Cavaliers run out of steam in 123-104 loss to Pelicans  
            BY TIM SHIRER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - On December 16, the Cleveland Cavaliers (16-12, 9-6 home) lost All-stars Evan Mobley (knee) and Darius Garland (jaw) for 4 to 8 weeks. Since that date, the team is 3-0 including a win on Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz 124-116 where Sam Merrill scored a team and career high 27 points, including eight three pointers.

Thursday night the Cavs welcomed the New Orleans Pelicans (16-12, 7-7 away) to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. It was the first meeting of the season between the two clubs. Last season the Cavs won both games against the Pelicans. The Pelicans lead the all-time series 20-25, but the Cavs do lead at RMFH 15-8. Thursday night ended up looking a lot like what people had feared when the Mobley and Garland injuries were announced as the Cavs were outscored in the paint and couldn’t get the long range game going losing to the Pelicans 123-104 to close out the four game homestand 3-1.

After the two teams traded baskets to open the game 4-4, the Cavs took a 7-4 lead on a triple by Max Strus with 10:29 left on the first quarter clock. The Pelicans didn’t take long to tie the game 7-7 on a three by Trey Murphy III with 9:52 left in the opening quarter. With 7:07 left in the quarter Cavs floor boss JB Bickerstaff took a timeout as the Pelicans were on a 12-0 run taking a 19-9 lead. After the Cavs were accessed a technical foul for a three second violation and Murphy hit the free throw the Pelicans led 24-17. The Cavs cut the lead to six on a three by Georges Niang with 4:05 left on the clock in the first quarter. Then after a failed possession by the Pelicans Niang drained another three with 3:11 left in the quarter cutting the New Orleans lead to 26-23. The Pelicans struck back with a dunk by Herb Jones and a foul on Tristan Thompson to increase the Pelicans lead to 29-23 after Jones sunk the free throw with 2:59 left on the first quarter clock. The Cavs being shorthanded and missing Donovan Mitchell for the second consecutive night as well as Garland and Mobley was show as Merrill was cold early from the field and the Pelicans lead ballooned to 34-23 with 1:54 left in the quarter. The Cavs cut into the lead a bit and as the quarter ended the Pelicans led 36-28. Murphy lead all scorers with eight first quarter points. Niang and Dean Wade lead the Cavs with six points each. They both hit two threes in the first 12 minutes. The Pelicans outrebounded the Cavs 10-7 and outscored the Cavs in the paint 16-10.

With 10:42 left in the second quarter the Pelicans were hot, and the Cavs were not. Resulting in the Pelicans expanding their lead to 41-28 on a three from the top of the arc by Jonas Valanciunas. After the Pelican’s lead grew to 14 points the Cavs cut it to nine at 44-35 when Caris LeVert hit a short jumper with 9:07 left. The New Orleans lead was cut to 47-39 with 7:32 after the Pelicans turned the ball over and Craig Porter, Jr. hit a jumper. Niang hit a three with 6:57 left on the clock to cut the New Orleans lead to 49-42. The three was Niang’s third in the first half to that point. After a personal foul was called on New Orleans Jeremiah Robinson-Earl with 5:18 on the clock in the first half Strus hit both free throws to cut the lead to 51-46. The Cavs shaved the birds lead further to 51-49 on a three by Strus on a nice pass by LeVert with 4:36 remaining in the half. The Pelicans came right back with a three from Murphy to grow their lead back to five at 54-49 with 4:16 left in the opening half. The Cavs continued to struggle from outside and the Pelicans did not as Murphy hit another three, his third of the game giving New Orleans a 59-49 with just 2:40 left in the first half. Bickerstaff had seen enough and took a timeout. The Cavs actually were not shooting bad at this point as they were 18 of 35 from the field for 51%. The problem was the Pelicans were even better, 23 of 38 for 61%. New Orleans took their biggest lead of the first half 64-49 with 1:25 left on another three from Murphy. When the first half ended, and the Cavs retreated to the locker room the Pelicans led 66-52. Murphy led everyone in scoring in the first 24 minutes with 19 points, Brandon Ingram also had 13 for the Pelicans. Strus paced the Cavs with 11 first half points while LeVert totaled nine. Merrill, who had 27 on Wednesday night had no points in the first half and was 0-4 from the field in 12 minutes. The Cavs were easily outdone on the boards by New Orleans 20-13 and turned the ball over 6 times resulting in 10 New Orleans points. The Pelicans were also better inside than Cleveland, outscoring them inside 24-18 and 14-3 on fast breaks. It just was not a good first half for the Cavaliers.

