Eventually, you’re going to have a less-than-stellar night on the road against a hungry opponent, and it will cost you.
That was basically the story for the Cavaliers in their 117-104 loss to the Bulls on Wednesday night in Chicago.
The Cavs (27-19) were far from bad. They just weren’t good enough when it meant the most — namely, in the game’s final four minutes or so.
It’s true, as the Cavs trailed by just a point with a little more than 4:00 to go. Then came some untimely turnovers. There were also a couple of important shots in there that were missed. Mostly, the Bulls found their range at the other end, finishing the game on a 14-2 run.
Actually, the Bulls closed each half with a big spurt, and that, folks, was truly the difference.
Still, there was plenty to like, perhaps even some things to love. Granted, the Bulls were missing their starting backcourt of Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball. But we’re talking about an opponent that sits in first place in the Eastern Conference, an opponent that was playing at home.
We’re also talking about an opponent that still had sure-fire All-Star in guard/forward DeMar DeRozan, who simply could not be stopped on his way to a game-high 30 points.
But the Cavs had their reasons to continue to believe, too. And plenty of them.
Lauri Markkanen had his best night since coming over from Chicago against his former team in its building — scoring 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 on 3-pointers.
Darius Garland tacked on yet another double-double to the tune of 20 points and 12 assists. Evan Mobley scored 18, including eight in the first 12 minutes to sort of set the tone. And that tone? That the Cavs had every intention of making a game of this.
By the way, Garland now has 14 double-doubles, twice as may in his first two seasons combined, as the Cavs’ PR department pointed out.
There were some trouble spots, sure. The Bulls (28-15) seemed to get every open look they wanted from beyond the arc in the corners. It resulted in a banner night for rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu, a second-round pick who finished with 18 points and 3-of-4 shooting on threes.
And again, there were those turnovers at the most inopportune time, late in the game. For the night, the Cavs finished with 14 (compared to nine for the Bulls).
“We can’t have those lapses,” Markkanen said. “Obviously, they’re a good team, so nothing away from them. But every time we got close, we gave up something easy for them — a wide-open corner 3, or a wide-open layup. We gotta learn how to close these games out.”
Still, this game had a little bit of everything, most notably a playoff-like atmosphere. Cleveland had won five straight entering the night, and this is the NBA regular season. No one has ever won them all.
So this actually could be chalked up to a “schedule loss” against the team with the best record in the East on their own court. For most of the night, the Cavs were right there.
Now, the next three are at home, with the next road game against the lowly Pistons. Basically, for such a young team that is still learning and growing from these experiences, the Cavs are showing strides even in defeat.
That’s what we should take away from this one.
Kevin Love added 13 points in reserve, and Isaac Okoro had his moments on his way to eight points and three assists (but zero rebounds in 30 minutes). Jarrett Allen was fairly quiet with six points, but did grab 10 boards.