CLEVELAND, Ohio — There is almost never any one reason a team loses a basketball game.
So the Cavs’ colossal mistake(s) on a risky play call late in overtime of a 118-115 loss to the Spurs wasn’t the sole culprit in this loss.
But no one in the Cleveland locker room was too impressed.
The Cavs trailed 116-113 at the time. The turnover went to LeBron James, his seventh, when his pass in the corner went to no one with 24.2 seconds left.
But James did exactly what he was supposed to on the play, which was drawn up by coach Tyronn Lue out of a timeout. Neither Tristan Thompson nor Kyrie Irving followed the plan, and James suggested they forgot the play.
“As a ball club that’s trying to win a championship, we can’t have you go from a timeout to the court and forget what you’re supposed to do,” James said. “It’s that simple.”
The Cavs tried to run a “hammer” action, in which Thompson was supposed to set a backscreen for Irving to run to the corner where James was throwing the ball. The play involves James catching the ball in the post and throwing it behind his back. The Cavs call it “punch-snap-hammer,” a play featured in a story in early January by ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
The Cavs first ran the play in the middle of a game in early November against Orlando. It was called for Mike Dunleavy (who’s since been traded), and James threw the perfect pass to him and he caught it and drained the 3.
This time, in overtime of a marquee game, after James and Irving had nearly logged 45 and 41 minutes, respectively, Thompson never made it near Irving’s defender (Danny Green) and Irving never broke.
“We watched it on tape, Kyrie would’ve been open,” Lue said. “Danny Green had no clue what was going on but we didn’t execute it right.
“There was confusion at the beginning, with the first part of it, but then Tristan has to come up and set the hammer,” Lue continued. “He kind of stopped in the middle of the paint because I guess the way (LaMarcus) Aldridge was guarding him or whatever. But we didn’t execute it cleanly.”
The replay showed Green looking active and aware of his surroundings, though who’s to say what would’ve happened had Thompson gotten to him early in the play? Thompson never came near Irving, and thus Irving broke to the corner.
“There was a miscue there was supposed to be a flare on the back side with me and Tristan,” Irving explained. “Going forward we’ll probably look at film and see where we can get better at that throughout the whole entire game.”
Asked to further divulge the miscue, Irving said “Just a miscue, just a miscue. That’s all.”
Spurs hold off Cavs
This loss seemed to sting the Cavs a little. James and Irving each scored 29 points, and as previously mentioned the played a ton of minutes. Kevin Love posted 13 points and 11 rebounds coming back from a back injury. Thompson scored 14 and grabbed 12 boards.
The Cavs committed 14 of their 18 turnovers after halftime, and were blown out to start the second and fourth quarters after building leads.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, but Lue said James getting into early foul trouble prevented the Cavs from putting James on him until the fourth quarter. Though Leonard scored 12 in the fourth, he missed his last five shots.
James had a chance to win the game in regulation but missed a step-back 3.
Even Love had a desperation 3 attempt at the end of overtime that could’ve tied it, but he missed badly.
“That wasn’t what lost us the game. I missed the shot, but a couple after-timeouts we didn’t run the right play and we had our opportunities and that shot was bad. That wasn’t what did it. It was a number of plays and missed execution on our part.”