James was given the night off and the rest of the team decided to join him in the second half by throwing away a 19-point halftime advantage that saw them allow 66 second-half points to the Rockets.
“We just have to play better, especially at home with the crowd on our side,” forward Tristan Thompson said. “We just have to take responsibility and just play a better half. That was bad.”
The loss, just their 22nd this season, is why many doubt this team has the moxie required to win an NBA championship, even with the asterisk of no James attached to it.
“These guys are professionals, we have 2 all-stars in the locker room,” head coach Tyronn Lue said. “We should be able to win these games.”
The Cavs are now 1-3 without James on the floor this season and 4-13 over the last 2 seasons.
Here’s a look at what went wrong Tuesday night at The Q.
– Once again Cleveland settled too many times for 3-point shots – especially in the second half. Multiple fourth quarter possessions saw the Cavs pas the ball out beyond the arc 2, 3, 4 different times within the same possession. Cleveland finished 14-40 shooting from beyond the arc.
– The Cavs took control in the second quarter by holding the Rockets to just 14 points, turning a 2-point deficit after 1 into a 19-point halftime lead. Cleveland got 28 points off the bench in the first half and outscored Houston’s starters 28-22. Kyrie Irving scored 10 in the quarter to help the Cavs take over. Irving finished with a game-high 31 points and also had 8 assists.
– James Harden fueled the Rockets comeback by scoring 18 of his 27 in the final 15 minutes. Harden alone outscored the Cavs in the final 15, 18-16.
– Houston’s trapping defense in the second half and especially in the fourth quarter disrupted the flow for Irving and the Cavs offense. Cleveland shot 13-of-40 in the second half from the field.
“They were just trying to take my aggressiveness away,” Irving said. “A few times I heard them saying just make him give up the ball and make these other guys make plays.”
– Houston crushed the Cavs inside, out-rebounding Cleveland 55-38 and outscoring them in the paint 52-26 but it was Trevor Ariza‘s 3-pointer with 17 seconds left that drove home the final nail and completed the Rockets’ comeback.
– Making the Rockets rally all the more impressive was their inability to shoot free throws. Houston couldn’t throw it into the ocean standing on the beach as they finished 21-of-42, including 7-of-22 from Dwight Howard.
– With LeBron out, Mo Williams and James Jones picked up the slack, at least in the first half. The duo combined for 16 before intermission but for some odd reason did not see the floor in the second half.
– Iman Shumpert, bothered by a sore left knee that saw the team rest him during Monday’s practice, started in place of James. Shumpert, who made just 4 of 14 shots, scored all 11 of his points in the third quarter to help keep the Cavs in front as the Rockets inched closer but was a non factor offensively in the other 3 quarters.
– Tristan Thompson is the Cavs version of Cal Ripken Jr. Thompson played in his 362nd consecutive game, surpassing Jim Chones for the longest streak in franchise history Tuesday night. It is also the longest active streak, which began Feb. 10, 2012, in the league.
“Just his durability, I think his toughness. I think a lot of times when guys are sick or you could be hurt and he still plays through the pain,” Lue said. “Tristan is a guy who we need every single night.
“For a guy who plays hard like he does and takes the pounding he does, to play this many games in a row means a lot.”
Thompson, who now has 23 double-doubles this season, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
– Kevin Love notched his fourth straight and 32nd double-double of the season finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds but he disappeared in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think I got the touches inside,” Love said of being held scoreless in nearly 8.5 minutes in the fourth. “They were doubling me and sending another guy from the top. We had to play the kick-outs and look for different guys to make plays. They definitely played me different in the second half.”
The start to the night for Love wasn’t great either. He picked up 2 quick fouls in the first quarter and was on the bench after playing less than 5 minutes.
– Lue plans to have the team at full strength for 5 or 6 of the remaining 8 games and use 2 or 3 for resting players before the playoffs while aiming to lock down the top seed in the East.
“I want to get the No. 1 seed but the training staff and guys feel like guys need rest…I’m not going to fight that,” Lue said.
With Toronto idle, the loss was a missed opportunity to extend to a 3.5 game advantage on the Raptors. Instead they now lead by 2.5 games.
– The Cavs finished the season 22-8, including 12-3 at home, against the Western Conference after splitting the season series with the Rockets. Dating back to Jan. 15, 2015, the Cavs went 36-9, including 20-3 at home in 45 regular season games versus the West.