CLEVELAND — This is the kind of loss some Cavaliers fans don’t mind.
Close game. Goes down to the wire. Tons of fun. The Cavs keep it competitive, but don’t win — strengthening their draft position as a potential lottery team.
Nothing wrong with any of that, really.
But when it comes to the Cavs’ 86-83 loss to visiting Boston on Tuesday, you could see it on the faces of the players and coaches. You could tell that this one hurt. You could tell they want the playoffs, and you could tell they understood these are the types of games they have to win.
It didn’t end until Cavs guard Anthony Parker, back from a 12-game absence with back spasms, missed a fallaway 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
“Tough loss,” was how Cavs coach Byron Scott described it. “The guys really, really competed and played hard.”
Scott then talked about how his team “didn’t make enough shots” and how it committed a couple of key turnovers. He’s right, as the Cavs shot a shade less than 40 percent from the field.
Rookie guard Kyrie Irving also made a couple of questionable passes, the turnovers about which Scott was mostly referring. Most notably was a one-handed job that followed an Irving drive. He tried to kick it back out, but the ball ended up in the hands of the Celtics.
“That’s a pass he’s tried a few times, but I think more often than not, it gets picked off,” Scott said. “You’ve got 6-foot-11 guys on you, so that’s a hard pass to make.”
Don’t misunderstand. Scott was hardly disgusted.
“He’ll learn from that; it’s no big deal,” Scott said. “The idea was correct. (Antawn Jamison) was wide open, it was just a matter of trying to get him the ball.”
Besides all that, Irving was again the biggest reason the Cavs were even in it in the first place. He finished with a game-high 24 points on 8-for-14 shooting (including 3-for-3 on 3-pointers).
“He’s terrific,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “His handling skills and his moxie in the fourth quarter, I don’t know that we’ve ever seen that in a rookie. It’s just pretty amazing what he’s doing.”
Fellow Cavs rookie Tristan Thompson came off the bench to supply 13 points and 10 rebounds, again giving an indication that things in Cleveland could be dazzling in years to come.
But, for the coaches and players, this is about the here and now. And hard-fought losses like this, against opposing teams in the playoff chase, can really sting.
Today, the Cavs are 13-19 and the Celtics are 16-17. Each expects to keep close tabs on the other until the bitter end. Same goes for the Cavs and Wednesday’s opponent. The Cavs head to New York after nine straight home games.
“We talked about it before the All-Star break,” Scott said. “We knew once we got back, we’d be playing two teams in front of us, and they’re two teams that are playing pretty well. We felt Boston, coming into the second half of the season, would pick it back up. They’re a veteran team. They understand what it takes.”
And the Knicks?
“New York is on a high right now, you know how well they’ve been playing,” Scott said. “So we knew the first two games (after the break) would be tough.”
At this point, you could pretty much say the same about every game. At least, you could when you know the Cavs’ mindset, where they want to go and how they plan to get there.
A starting point would be to win games like the one Tuesday. But if you can’t do that, at least you can learn from the losses and take it from there.
Either way, the Cavs come out looking pretty good.
“We’ve had a couple of close fourth quarters,” Irving said. “Some of them we finished out and some we haven’t. It’s a learning experience for us as we all continue to get better.”