Dribbles: Cavs Battle, But A Little Too Shorthanded For Likes Of Kevin Durant, Suns

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 117-111 road loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday.Darius Garland, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns, NBA

1. That one was just tough. The Cavs have nothing to hang their heads about — but now they hit the road for three straight. Then they come home to play Miami in a little more than a week. Having to face Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal beforehand just doesn’t seem fair.

2. At least, not when you’re down three starters, and when one of those starters just happens to be Donovan Mitchell

3. Translation: The Cavs could really use a break. Unfortunately, all they have are a bruise (Mitchell’s knee), a sprain (Evan Mobley‘s ankle) and a strain (Max Strus‘ knee).

4. That’s three of the five starters and just for good measure, Dean Wade has missed the last two games for personal reasons (namely, a new baby).

5. Hey, better now than in April or May, right? That’s about the brightest outlook the Cavs can take away from what’s been going on lately.

6. Those who did play gave it their all, and for a while, there was hope. Darius Garland scored 21 points in the first quarter and the Cavs built a 19-point lead in the first half. There was energy and execution all around.

7. Then Durant, Booker and Beal did what they do best, and that’s to score at will. Meanwhile, the Cavs started to wear down. Eventually, Phoenix built a nine-point lead.

8. Give the Cavs credit, though. They battled back, and that has been a strong point all season. Things just got a little sloppy in the game’s most meaningful moments.

9. For instance, Garland failed to connect on a pass to Jarrett Allen that looked like an easy two points — but the ball slipped out of Allen’s hands. That occurred with just less than a minute left. Then, with 26 seconds to go and the Cavs down 113-111, Isaac Okoro stepped out of bounds when receiving a pass.

10. Mistakes happen. But in a game like this — when you’re without four key rotation pieces — every mishap is magnified. The margin for error is oh-so-small.

11. The Cavs (41-24) put up a sizzling 70 points in the first half. That’s great, but it also means they scored just 41 in the second. Part of that was because the Suns decided to let anyone besides Garland beat them. They blitzed, they trapped, they forced him to pass.

12. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff took part of the blame. “I’ve got to do a better job of helping our guys,” he said. “We have to find a way to score more than 41 in a half and that’s on me. I’ve got to find easier ways for our guys to score.”

13. In Bickerstaff’s defense, an easier way might be to have Mitchell, Strus and Mobley in the lineup. But let’s not harp on that for now.

14. Garland finished with 30 points, and Caris LeVert again started and finished with 17 points and 11 assists. Both continued to attack even when all seemed lost.

15. LeVert on the loss: “I feel like we fought. … But you know, they got hot.”

16. He refused to use all the injuries as an excuse. “We know we’re capable of winning these types of games, regardless of who’s out there,” he said.

17. Rookie Craig Porter Jr. added 13 points and seven rebounds off the bench, finishing 5-of-7 shooting and with one monster jam. Porter shared the court with Garland and LeVert near the end, and both of the veterans admitted they liked having him out there.

18. Allen went for 15 points and 10 boards, and Okoro scored 13 and made his usual hustle plays on defense. But as LeVert simply and perfectly stated, the Suns just got hot.

19. Durant erupted a game-high 37 points, including 19 in the all-important third quarter. At 35 years old, he remains a joy to watch. Unless, of course, he’s going against your guys. Booker scored 27, Beal had 24 and Grayson Allen added 14 on 4-of-5 shooting on 3-pointers. Those four stat lines alone are enough to beat just about anybody.

20. Milwaukee didn’t play on Monday — so for those keeping score at home, the Cavs are still just one game out of first in the Central Division and second in the East. But they sure could use at least Mitchell as they now head to New Orleans, followed by road games in Houston and Indiana. 

21. Bottom line: The Cavs are fighting, but they’ve now lost five of eight. There are just 17 to go. Getting the lineup closer to whole will be a much-needed boost when they could really use one.

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