December 21, 2014

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Third is no charm

Start of 2nd half proves costly

CLEVELAND — Cancel the guy who juggles bowling pins, dishes and even chairs. Ix-nay the scantily clad woman who can twist herself into a pretzel. Forget about the lady who layers her clothes so she can jump behind a curtain and change about 40 times in a 10-minute span.
Beginning Sunday night at 8:30 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavaliers should try to eliminate the halftime break and play four consecutive quarters.
“It has to get better soon or we’re not going to be in this series,” LeBron James said Friday at The Q when asked about his team’s struggles early in the third quarter.
In each of the first two games of the best-of-seven series, both of them 79-76 losses at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the Cavaliers controlled the first half, only to have the Pistons dominate the early stages of the third quarter.
In Game 1, Cleveland led
41-35 at intermission — it probably should have been up a lot more — but Detroit scored seven unanswered points in the first 91 seconds of the third quarter. It was even worse in Game 2, as the Cavaliers blew a 50-38 halftime lead by being outscored 21-7 over the first 11 minutes of the second half.
“We can’t put our finger on it right now,” James aid. “If we could, we’d fix it.”
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown has tried calling a series of timeouts in the third quarter of both games, but that hasn’t worked. Whatever he’s told his team in the huddle hasn’t done any good, either, and changes in personnel have been too slow to occur.
“How do we get a better jump?” Brown asked rhetorically. “We’ve got to play better.”
Very true, but Brown also has to coach a lot better, because Flip Saunders and his Detroit staff are dominating when it comes to halftime adjustments.
When the Pistons went on an 8-2 run to start the third, Brown called time with 7:35 to go, but all five starters were still in the game when Cleveland came back on the floor.
When the Pistons extended their run to 11-2 to pull within 52-49, Brown called a 20-second timeout with 6:00 on the clock. Once again, he made no substitutions on a night when three of his starters — Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden and Zydrunas Ilgauskas — ended up combining for just 11 points on 5-of-19 shooting.
“That’s our starting group that’s won a lot of games for us,” Brown said. “They helped us get where we are. I wanted to give them an opportunity.”
Brown started subbing shortly after, but before Cleveland got itself righted, the Pistons had taken a two-point lead.
“They turn on a switch or something,” Gooden said. “We just need to match their intensity.”
That certainly hasn’t happened, as Brown pointed out that on his team’s first 10 possessions of the third quarter, nine resulted in either a turnover or a shot from at least 18 feet. The only time Cleveland scored was when a desperate Sasha Pavlovic retrieved a loose ball near midcourt, put his head down, took about four dribbles without looking up and made an 11-footer in the lane.
With two field goals, Pavlovic was the only Cleveland player to score over the first 9½ minutes of the period. James missed a baseline 18-footer on the first possession of the second half, then didn’t take another shot the rest of the quarter. He did, however, commit three of the Cavaliers’ five turnovers in the period.
With their superstar scoring five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the second half, the Cavaliers scored only 26 points after intermission, when they had more turnovers (11) than field goals (10-of-33).
If nothing else, at least the Cavaliers were consistent, scoring 13 points in each of the final two quarters. This after Cleveland scored 34 points in the second period, largely because Brown got daring and went to a small lineup that emphasized 3-point shooting.
Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, however, he started putting a number of his starters back into the game. That included Hughes, who quickly made two horrible turnovers, then missed a wide-open 10-footer in the closing seconds. Over the last four games, Hughes is 10-of-45 from the field.
Things got so bad at one point that as the Cavaliers were coming off the floor for a timeout, James was screaming at assistant coach Melvin Hunt, presumably about the team’s lack of offensive execution.
That timeout also did no good, and for the second straight game, the Cavaliers had none left to stop the clock when Detroit missed a free throw in the closing seconds.
Of course, had the Cavaliers started the third period with the same intensity with which they ended the second, they may have had the game wrapped up prior to the final moments.
“That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year — having the lead and losing it, then having a tight game at the end,” Gooden said.
The power forward, who had a deer-in-the-headlights look for most of the night while getting one rebound in 17 minutes, said the Cavaliers tried to change their third-quarter fortunes by leaving the locker room two minutes earlier than normal, thinking more warmup time might be beneficial.
That didn’t work, and neither did a frantic Brown’s yelling and screaming from the sideline, traits he rarely exhibited during the regular season.
That means there may be only one solution: Cancel the Frisbee-catching canine and eliminate halftime altogether.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

next up
WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
WHAT: Game 3
WHEN: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Quicken Loans Arena
TV/RADIO: TNT; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM