plays, and we’re searching for ways to counter it. I think it was a tough stretch for us, obviously when he went out, but we have to find a way to stem the tide.”
When the third quarter ended, Brooklyn had taken an 84-82 lead, their first advantage since leading 6-4 early in the first quarter. The Cavs, though, didn’t stop battling.
When Rubio drained a stepback three-pointer with 1:58 to play in the fourth, the Cavs trailed 109-108 with an opportunity to steal a game against one of the teams favored to win an NBA title this season. Yet, Nets big man LaMarcus Aldridge tipped in a Kevin Durant missed jumper moments later, and James Johnson converted a layup soon after that gave Brooklyn a five-point lead with roughly a minute to play. The Cavs couldn’t overcome the quick buckets.
“We just have to finish games,” Okoro, who finished with a season-high 15 points, said about the team finding consistency amidst the injuries. “I feel like in most of these games we’ve been in, we’ve been up and we’ve let the other team come back and take the lead. We just have to learn how to finish games and play through the fourth quarters.”
Garland, who struggled after returning from the injury, shooting 1-of-10 from the field in the fourth quarter, finished with a team-high 24 points and 11 assists. He has stepped up on the offensive end since Sexton went down earlier this month, posting 20-plus points in five of the Cavs’ last six games.
In his first game back in the lineup since Nov. 1 after being placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, Markkanen finished with a season-high 22 points and eight rebounds against Brooklyn. Also returning to the Cavs lineup following a thee-game absence with an illness, Allen scored 20 points and added 15 rebounds. The Cavs sorely missed Allen, as he’s averaging career highs across the board this season, including points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, minutes per game and field goal percentage.
“It was great, having more bodies out there period,” Okoro said about having Allen and Markkanen back in the lineup. “It was great for us. For them, they both protect our rim pretty well and rebound for us, so great having them back there.”
The first half on Monday night drastically differed from the Cavs’ 109-99 loss to Brooklyn last week, as Cleveland trailed by 21 points at halftime of that game. On Monday, the Cavs took a 63-52 lead into halftime, as four Cavaliers reached double figures in scoring by the end of the first two quarters.
Durant led Brooklyn with 27 points, six rebounds and nine assists, while Aldridge chipped-in 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The Cavs’ record sat at 7-4 when Sexton left the lineup for good this season, but they’ve lost five of seven games since. Bickerstaff knows how he wants his rotations to look, even though he may not have all of his horses.
“Yes, I know how I want them,” Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, it’s a little bit more difficult just because of the absences that we’ve had and then guys coming back, how long their stints are and those types of things. All of those things effect our rotations, but hopefully we haven’t changed how we played too much. I think we’ve been able to just kind of plug and play, and do the same things that we’ve been trying to get done. Obviously, when we’re whole, we’re a better basketball team for sure, but stylistically and systematically, we shouldn’t have changed how we’ve played.”
Despite the injuries of late, the Cavs haven’t stopped trying to claw their way to victories, losing only one game since October by more than 10 points.
“It’s their togetherness, and it’s their commitment to one another and how we want to play,” Bickerstaff said. “These dudes scrap. We get down, they find a way to dig out of it together. We compete our tails off, and we share the ball and share the game. That’s the identity we’re working to create, and these guys have bought into it.”
Okoro added to that sentiment.
“I feel like nobody’s coming in here anymore (Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse) with the mindset of easy win,” Okoro said. “Everybody’s coming in with the mindset it’s going to be a tough game, like we’re scrapping in each game.”
Cleveland will attempt to avoid a fifth straight loss when they host the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.
POSTED 11/22/2021 22:35