Cavaliers drop fifth straight with 120-115 loss to red hot Suns
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - The Cleveland Cavaliers are in the process of building a team that the organization hopes can return the franchise to the NBA Finals. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Cavs could learn from the model that their Wednesday night opponent built.
The Cavaliers hosted the Phoenix Suns, a franchise that reached the Finals for the first time since 1993 last season, on Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The Suns built their roster through remarkable drafting and key acquisitions, and they now stand as one of the best teams in the league. The Cavs hope to wear that label sometime within the next five years.
The Suns arrived in Cleveland on Wednesday riding a 13-game winning streak, boasting the second-best record in the NBA. With a young superstar in Devin Booker, a talented developing center in Deandre Ayton, budding role players in Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, all of whom have yet to reach 26 years old, and a future Hall of Fame point guard in Chris Paul, Phoenix has essentially outlined a blueprint that the Cavs could attempt to follow.
As they try to build to that point, the Cavs are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season thus far. They entered the game against Phoenix on a four-game losing streak, missing several of their talented youngsters, and the skid extended to five games as Phoenix topped the Cavs 120-115.
The Cavs (9-10) trailed by a single point, 87-86, heading into the fourth quarter, and a slow start to the period nearly allowed the Suns break the game open. Cleveland went almost the first four minutes of the fourth quarter without scoring, missing their first six shots and turning the ball over twice. Meanwhile, the Suns made seven of their first 10 shots in the quarter and led 102-93 with 6:24 to play. The Cavs, though, showed the grit down the stretch that they’ve fought with throughout the early season.
Cedi Osman reached 12 points in the fourth quarter alone, when he knocked down a three-pointer with 3:49 remaining that brought Cleveland within a 105-104 deficit. When Jarrett Allen converted a layup with 1:59 to play, the Cavs had come all the way back to tie the game at 109 apiece. The Cavs found themselves down three points twice in the final 10 seconds of regulation, but the Suns intentionally fouled Ricky Rubio twice before the Cavs could attempt a game-tying three-pointer, and he missed the front end on both occasions.
“We kept fighting,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We put ourselves in a position again down the stretch to be in a basketball game. We’re playing against some really good teams with some really good individual players that can make those plays down the stretch. It’s our learning curve to understand the same thing, is how do we make those plays down the stretch when we’re in these games. We’re going to be in a lot of games like this, the way our guys compete, the way they play, we’re going to be in a lot of tight fourth quarters, and we just have to fight our way through it.”
Behind 35 points from Booker, the Suns (15-3) extended their winning streak to 14 games, which began against the Cavs in Phoenix on Oct. 30. Phoenix point guard Chris Paul finished with 17 points and 12 assists, seven of those dimes coming in a high-paced first half.
Cleveland led 66-61 at halftime with four Cavaliers reaching double figures in scoring by the end of the first two quarters. Booker was a flamethrower in the first half, scoring 24 points before the second half ever arrived.
“We came out excellent,” Allen said. “They were, what, on a 13-game winning streak? We could have easily come out flat, thinking they’re going to run over us, they still got the hot hand, but we came in, we threw the first punch.”
Two of the players the Cavs have recently hit on in the draft, Collin Sexton and Evan Mobley, missed the game against Phoenix with injuries. Sexton is out for the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee, while Mobley is out with a sprained right elbow. With those two players out, the Cavs have struggled to show what they’re fully capable of, but Mobley should be back sometime within the next few weeks.
“We have some really quality draft picks,” Bickerstaff said. “Now, you’re adding that experience around those guys to help support them and give them an opportunity to grow and learn, and those guys can take some of the pressure off. We’ve done that with the addition of guys like Ricky and obviously Kevin (Love) being here, Ed Davis is experienced and those types of things.”
Allen led the Cavs with 25 points and 11 rebounds on Wednesday, while Osman finished with 23 points. Darius Garland totaled 19 points and seven assists before fouling out with 1:19 to play. Allen (23 years old), Garland (21 years old) and Osman (26 years old) are key members of the Cavs’ young core. Bickerstaff sees similarities in how the Suns built their roster to how the Cavs are building for the future.
“There’s hope for that, yeah,” Bickerstaff said about the success the Suns have achieved. “For them, it was a process to get to where they are now. You look at some of the guys that they drafted through that process that are no longer there, the assets they accumulated to go out and get a guy like Chris Paul. That is our goal, to achieve the things that they’ve achieved and build the way they’ve kind of built.”
The Suns showed mental toughness down the stretch on Wednesday, as the Cavs are still learning how to close out games. Nevertheless, Cleveland has certainly shown that they are growing before our eyes.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Bickerstaff said. “The job that Monty (Williams) has done with them, the job that Champ (general manager James Jones) has done with them, they’ve done a phenomenal job of putting that team together. Seeing a culture grow and an identity grow speaks volumes about the job that Monty’s done, and you can see the guys have bought in and all they care about is each other and winning.”
The Cavs will look to secure their first win in two weeks when host they Orlando Magic on Saturday at 8 pm.
POSTED 11/24/2021 22:58