Isaac Okoro started the scoring in the third quarter with five straight points cutting the Pelicans lead to 66-57 with one minute gone in the second half. Then Cleveland cut the lead to 66-59 on a fast break layup by Struss with 9:50 left in the quarter. Pelicans coach Willie Green called a timeout to calm his troops. After the Cavs cut the Pelicans lead to 68-62, the Pelicans came back with five straight points courtesy of a Cavs turnover to increase their lead to 73-62 with 8:04 left on the clock in the third period. New Orleans continued to own the paint taking a 78-69 lead with 6:13 left scoring their 32nd point inside on a layup by McCollum. The Cavs cut the lead to four points at 80-76 with 4:36 remaining on a three by Dean Wade. But like most of the game the Cavs could not get any closer as the Pelicans scored the next four points to take an 84-76 lead with 3:44 left when Robinson-Earl converted two free throws after being fouled by Okoro. With 3:10 left in the quarter the Cavs needed a spark and Bickerstaff inserted Emoni Bates who had seen very little time recently. The spark did not help with 1:28 left and the Pelicans lead increased to 89-76 after another Cavs turnover and an easy layup by Robinson-Earl. Things only got worse for Cleveland with :21.6 left in the third the Pelicans lead ballooned to 94-76 with more points in the pain on a jumper by McCollum. That was how the score stood when the final buzzer ended the third period with the Cavs being outscored 28-24 in the period. Murphy now had 25 points to lead everyone in the game. Okoro led the Cavs through three with 14 points. Struss had 13. The Pelicans continued to destroy the Cavs on the boards 32-20 and in the paint outscoring the Cavs 40-30.

If it was apparent heading into the fourth quarter it didn’t take long into the fourth, just 1:32 to realize the Cavs three game winning streak was about to end as the Pelicans took a 99-78 lead turning Cavs 10th turnover of the night into a fast break layup by Naji Marshall with 10:28 left on the game clock. With just under eight minutes left the Pelican lead was now 24 points at 106-82. What was apparent in the game was how much the Cavs missed Mitchell, Garland, and Mobley. Not to mention the fact Merrill left the game in the second quarter and did not return. The Cavs did cut the Pelicans lead to 108-90 with 6:08 to get the crowd back into it, but it was pretty clear the Cavs were not going to have a miracle comeback. With 4:10 left and the Cavs trailing 113-94 Bickerstaff raised the white flag and cleared the bench inserting Damon Jones, Isaiah Mobley, and brought back Bates, Thompson and Porter, Jr. For Mobley it was only his third appearance with the Cavs this season as he has been a starter on the Cleveland Charge of the G-League. Jones had not seen any action for nearly a month on November 22 against the Heat when he played a season high 12 minutes, when the final buzzer sounded the Pelicans went home winners 123-104.

Murphy led all scorers with 28 points in the contest, while Wade led the Cavs with 20 in a losing effort. One bright spot in the game was Porter, Jr. who had a career high in assists with 11.

Bickerstaff said after the game that the team, “just ran out of steam.” In light of all they have been through the last week. He also said that Merrill fell on his wrist last night in the first half and woke up sore this morning. He played through it last night and just couldn’t go in the second half tonight after giving it a go in the first half. The medical staff informed Bickerstaff that Merrill was unavailable for the second half. 

The Cavs will be in action next when they travel to Chicago to take on the Chicago Bulls (12-17, 8-7 home) at the United Center at 8 pm. The meeting is the first of the season between the two teams. The Cavs swept the season series last season 4-0. The Bulls do hold the all-time series lead 132-98 with a 78-38 advantage in Chicago (Chicago Stadium, United Center). 
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​POSTED 12/21/2023 22:05
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Cavaliers swingman Georges Niang in Cavs 123-104 loss. Photo by Tommy Shirer