The team with the best record in the East got rolled in the fourth quarter by the team with the second-worst, and if it’s not quite time for the Cavaliers to panic, it’s well past time to worry about a roster that seems primed to fail at any time.
The final score was 104-95 Nets, but that doesn’t tell the story of the momentum swings, or how every Cavalier not named LeBron James was a disaster. Up double-digits heading into the half, Nets fans directed taunting chants at James, who almost certainly heard them. He almost singlehandedly regained the lead for the Cavs, looking particularly focused and emotional—but things fell apart in the fourth, and Brooklyn pulled away.
“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” coach Tyronn Lue said.
James was a fantastic 13-of-16 from the field, scoring 30 points. The rest of the Cavaliers were a combined 26-of-73. That’s how you lose to the Nets, and that’s how you make LeBron James appear visibly fed up.
You can debate the cause and effect, but this loss in which James received no help came a week after a talk with his coach in which he vowed that he would take on more of the team’s load. James recounted how his conversation with Lue after a particularly bad loss to the Heat led to the revelation.
“I just need to do more,” James said Thursday. “Just need to do more, and I have been able to do that, except for tonight, for the most part.”
Asked to elaborate on what “more” meant, James replied: “It’s everything.”
Read that how you want, as frustration or as leadership. But these handpicked Cavs, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, should never have to be a one-man team, and they’re doomed if they are. It’s weird to talk about the presumptive No. 1 seed as if they’re a lost cause, but the East feels like preliminaries. This team’s good enough, and every one else is bad enough, that it can and might cruise to the Finals. And get crushed there.
Oh, and don’t even hand Cleveland that No. 1 seed just yet. With the loss, they’re now just two games up on Toronto.