CLEVELAND -- All throughout the 2016 NBA Playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers talked about how important it was for them to play with pace, and how much better they were when keeping things under control on offense.
And it worked to the tune of sweeping through the first two rounds of the postseason, fighting through a tough Toronto Raptors team in the Eastern Conference Finals and then, overcoming a 3-1 deficit against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals to win the organization's first-ever league title.
The Cavaliers played with enough pace to start the season at 6-0, but got out of their rhythm and suffered a 110-106 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Quicken Loans Arena Tuesday night.
“We didn’t play with the pace we wanted and a lot of that showed,” power forward Kevin Love said. “At halftime, we didn’t have any fast-break points. Last game, we really pushed the pace. It was a close one in Philly, but we should’ve used the pace to our advantage and play our style. We didn’t do that.
“Second half, we didn’t necessarily start out right, but they got us going. ‘Bron got going, Kyrie hit some big shots, put us within striking distance in the fourth quarter, but you’ve got to hand it to them. They made some big shots when it counted. We felt like we had good push at the end, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Down by as many as 18 points in the third quarter, the Cavaliers battled back and cut the deficit to two when power forward Channing Frye and shooting guard J.R. Smith buried consecutive three-pointers in the last minute of the period.
However, a foul on a three-point attempt and three free throws from Kent Bazemore put the Hawks’ lead back up to five by the end of the third. The Cavaliers spent the entire fourth quarter battling their way back into the game, but could only trim Atlanta’s lead down to three points over the final 12 minutes of play.
“It’s tough,” Love said. “We let up a little bit, and that’s a team that plays really hard, is well coached. They have different lineups that they can go with. They can go small and stretch the floor with guys that made huge plays for them, big shots really the last few possessions between Bazemore, Schroeder and Millsap. Those guys all made shots. We did too, kept ourselves within striking distance, but it just wasn’t enough. We need a better effort Friday.”
Love feels the Cavaliers need to have a better effort because despite a sub-.500 record, the Washington Wizards average 98.7 points, 42.7 rebounds and 18.2 assists per game.
“Defensively, we weren’t necessarily the greatest,” Love said. “It’s something that we’ll look at film and try to be better, especially because the backcourt in Washington is always very tough. They play well at home. They’re going to get downhill and try to put us in tough positions.”