Wrap-Up — There’s been a lot of talk of the Cavaliers “flipping a switch.” They’d better flip it fast.
Nearing the end of an already-odd regular season, the last two games against Atlanta have been some of the year’s most inexplicable – with the Wine and Gold falling to the Hawks JV squad on Friday night at home and, on Sunday afternoon, blowing a 26-point fourth quarter lead and falling in overtime, 126-125, at Philips Arena.
The loss drops Cleveland back into a tie with Boston for the top spot in the East, although the Cavs hold the tie-breaker thanks to last Wednesday’s win in Boston.
That victory feels like a long time ago after the back-to-back oddball losses to Atlanta.
The Wine and Gold dominated the Hawks for three quarters – leading by 17 points after one period, by 19 at half and by 26 heading into the fourth. But Atlanta scored the first nine points of that quarter and found itself down by just four points when Mike Muscala drilled a three-pointer from the corner with just under a minute to play.
Both squads traded free throws and Cleveland’s lead was still four with 8.3 seconds remaining when LeBron James fouled Paul Millsap on a three-point attempt.
Millsap hit all three from the line and on the Cavaliers next possession, Kent Bazemore tied up Kyrie Irving, forcing a jumpball on Atlanta’s end with 4.8 to play. Bazemore tipped it to Muscala, who fumbled it over to Millsap on the baseline. The Hawks’ four-time All-Star stepped back and drilled the game-tying shot at the buzzer.
Early in the extra-session, the Cavaliers took an early five-point lead, but the Hawks clawed back again – taking their first lead of the game on Millsap’s triple with 1:12 remaining in overtime and their last lead on Mike Muscala’s bomb with 35 seconds to play.
The loss spoiled some tremendous individual performances by the Cavaliers Big Three.
Kyrie Irving notched his fourth 40-point game of the season – (and second straight in Atlanta) – leading both teams with 45 points on 16-for-30 shooting, including 8-of-12 from beyond the arc and 5-of-6 from the stripe, adding nine dimes and a steal.
LeBron James tallied his 13th triple-double of the season and 55th of his career – finishing with 32 points, a game-high 16 boards and 10 assists before fouling out for second time this season on a questionable call three minutes into overtime.
Kevin Love registered his sixth straight double-double with 11 points and 15 boards, adding five assists and a block.
Kyrie Irving fills up the stat sheet with a game-high 45 points.
Channing Frye – getting his third straight start in place of Tristan Thompson, still nursing a sprained right thumb – finished with 12 points, eight boards and a pair of blocks.
Kyle Korver led Cleveland’s reserves, netting 11 points on 3-for-7 shooting from long-range against his former squad. But once again, Atlanta’s second unit was clearly superior, outscoring Cleveland’s reserves, 44-16.
The Cavaliers shot 41 percent from three-point range, going 19-of-41 from deep, and outrebounded Atlanta, 53-45. But the Hawks made 17 more trips to the free throw line than Cleveland and, most importantly, forced nine Cavalier turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Turning Point — Those nine turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Leading by 26, the Cavaliers were careless early in the final period, committing three miscues in the first three minutes of action and allowing the Hawks’ reserves to score nine quick points.
LeBron’s bad pass after a nice steal led to a Bazemore three-pointer on the other end and Iman Shumpert’s errant delivery allowed Millsap to score and get Atlanta to within seven with 2:25 to play.
LeBron getting whistled for a five-second violation with 18.7 to play in the fourth and Kyrie getting tied up in the corner with under five seconds remaining all contributed to the Cavaliers Sunday afternoon collapse.
By the Numbers – 44.0 … points that Kyrie Irving is averaging in two games at Philips Arena this season – shooting .588 from the floor, including .650 from long-range, to go with 9.0 assists and 2.5 steals per contest.
Quotable – LeBron James, on the importance of locking up the No. 1 seed in the East …
”To me, it’s never been about trying to get the No. 1 seed. It’s just trying to play the greatest basketball we can every single night. Whatever happens, happens. Obviously the last 10 games, we’ve been 5-5. We had some good moments, and we had some not-so-good moments today. The best thing for our team is we want to go down the stretch and be healthy and put a game plan together.”
Up Next — The Cavaliers wrap up the road portion of the regular season on Monday night in Miami, taking on the Playoff-hungry Heat before returning home for Fan Appreciation Night on Wednesday at The Q when they welcome the Raptors to town for the final tuneup before the postseason.
Calls of the Game