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Cavs struggle without LeBron James, Kyrie Irving puts blame on himself after third straight loss

Kyrie Irving
USA TODAY Sports

In what might have been their final trip to The Palace of Auburn Hills (barring a potential playoff matchup), the Cleveland Cavaleirs jumped out to a 15-point first quarter lead over the Detroit Pistons by way of a 22-to-4 run. However, when head coach Tyronn Lue elected to sub in another player for LeBron James, the Pistons surged back with a 10-2 run of their own. At the end of the first quarter, the Cavs saw their big lead dwindle to just seven points.

At the start of the second quarter, coach Lue chose to insert J.R. Smith, who has been medically cleared to play after suffering a fractured right thumb in December, into Kyle Korver’s position at shooting guard. With James leading the show, the Cavs pushed their lead to six before Coach Lue once again called James to the bench for a breather. Resting on the bench, James watched the Cavaliers’ lead dwindle once again. At the halftime horn, James and Irving had combined for 38 points, but the Cavs were trailing by three, 55-52.

As most Cavs fans know, James usually rests at some point in the third quarter to be fully charged for the fourth. However, with the game being so close, The King played the third quarter in its entirety, scoring six points and five of his game-high 10 assists. Furthermore, James led the Cavs on a torrent 22-5 run over the final seven minutes of the period. Things were looking up, as the Cavs carried a seven-point lead heading into the final frame of play.

Coach Lue called on Irving, who is often referred to as Mr. 4th Quarter, along with Smith, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams and Tristan Thompson to start the fourth period. The move immediately backfired, as the Pistons scored the first 13 points of the quarter and took a six-point lead. After three and a half minutes of resting on the bench, Coach Lue called on James to re-enter the game.

Down the stretch, Irving went 0-for-3 from the field. At times, the crafty ball-handler showed flashes of brilliance, but in the end, it just wasn’t enough to carry the day. When the smoke cleared inside The Palace on Thursday night, the Pistons had pushed Cleveland’s losing-streak to three by way of a 106-101 victory. James’ 29-point, 13-rebound, and 10-assist triple double went to waste.

Right or wrong, Irving, a staunch competitor, took a large part of the blame for Thursday’s loss. Here’s what Irving had to say after the game, via Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor.

“It starts in that fourth quarter,” Irving said. “There was a swing-swing action and that’s an automatic shot and then I turn the ball over and they get a 3 out of it to Reggie Bullock. I take two semi-tough shots and then they go on a little bit of a run and they go 84-80. That’s where the tide started to turn. Just can’t happen again.”

Irving, who was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field in the second half, also credited the Pistons’ strong presence in the paint.

“Tonight they played desperation basketball as well as with the intent to execute,” Irving added. “Andre (Drummond) was doing his normal things, being around the rim and being physical. Reggie (Jackson) was attacking downhill and hitting some tough floaters and tough shots. They made timely buckets as well going into the fourth when we tried to make a comeback, but it shouldn’t have gotten to that point. Going forward just have to be better.”

During the eight minutes and 55 seconds that James was catching breather on the bench on Thursday night, the Pistons outscored the Cavs by 23 points. Even further, the Cavs have been outscored 64-19 over the last two games with James off the court.

“It was a game of runs and we’ve got to figure out a way to win,” James said in a post-loss locker room on Thursday night. “When it becomes a thunderstorm, we’ve got to kind of weather it, weather the storm, and I don’t think we did a good job of that tonight.”

Irving taking the loss personally and putting it on himself only bodes well for the Cavs. While this third straight loss may sting right now, Cavs fans likely take pride in knowing that Irving wants to put more of himself into the game. Irving and his team will look to bounce back and end their losing streak on Saturday night against the Orlando Magic.
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