Cavs taught another tough lesson in defeat

CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers are going to have nights like Saturday.

The other team is just more experienced, more cohesive, more sure of who it is and where it’s going.

The Cavs’ 112-104 home loss to the Houston Rockets comes down to Cleveland losing to a better team. Period.

There were some bright spots: Kyrie Irving’s 30 points, Tristan Thompson’s career-high 16 rebounds, Alonzo Gee’s strong defense and even the Cavs burying 25-of-28 free throws (89 percent).

Truth is, the Cavs (8-27) probably played every bit as good as they did in Friday’s win at Charlotte. But the Rockets aren’t the Bobcats. The Rockets are James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik with Patrick Patterson coming off the bench.

Of those, you probably had heard most about Harden, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard in his first season with the Rockets. Harden is a master at drawing fouls, knocking down free throws and hitting long-range missiles when it means the most.

That was Harden again Saturday night.

He scored just four points in the first half. He finished with 29 — including three 3-pointers that screamed, “Thanks for playing, Cleveland. It’s been real.”

The Cavs, on the other hand, get some of that from Irving from time to time — but as coach Byron Scott pointed out, Irving is just a 20-year old who’s in his second season. Example No. 1: For as lethal as he was, Irving still tied a career-high with eight assists.

“I thought he tried to press at times and take the load,” Scott said. “Everyone keeps forgetting that this is his second year. He’s going to make some mistakes. But I think he understands how important it is for him to make sure we keep the ball in his hands, and for him to make good decisions. So it’s a growing process for him as well.”

And while folks like Thompson (14 points), Dion Waiters (13) and Tyler Zeller (12) are coming along, they just don’t have the NBA know-how of Rockets such as Lin (20), Patterson (15) and Carlos Delfino (nine points, tons of hustle).

That’s especially the case in fourth-quarter, big-game moments.

The Rockets (20-14) outscored the Cavs 34-26 in the final 12 minutes. And guess what? They won by eight.

Also, Waiters showed some rookie signs, seeming to get down when the calls didn’t go his way. It’s true rookies are too often treated unfairly in this league, but sulking only makes matters worse. Never in NBA history has a referee overturned a call because of someone’s plea. So hey, may as well just deal with it, right?

“I thought tonight he was sulking because he thought he got fouled on a few possessions,” Scott said. “That’s something we’ve talked to him about. He can’t win that battle with the referees. You just gotta forget about it and keep playing basketball. When he attacks and thinks he gets fouled … you gotta still keep attacking.”

These are things Irving, Waiters and others will learn in time. If they knew it now, it’d be a basketball miracle. If they knew it now, they’d probably be the Rockets.

But the Cavs aren’t there yet, and in all honesty, we can’t expect them to be.


• Irving reached a milestone by scoring at least 30 points on consecutive nights for the first time in his career. He scored 33 vs. Charlotte.

• Thompson has recorded his seventh double-double in nine games. During that span, he’s averaging 13.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and hitting 50 percent of his shots.

• Gee finished with 18 points, including 11 in the first quarter.

• The Cavs raced to a 20-10 lead, making this the second consecutive night in which the Rockets overcame a double-digit deficit to win on the road. On Friday, they trailed Milwaukee by 15 points before winning 115-101.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO