(Cleveland, OH) — In a tense, back-and-forth contest that had the feel of a postseason game, the Cleveland Cavaliers came up short on Wednesday night against the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, dropping a 92-90 decision in a nationally-televised clash at Quicken Loans Arena.
The game saw 15 lead changes, with the Spurs holding a slim 91-90 lead with 9.1 seconds remaining and Manu Ginobli on the line for two free throws. He hit the first, but missed the second, with Anderson Varejao grabbing the rebound. With no timeouts, LeBron James got the ball to midcourt before turning the it over in the closing seconds, and San Antonio was able to dribble out the clock.
With 34.2 seconds to play, James had tipped the ball out of bounds with the Cavaliers trailing 89-88, giving San Antonio the ball. The Spurs’ Tim Duncan then fed Ginobli for a layup with 17.7 to give them that three-point advantage, but Kyrie Irving nailed two free throws seven seconds later.
After the game, Cleveland Head Coach David Blatt stayed positive, saying, “One game at this stage of the season doesn’t give you a true measure.” He then added, “But if you can give an indication with a team like the Spurs, that’s a good sign.”
When asked about the contrast in James’ performances in win and losses (33 ppg in wins, 19 in losses), Blatt said, “His statistical output has an impact on the game, but we all have to step up.”
Irving was philosophical about the loss, noting, “We gave ourselves a chance to win and that’s all you can ask for.”
At the start of the final quarter, the Cavs had trailed by five at 74-69, but tallied six straight points to take a brief lead. For the second straight quarter, both teams spent time trading leads in addition to three ties, the last at 84 apiece on the first of two Kawhi Leonard free throws with 3:14 remaining.
Varejao gave the Cavaliers a brief 86-85 advantage with just under three minutes to go, with the Spurs then answering with two baskets to take a three-point lead with 1:23 on the clock. James whittled the deficit back to one just 14 seconds later, and setting the stage for the drama of the final minute.
One quarter earlier, Cleveland had led by three following intermission and had opportunities to push the lead up to eight, but then watched San Antonio again push back. For much of the quarter, the two teams would fluctuate between deadlocked scores and one-point leads, until the Spurs pushed it up to five at 72-67 with 33.9 seconds before the end of the quarter. Shawn Marion’s floating jumper with 12.7 seconds remaining put the Cavaliers down three with one quarter remaining.
Early on, James and Duncan dominated scoring for the first half of the opening quarter with minimal contributions from their respective teammates. Duncan connected on the Spurs’ first nine points, while James had eight of the Cavs’ first 10 points. The last two for James came on a layup following a nearly full court chest pass from Love.
The latter portion of the first quarter scoring surges sandwiched around over three minutes of limited scoring. In the final 90 seconds, San Antonio hit on three straight possessions to take a 23-17, but Cleveland’s Joe Harris chopped that deficit in half with a three-pointer with 10.9 seconds to go and ended the scoring for the first 12 minutes.
The Cavaliers ran off 10 of the first 12 points of the second quarter, leading by as many as five. They would extend the lead to 11 at 47-36 with just 1:42 left before the half, but the Spurs ran off their final eight points of the period to trail by only three.
Two players for each team ended the night with double-doubles: Varejao led all scorers with 23 points, adding 11 rebounds, while Kevin Love scored only 10, but matched Varejao’s output on the boards with 11. For the Spurs, Duncan and Leonard scored 19 and 12, respectively, and each hauled down 10 rebounds.
Blatt said about the team’s defense, “I thought we defended very well, and we gave ourselves a chance to win tonight.” He signaled out the play of Irving, saying, “He played the best defense I’ve seen him play.”
James wasn’t happy with the loss, but said, “I’m happy with the progress we made tonight.” In acknowledging a reporter’s question comparing the team’s start to his first season in Miami in 2010, when the Heat started 9-8, James said, “We just have to continue to play, watch film and learn from it.”
The loss made it two straight defeats for the Cavs, who dropped to 5-5 on the year, while San Antonio improved to 7-4.
Cleveland now heads to Washington to face the Wizards in a Friday night matchup beginning at 8:00 pm Eastern that will be broadcast by ESPN.