Jarrett Allen couldn’t help but smile when he said it, but there was a true sense of frustration following his team’s latest loss. The Cleveland Cavaliers had just stumbled down the stretch to a 100-99 loss to the Miami Heat, only their sixth-such loss on their home floor.
“I don’t want to say it’s all learning experience, because we want to be at the top. We can’t just keep saying, ‘oh, we’re learning, we’re learning, we’re learning,'” Allen said. “It’s an excuse. I won’t say (it’s) a let down on our part, but we just feel like we could have done better.”
The Cavs were better than the Heat for stretches on Wednesday night, particularly when they opened up the fourth quarter by locking down on defense and holding Miami scoreless through the first five minutes.
But they could only muster four points on offense and weren’t able to use that dry spell to pull away from the Heat.
“I felt like we were missing shots. It kind of got stagnant,” Allen said. “Miami’s defense was pretty good at that point. We couldn’t run our stuff. They run the hell of a zone. And it’s kind of hard to just find our spots to score.”
Allen scored 14 points and secured 11 rebounds as the Cavs lost for the sixth time in their last ten games. Evan Mobley dumped in 19 pints while Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland added 16 points apiece.
In a game the Cavs dubbed as a potential playoff matchup, the Wine and Gold couldn’t pull away. The Cavs committed nine turnovers in the second half and shot just 11-for-40 (27 percent) from deep.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 23 points. Caleb Martin, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro each scored 18 points as Miami, owners of the sixth and final playoff spot, moved within a game-and-a-half of the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings.
“They’ve been in that situation many of times, knowing how to close out games like this,” Allen said. “I think we kind of dropped the ball a little bit towards the end and they took advantage of that.”
It figured to be a slow-it-down, grind it out affair between two of the NBA’s slowest teams when it comes to pace and it lived up to those expectations. Cleveland is 29th in pace with 97.8 possessions per game while Miami lands at 25th (99.4).
The Cavs offense looked stagnant at times, particularly down the stretch. They missed key shots, committed critical turnovers and had a chance to put land a knockout punch to Miami early in the fourth when they hit a cold snap.
They couldn’t, and the Heat leaned on Butler, Adebayo and company to hold the Cavs off.
“I think we need to learn to throw the first punch in these instances,” Allen said. “A playoff atmosphere, if you let the other team throw the first punch or be more physical first, then that puts you at a big disadvantage and that’s a quarter to quarter basis. It’s a play to play basis and I think we let that get away from us.”
Rubio has been slowing working his way back into the fold after suffering a knee injury over a year ago. He officially returned to the lineup on January 12th at Portland, scoring eight points in ten minutes.
The veteran guard is coming off a season-high 19 minutes on Sunday night against the Clippers and followed it up with another 17 minutes of work against Miami where he snagged eight points, five rebounds and dished out four assists.
“I think as a group we feel, you know, what he’s capable of,” said head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “How he can uplift, how he can facilitate, how he can make the game easier for everybody else. I thought he did a great job of doing that tonight.”
It’s rare in todays NBA to see teams employ much zone defense. With some of the most dynamic athletes on the planet, teams typically man-up the entire night.
Not Miami. They routinely switched up their defensive scheme each possession and it had the Cavs confused at times. You can beat a zone by working the ball inside and knocking down perimeter shots, but the triples weren’t falling for the Wine and Gold on Wednesday night.
If the Cavs continue to struggle against the zone, you can expect more teams to start mixing it in as they get more film on it.
“In the regular season, you don’t have days upon days to prepare for it, and it is unique that they the way they play it,” Bickerstaff said. “When you catch it, you’ve got to attack and put the ball on the floor. It can’t be a catch, hold and stare.”
In a tight game, it’s easy to point to free-throws and conclude the outcome would’ve been different had the Cavs shot better from the line.
The Cavs didn’t attempt a free-throw in the first quarter, while Miami went 5-for-7. Cleveland’s first attempt from the charity stripe came at the 9:54 mark of the second quarter when Caris LeVert was fouled under the basket on a put-back attempt.
LeVert made a nice play to get into position on a missed corner three by Cedi Osman.
He got to back to the line on the Cavs’ next possession after going coast to case for a basket and the foul and connected on the freebie. LeVert had six of his 14 points in the second quarter
LeVert was a spark plug all night, even hustling back for a block on Victor Oladipo in the fourth quarter to keep the Cavs within two points.
Just when you think the Cavaliers have figured this thing out and have ironed out the wrinkles of a back court that features Mitchell and Garland and how to close out games, something like Wednesday night happens.
Both Bickerstaff and several players were visibly frustrated with outcome against the Heat.
“We’re kind of inconsistent.I don’t want that to be the headline. I want it to be known that like, you know, the sky is not falling. We’re in a good shape,” Mitchell said. “But we we have to find that level of consistency to be a great team. We’re playing as if we are a young team and that hasn’t been there.”
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