CLEVELAND: The five players crouched into defensive stances and swarmed around the paint, their body language indicating this trip down the floor would be different. Kyrie Irving’s long 3-pointer on the last offensive possession pulled the Cavaliers within three, and all they needed was one stop to have another crack at tying this.
One missed shot, one turnover, just one break to go their way. Then they looked up and Daniel Gibson, all 6-foot-2 of him, was caught guarding 7-foot center Chris Kaman. Left with no other choice, Gibson grabbed Kaman and held on for the foul.
The Cavs’ defense, yet again, wasn’t good enough.
All the talk of focusing on defense, all the improvement coach Byron Scott saw in practice the past two days and this new defensive mindset the players were supposed to develop never really materialized in the Cavs’ 103-95 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks shot 51 percent — 59 percent in the fourth quarter — and outplayed the Cavs in the final five minutes to send them to their fifth consecutive loss. The past three opponents, and five of the past six, have shot better than 50 percent.
“What we’re doing on the defensive end is not carrying over from practice to the game,” Scott said. “They’ve got to get it sooner or later and we’re going to keep teaching it.”
The Cavs had a chance to win this one, pulling even at 89 on Kyrie Irving’s layup with 5:07 left, but they couldn’t get a defensive stop when they needed it.
Irving had 26 points, but did not have an assist for the first time in his career, Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson each had 16 points and Alonzo Gee had 15 points. Waiters, however, struggled through another 4-of-16 shooting performance and is 7-of-32 in his past two games. As a team, the Cavs shot 38 percent, but Scott isn’t concerned with the offense nearly as much as he is the defense.
The possession that ended with Gibson covering Kaman is a perfect example. Irving’s 3-pointer with 1:34 left pulled the Cavs within 98-95, then Gibson got caught up in a double screen trying to keep up with O.J. Mayo.
Anderson Varejao switched and jumped out on Mayo, who immediately fired inside to Kaman. Varejao couldn’t get back in time, and Gibson was forced to foul. Kaman split the free throws, but it still sapped the momentum from Irving’s big shot.
“[Mayo] did exactly what he should’ve, backed it out and threw it into the post,” Scott said, adding that it was Waiters’ responsibility to come down and help on that play and he didn’t. “Little things like that are things that are killing us. We’ll keep working on it until guys get it.”
Irving had the rare stat line of 26 points, no rebounds and no assists. He said it was the first time in his life he didn’t have an assist.
The Cavs have typically struggled at the start of the fourth quarter when Irving is resting, but he was available for the fourth Saturday, since he injured his left index finger and spent most of the third quarter getting it examined.
X-rays were negative and Irving returned with the finger taped, but it affected him in the fourth quarter.
“I wasn’t feeling comfortable putting the ball in my left hand,” he said. “Attacking the rim, I only had one hand, so I was trying to force shots over Chris Kaman. It definitely affected me, but it still doesn’t defeat the fact we need to get stops on the defensive end.”
Tyler Zeller had three points and two rebounds in his return from a concussion and fractured cheekbone. Zeller said before the game the protective mask he’s wearing took some getting used to because of the depth perception and lack of peripheral vision. His first two shots in practice wearing the mask were both air balls.
Scott promised a rotation change before the game and delivered when he sent Jeremy Pargo in to replace Donald Sloan near the end of the first quarter. Pargo had three assists in 10 minutes and missed the only shot he attempted, a 3-pointer.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.