Game Night Observations: A bad fourth quarter, an even tighter rotation, and looking back at a goal
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Danny Cunningham covers the Cleveland Cavaliers for 850 ESPN Cleveland and thelandondemand.com. You can find him on Twitter at @RealDCunningham. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Miami Heat 119-115 on the road Friday night.
It’s difficult to win two road games against the same team in a week. It’s even more difficult to do so when the team’s offense disappears in the fourth quarter and allowed Miami’s 26th-ranked offense to score 37 points in the game’s final quarter.
It was a disappointing way to finish a game that had plenty of bright spots in it for the Cavs. But holding a 14-point second half lead and not being able to close out the victory is something that certainly stings, even if it’s to a team that was hot at the right time from the field.
In the fourth quarter, the Heat shot 12-of-17 from the floor, 5-of-8 from 3-point range, and made all eight free throws. Some of that was the result of poor defense, but more of it was because Miami made some difficult shots. Sometimes that happens and there’s nothing to do but tip your cap and move on.
The offense is certainly more of the issue. The Cavs shot just 39 percent from the field in the final quarter. Opening up the quarter, the Cavs made just three of their first 13 attempts from the floor, allowing Miami to erase a 7-point lead after the third quarter. Late in the game, the Cavs were able to figure it out a bit more, but it was ultimately too little too late to salvage a win.
In a sense, it feels like the Cavs wasted strong performances from a few guys that stepped up with Darius Garland (quad contusion) inactive on Friday. Donovan Mitchell finished with 42 points, his ninth game of 40 or more points this season. He was outstanding in the first half but didn’t have a great final quarter. Mitchell hit eight 3-pointers, but missed all four attempts he had from deep in the fourth quarter. With Garland out and even more on Mitchell’s shoulders, it's fair to wonder if he ran out of gas down the stretch after playing over 42 minutes.
With that said, the Cavs did get good efforts from both Isaac Okoro and Caris LeVert against Miami. Both players finished with 16 points on the night.
LeVert, who slid into the starting lineup in place of Garland, made four 3-pointers and had a high energy level on the defensive end. There are certainly nights when LeVert isn’t very good, but Friday night was not one of them.
As for Okoro, he only made one 3-pointer, but was overall pretty active offensively. He had good timing of when to cut to the basket when the ball was elsewhere, finding space to receive the ball near the rim for layups. He’s always going to provide strong defense, but if he can play this type of role offensively, it totally changes who the Cavs can be on that end of the floor, especially when Garland is back in the fold.
Shortening an already short rotation
With Garland out, that meant there was more room in the rotation to play a guy or two that has been on the bench lately. This meant that Cedi Osman was on the floor for the Cavs in the first half, and Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff stuck with his eight-man rotation that has been a staple over the past few games.
Osman played nearly 13 minutes in the first half, scoring seven points on six shots.
He didn’t play in the second half.
Instead, Bickerstaff only played seven guys in the third and fourth quarter, with the starters, plus Lamar Stevens and Ricky Rubio seeing the floor. This led to high minute totals for everybody except for Evan Mobley, who dealt with foul trouble throughout the night.
In fact, Friday night was the most that Rubio has played in a game this season, finishing with 25 minutes played.
That’s something that won’t be happening on a typical night when Garland is available, but it’s a nice thing for the Cavs to know it’s possible with Rubio at this point in his recovery process from his torn ACL last December. The Cavaliers only have one more remaining back-to-back this season, next Tuesday and Wednesday, that he could possibly play in, but that may not be something that makes sense for the Cavs to attempt.
Checking back in with a goal
Last week, I wrote that the goal for the Cavs over this five-game stretch that included a pair of games with Boston, a pair of games with Miami, and a game against Detroit mixed in, should be to go 3-2.
It didn’t always look great, but the Cavs did just that. Splitting the games with Boston and Miami while taking care of business against Detroit was a fair goal to set and certainly one that was achieved. Even if the final game leaves a bit of a bitter taste, the set of five games overall was a success. It’s fine to be disappointed with what happened on Friday, especially because it was a game the Cavaliers had control of for 36 minutes and couldn’t finish the deal.
But ultimately, if the trip to Miami is being treated as a road playoff setting, splitting those games would be considered a success.
The same can’t be said about the team’s next two games in Charlotte against the Hornets. Yes, Charlotte hasn’t been terrible lately, having won seven of its last 10 games, but these are games the Cavaliers simply have to show up and win.
Cavs center Jarrett Allen left the game in the fourth quarter after he appeared to be poked in the eye by Miami’s Bam Adebayo when the two were fighting over a rebound. Allen did not return and the Cavaliers called it a “right eye injury.”