Dribbles: Cavs Battle, Scrap, Then Let It Slip Away vs. Heat

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers‘ 107-104 loss to the Miami Heat on Wednesday.

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA
(Ron Schwane/AP)

1. This is a hard one to analyze. The Cavs were wildly shorthanded; but so were the Heat. The Cavs looked fairly lethargic at the start; then really turned it on toward the end.

2. Miami led by 11 at one point; the Cavs’ biggest lead was four. But they held that lead with 1:34 left in the game.

3. Then Terry Rozier happened. Northeast Ohio basketball fans are likely familiar with Rozier, a Youngstown native and product of Shaker Heights. Cavs fans definitely know him — because he’s been killing their team for several years now. First with the Charlotte Hornets, and now with the Heat.

4. Rozier scored nine points in the final two minutes, just about the time when all seemed lost. Four of those points came via a stepback 3-pointer, right over Isaac Okoro, who also committed a foul. Rozier hit the free throw.

5. As Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff suggested, it was good defense by Okoro — just better offense by Rozier. “They made some tough shots,” Bickerstaff said, and man oh man, was that an understatement.

6. Yes, the Cavs (43-26) were still missing Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Evan Mobley and Dean Wade. But the Heat (38-31) were without Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, old friend Kevin Love, Duncan Robinson and Josh Richardson.

7. Put all those injured players together and you might be able to reach the Finals.

8. But it also gave this one the feel of a preseason game … and then in the fourth quarter, a playoff game.

9. The Cavs had a chance to tie, but Darius Garland had to force a wild 3-pointer at the buzzer and it fell just short. It was actually a well-designed play. Miami just defended it well.

10. So still, the Cavs haven’t won back-to-back games since Feb. 25-27. That’s basically a month. For what it’s worth, Milwaukee lost to Boston, so the Cavs remain a game out of first in the Central Division and second in the Eastern Conference.

11. Jarrett Allen was again fantastic with 25 points and 20 rebounds. Equally impressive was how he held his own when the Heat went out of their way to make sure he got switched defensively — and wound up on smaller players out on the perimeter. Allen has been doing the job just about all season.

12. Garland finished with 20 points and nine assists (though just one in the second half), Georges Niang added 18 points, and Caris LeVert had 16 and a game-high 12 assists. Meanwhile, Sam Merrill went 4-of-9 shooting, all on threes, for 12 points.

13. LeVert again refused to let key injuries be the excuse. “We still feel like we can win these games,” he said. “Should’ve won tonight.”

14. He’s right. The Cavs probably should have. But say this much — they are scrapping most of the time, even on their worst days. The Heat were just scrappier when it meant the most.

15. More specifically, after a brief drought, the Heat scored on each of their final five possessions. Regardless of who’s on the floor or how the season is going, they always seem to be in the mix under coach Erik Spoelstra. The Cavs really battle; but the Heat pretty much invented the word.

16. That’s especially the case with Jimmy Butler, who scored a game-high 30, and again mostly via sheer will. Rozier finished with 24 and went 5-of-6 on threes.

17. And it’s not about to get any easier. The Cavs visit the West-contending Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, then get to face the Heat again on Sunday, this time in Miami. They’ve played three times this season and the home team has lost every time.

18. Bad loss for Cleveland? Not really. When you consider all the injuries, the final grade goes down as just another “incomplete.” But they do have to do a better job of closing some of these games. Not always, but sometimes.

19. As we relayed here, Mobley, Strus and Wade could be closing in on returns, likely little by little.

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