The Cleveland Cavaliers had the perfect opportunity to pull closer to the eighth, and final, playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a solid effort against one of the teams they are chasing, the Atlanta Hawks, at the Philips Arena Friday night.
But that perfect opportunity went by the boards quickly, as the Hawks outscored the Cavaliers by 16 points in the first quarter, and rode that momentum to a 117-98 victory.
"Offensively, I haven't seen us play like this in maybe a month and a half, two months. Maybe more," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "Give the Hawks credit for what they did to us defensively."
Not only did the Cavaliers struggle to shoot the ball, as they converted 36 of 91 attempts, but they allowed the Hawks to make 58.5 percent of their field goals, and 44.8 percent of their three-pointers.
"For us, defensively, we couldn't stop anybody," Brown said. "We were getting blown by. We were, at times, making up coverages out there on our own because we were in scramble mode so much.
"They'd drive the ball, we'd pull over to help, and they'd kick it. We'd close out, they'd pump fake. We'd leave our feet, they'd lean into us and pick up a foul or they'd blow right by us to start the drive-and-kick again. They had us off balance and in scramble mode the entire night.
"Half the team's working and half the team's not, and it happened on multiple occasions with multiple guys. To see stuff like that, to see blow-bys, to see us dribble the ball 15 times and take a contested shot at this point in the season, that, to me, is disappointing. You can stomach a loss if there's something behind it, but tonight, I didn't feel like there was anything behind it."
With the loss to the Hawks, the Cavaliers are now three back of the final playoff spot with only five games to play, including Saturday's matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats at Quicken Loans Arena.
"It doesn't feel like it's over, but the loss was very, very disappointing," Brown said. "I'm okay with losses, even right now. You want to win every game you play, but sometimes, it's not going to happen. If you lose a certain way, you could stomach it to a certain degree, but the way we lost, it was like we weren't playing for much out there. We were going through the motions, it would look like."
Cavaliers point guard Jarrett Jack added, "There's a lot of basketball left, and we can only control what happens in this locker room with the group of guys that's here. We haven't been focusing on it lately, and we're just going to continue playing and see what happens at the end of everything. We don't have any choice. It's do-or-die tomorrow, and for the rest of the season. We've just got to look at the one task in front of us, and that's the Charlotte Bobcats."