CLEVELAND -- "It's not about the start. It's about the finish."
But sometimes, a difficult start can lead to a quick finish.
During their four-game losing streak against teams bound for the postseason, including Saturday's 118-111 loss to the Houston Rockets, the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled with their first-quarter defense. With their own playoff hopes dissipating with every loss, the players know the tide has to change.
"We've got to come out with the mindset that we've got to play with the same energy we did the last five minutes in every game," said Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters. "We're shorthanded, so we don't have a lot of room for mistakes.
"These last few teams that came in are playoff teams. These last couple games down the stretch are going to be playoff basketball because these are playoff teams fighting for their seasons.
"We're still fighting and we know that. We've just got to have a sense of urgency, come out here with the same energy. We've got to have energy right from the start and not come out here lackadaisical and always get punched in the mouth first and then, realize we need to throw a punch back. We should be ready. Everybody should be ready when the ball is tipped."
The Cavaliers struggled early against the Rockets Saturday, and it forced them to burn two timeouts in the first quarter after Houston jumped out to a 17-4 lead. In their previous loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, 102-95, on Thursday, the Cavaliers played well in the first quarter, but were outscored by 14 in the second.
"These teams coming in are fighting for seasons, and we're still alive too," Waiters said. "It's not over, and I think we should know that. We've got to play hard. We've got to play together and play for one another, especially if you're shorthanded. I'm going to make sure I go out there and play a game like it's my last because you never know. We don't have a lot of room for mistakes, especially in this league today. We've got to come out with the mindset that we've got to hit right way. We've got to be the team that throws the first punch.
"We've just got buckle down. It's not hard. We've got to talk. We've got to be at the spots on the defensive end. We've got to rebound. We've got to do all of the little things on a team that's missing a lot of players from injury. We've got to be locked in mentally."
While admitting it was tough to watch the team struggle against the Rockets, who built a 29-point advantage during the third quarter of the win over his Cavaliers, coach Mike Brown believes it could have been worse if the players had given up hope.
"If they have, we would've gotten beaten by 40," Brown said. "What we have to do a better job of is coming out at the beginning of the game, hitting first and not giving our opponent a confidence level that's hard to combat for 48 minutes. You come out and you let them hit four of five, or whatever it was from the three-point line, now, that rim looks like it's an ocean. It's hard to fight that or combat that the rest of the game. To me, that's where it has to start. We've got to get a consistent effort for a 48-minute period."
Waiters added, "I feel as though every time a team goes on a run, we put our heads down like the game is over. Every time we play with that sense of urgency, that toughness we need to play with that last five minutes, you look up and we're only down seven or eight with two minutes left. We've just got to learn how to do that from the tip at the beginning."