The Cleveland Cavaliers ended their third losing streak of the season at two with a 101-97 victory over the Phoenix Suns at the Talking Stick Arena on Dec. 28. Up 96-95 and about ready to expire, Kyrie Irving sank a three-pointer from the top of the circle to give Cleveland a 99-95 lead with 21.9 seconds left.
The game was close for the most part, Cleveland led by as many as 11. The Cavaliers led the entire second half and pushed their lead to nine on a couple of occasions with the last time occurring at the 6:25 mark in the fourth (91-82) following a pair of free throws by LeBron James. The Suns (12-21) then went on a 13-6 spurt and was poised to take their first lead of the second half on back-to-back trifectas by Brandon Knight but Tyson Chandler was called for an offensive foul, for an illegal screen, prior to Knight releasing the second three-point attempt.
Irving, who had a team-high 22 points, sealed the win for Cleveland (20-9) with a pair of free throws with 8.0 seconds remaining. The win was the Cavs first road win on their current four-game road trip, they are now 7-8 away for Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland plays concludes the west coast swing tonight against the Denver Nuggets (12-19).
T.J. Warren led the way for the Suns (12-21) with 23 points and Knight chipped in with 18. Phoenix has lost six straight and 16-of-21.
Despite the overall lackluster performance, there were several good things and some not so good things for the Cavs.
Irving had his best performance in his fourth game of the season – making 7-of-16 shots from the field, including 2-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also was 6-of-6 from the free throw line and committed one turnover to go along with two assists in 24 minutes of action.
Irving, who is a creator and does most of his damage off the dribble, was free-flowing last night. He got to the basket on a consistent basis versus the Suns, creating shots for himself and his teammates – Irving made 4-of-6 shots within 12 feet.
Irving scored the final seven points of the game for the Cavs. He finished with a plus-7 rating and had a game score of 15.3 as well as a usage percentage of 39.4% — both of which are season-highs. Cleveland is 3-1 with Irving in the lineup and a +26 with him on the court.
Smith had one of his better games of the season. He finished with 17 points with all of his shots coming from beyond the arc (5-of-11), which is typical for Smith. More importantly, Smith saved at least three possessions for Cavs and recorded a +/- rating of 15 –which was his first positive rating in the past three games.
Smith made an off-balance three-pointer after catching a wide skip-pass from Kevin Love in the deep right corner with five seconds on the shot clock to give the Cavs a 51-48 lead midway through the second quarter. Later in the quarter, Smith caught a pass in the air, outside the three-point line and while still in the air threw a behind-the-back pass to Kevin Love. His most important save came when he alertly grabbed a bad pass by Irving and while in the air threw a bounce-pass to Love on the left wing with 5.0 on the shot clock. Love, with a Sun in his face, kicked to Irving at the top of the key. Irving banged home the triple with .3 on the shot clock.
“J.R. Smith made an incredible winning play to save that ball,” Cleveland coach David Blatt said. “That ball was going out of bounds and it looked like it would be their possession. He made a fabulous save. Kyrie made a huge shot.”
For the season, Smith attempts 54.6 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and 58.4 percent of his points comes on three-pointers.
First half offense
Shooting just 39.6 percent over the last three games, the Cavs up the scoreboard in the first half against the Suns. Cleveland attacked the hoop and had good ball movement. The Cavs finished the half with 60 points, their second highest output in the first half of the season, while shooting a season-high 62 percent from the floor. Cleveland also made 11-of-their-19 long-distance shots, the Cavs finished the game with 19 triples.
James is in midst of his worst-three game stretch of his career. The King did move up on the NBA’s all-time scoring and assists lists to 17th and 22nd, respectively. However, he tallied just 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting. James was also just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc and 5-of-9 from the free throw line while finishing with a +3 rating.
James is averaging 17.6 points over the last three games as he has struggled with his shot, making 36.7 percent of his shots from the field and 56.5 percent from the charity. He is a -35 rating during this stretch.
While the Cavs’ reserves went awful, they ended up being outscored 36-27 and finished the night -22. Matthew Dallavedova shot the ball well from distance but he struggled with turnovers. Also, Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao didn’t get off the bench.
The Cavs committed 17 turnovers with 10 coming from the team’s reserves. Phoenix came up with eight steals, six coming off bad passes, and turned those turnovers into 19 points with 10 coming on the fast break. Cleveland made several other bad passes.
The Cavs defense. The league’s No. 2 scoring defense allowed a team to score over 90 points for just the second time in the last five games. The problem was how easy it was for Phoenix.
Cleveland allowed Phoenix to shoot 45.6 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from beyond the arc (11-of-25). The Cavs also permitted the Suns to score 40 points in the paint and 11 second chance opportunities, which they turned into 16 points.
Phoenix got into the lane off of the dribble and via cuts, often unmolested. Cleveland didn’t do a good job boxing out, as Phoenix grabbed 14 offensive caroms – on three separate occasions the Cavs allowed a missed shot bounce right to T.J. Warren. The Cavs did come up with eight steals and eight blocks.