The Cavaliers lost again last night.
Sound familiar? It should. That's been the headline after Cleveland's last 25 games. When a team loses that many games in a row, they're bound to cover just about all aspects of the losing spectrum... and the Cavaliers have.
Start with blowouts. Obviously the game against Los Angeles stands out—on that fateful January night the Cavaliers set a new low in futility when they nearly lost by more points (55) than they scored for the entire game (57). All in all, they've lost 15 games by double-digits during the streak.
Then there's the "hanging in there, just not quite good enough" losses. On Dec. 28, the Cavs trailed Orlando by just one heading into the fourth. Then, the Magic knocked down six three-pointers. Cleveland couldn't recover.
And you can't forget the games against (other) bottom-tier teams. These stung the most. The Cavs lost at home to the lowly Raptors, by 15. They blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead, again at home, against the Timberwolves. And, with a foul to give, they were unable to stop Brook Lopez in the post in the final seconds of a tie game. That night, they lost to the Nets by two.
But last night?
Last night's loss fell into an entire different category, one that this particular Cavaliers fan didn't know existed.
It's not entirely because of the now NBA record 25th consecutive loss (though the stakes of that loss may have played its part). It was exactly how an historically bad streak should culminate: an undermanned team scrapping against one of the league's best, somehow hanging in the game despite making mistakes to fall behind big, somehow rallying, somehow doing everything down the stretch necessary to win... only to watch it all collapse—toward disaster—in the final six seconds.
It's been about 12 hours since the end.
And I still don't really have any rational and coherent thoughts about the deciding sequence (other than my original reaction of a few expletives.) I remember looking at the lineup on the floor.
Alright, I thought, if they get stop here, who's gonna shoot it?
I didn't want any of those guys with the ball. Of Cleveland's best catch-and-shoot three-point options (Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson and Christian Eyenga...that's right, I said Eyenga), two of them were sitting next to Scott.
Ramon Sessions and Jamario Moon combined to make a great defensive play on Dirk Nowitzki, swooping down in the paint where Dirk slipped a pick-and-roll to deflect the pass. That gave the Cavs a chance. But instead of calling timeout, Byron Scott allowed his guys to race up court and set something up themselves.
Bam! Stop it right there. With a team like this, in a situation like they're in, you can't rely on them to get a clean look in a few seconds off a helter-skelter play. You ever see the reaction from little kids when a pinata is busted open? It's a madhouse. They can't control themselves. They get too greedy, too excited.
And the Cavs did exactly that.
The "bigger kids" (veterans Antawn Jamison and Parker) had been going for the most candy they could grab down the stretch. Down eight with three minutes to go, Jamison chucked a horrible contested 20-foot baseline jumper (and missed).
Then, he put up two quick three pointers in a span of about 20 seconds—one which did cut the lead to three. But the other came with about 19 on the shot clock when the Cavs had a chance to actually run something on offense. They had the opportunity to cut the lead to one—or even to tie it. That didn't happen.
Watching the final two minutes, I couldn't help but think of Celtics coach Doc Rivers. He famously addressed his team in huddles "[not] to be the hero, and don't take the hero shot."
In those last two minutes, the Cavs didn't play like a team—which had kept them in the game for the other 46 minutes. Instead, the Cavs hogged "hero ball," as Rivers might say. Jamison threw from long range. J.J. Hickson drew a charge call with less than a minute to go. Anthony Parker decided not to call a time out. Instead, he pulled up for a three.
And, well, once they got the rebound with a final two seconds, no one wanted the final shot. Suddenly no one wanted to be the hero.
Parker and Jamison are veterans on this team. They deserve better than to toil away the last few productive years of their career on a team that has lost 25 consecutive games. But at the same time, they need to realize their days of being "heroic"—by taking contested shots—are over.
Their biggest assets to the team come with leadership. They ought to provide a calming influence over the young guys in the final minutes, not add to the panic.
Then again, if Parker had come down-court and dished to Moon, we'd be crying: "What the hell were you doing?!" The whole scenario was a no-win situation.
That's why it falls back on the coach.
So what now for the Cavs? Where do they go from here? How can you possibly pick up the pieces and move on with a roster that has dropped 25 in a row?
It might actually be easier than expected.
If the last four games have shown anything, it's that this roster does have a few talented young pieces that can play in the league.
It's that they do have a strong competitive streak.
It's that they can, contrary to popular belief, win a few games in the final two months.
The Cavs have been showcased more in the last week than ever since Dec. 2. It started with the game against LeBron and the Heat. The more recent losses to Memphis, Portland and Dallas all have each had some historical significance. And the national media has broken out every angle available: is this the worst team ever, woe is Cleveland, LeBron left them rattled, etc.
For the last few days my Twitter timeline has filled with Cavs-related stories and tidbits from NBA scribes all over the country. They'll undoubtedly stop after today.
The rest of the country will forget, until the Cavs finally win a game, and then Cleveland will slip back into their subconscious for good.
As a Cleveland fan, I've corrected myself from saying, "It can't get any worse." Because it has.
But not this time. The Cavs already have the record—it's done and there's no going back. Now they can get away from the spotlight, so to speak, and just play.
Better days are ahead. They have to be.
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