CLEVELAND — Another home game, another humiliating loss to a team the monumentally struggling Cavaliers had been dominating.
Cleveland saw its 10-game winning streak over the lowly New York Knicks come to an embarrassing end Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena, falling 114-95 while giving up 34 points and eight assists to small forward Tim Hardaway Jr. and 32 points and 12 rebounds to 7-foot-3 power forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Eight days earlier, the Cavs (3-4), they of three straight NBA Finals appearances, lost 114-93 at The Q to Orlando, which they had beaten 17 straight times.
Throw in an ugly loss to Brooklyn, a non-compete defeat Saturday in New Orleans and the debacle against New York (2-3) and Cleveland is below .500 for the first time since the first game of the 2015-16 season.
“We haven’t had much progress as of late, but I think we can get better,” said LeBron James, who had 16 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, but just one of the latter in the last 34 minutes of the game. “That’s the positive thing about it, but we’ve regressed.”
The Cavs have now lost three straight and four of their last five, and they’ve been outscored by 54 points in the first quarter of those five games. New York built a 29-19 advantage after one Sunday.
“It’s been costing us the game,” James said. “It’s the starting unit. We’ve got to figure it out some way, somehow. Guys are scoring at will.”
On the anniversary of James’ first NBA game — “I played a lot better 14 years ago (in Sacramento) than I did tonight,” he said — the Cavs got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Kevin Love and 15 points from Derrick Rose, who had missed the previous four games with a sprained ankle.
Struggling J.R. Smith was responsible for most of Hardaway’s points — Iman Shumpert was out due to right knee soreness — and had 11 points on 3-for-9 shooting and 2-for-7 on 3-pointers, but that was a Hall of Fame performance compared to that of Tristan Thompson, who had one point, no rebounds, no assists and four fouls in19:21.
Kyle Korver added 13 points off the bench as the Cavs once again lost to a bad opponent that simply played harder, smarter and better.
“When you lose to teams the way we’ve been getting beat, it’s unacceptable,” Lue said.
In addition to Hardaway and Porzingis, the Knicks got 18 points and 12 boards from center Enes Kanter and 15 points and 10 rebounds from shooting guard Courtney Lee.
“Teams just look faster than we do at every position,” Lue said.
Given up for dead by most in attendance, the Cavs started the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to make it a 94-88 game with 8:21 left — they were already in the penalty at that point — but the Knicks came right back with nine straight points.
“We can’t sustain it,” Lue said. “Until we get our spirits right, it’s going to be like this.”
Part of that spirit, the coach added, requires that Cleveland’s new players be more aggressive.
“You’ve got to come in and be who you are,” Lue said.
Down 18 with 1:35 left in the third quarter, the lifeless and seemingly clueless Cavs still trailed 92-75 entering the fourth, at which time they were being outrebounded 41-28 and outworked by much more than that, as proven by New York’s 13-2 advantage in fastbreak points and 17-7 edge in second-chance points.
“Some of it’s (opponents) making shots,” Lue said, “but some of it’s taking pride and guarding defensively.”
That was a common theme all night. It’s also been a common them for most of the last five games, including one where Cleveland rallied to beat the depleted and bad Chicago Bulls.
The Knicks got 24 first-half points from Hardaway and led 62-54 at intermission, at which time Thompson had played 12:34 and amassed a triple-zero in points, rebounds and assists (he got to 16:15 of court time before recording his only statistic in any of the three categories, on a made free throw).
It started even worse.
Down 13-10, the Knicks went on a 12-0 run and never trailed again, but James, while acknowledging the Cavs have to get better, isn’t ready to panic.
“What month is this, October?” he said. “I’m not about to go crazy about it. It’s too early in the season.”