CLEVELAND — An elaborate, LeBron James-hosted Halloween party on Monday didn’t work. Neither did a team meeting on Tuesday. Perhaps a very early Thanksgiving dinner — say, today — or a team bowling trip might do the trick.
Or maybe not.
The struggling Cavaliers dropped their fourth straight game and lost for the fifth time in their last six Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena, this one a 124-107 setback to the Indiana Pacers.
“It is what it is,” said James, who had 33 points, six rebounds, 11 assists and eight turnovers, with some of the latter occurring because he had to try to do everything. “A lot of teams are playing well right now. We’re not.”
The Cavs (3-5), who recently saw a 17-game winning streak vs. Orlando and a 10-game run against New York come to an end, had beaten the Pacers (5-3) nine straight times at The Q, but this one followed a similar script.
Cleveland played lousy defense, particularly in transition and beyond the 3-point line, and no one did anything to help James in the game-deciding fourth quarter, when the Cavs got virtually every 50-50 call but still never led.
Meanwhile, all of Indiana’s starters scored at least 15 points. Power forward Thaddeus Young had 26, point guard Darren Collison had 25, five boards and eight assists, shooting guard Victor Oladipo had 23 and seven assists, small forward Bojan Bogdanovic had 17 and center Domantas Sabonis had 15, 12 rebounds and six assists.
The Pacers shot .544 from the field and made a sizzling 16-for-26 from behind the arc (.615), with Collison (3-for-3), Bogdanovic (3-for-4) and Oladipo (5-for-7) going a combined 11-for-14. The Cavs shot a solid .500 from the floor but made just 7-of-31 3-pointers.
“We got a lot of great shots tonight that we normally make,” said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who seemed to be using reverse psychology by emphasizing positive aspects after his team’s latest debacle. “When you don’t make ‘em, you’ve got to stop them from making ‘em.”
Adding injury to insult, the Cavs lost center Tristan Thompson to a strained left calf with 1:41 left in the first half. Jae Crowder took Thompson’s place in the starting lineup to start the third period, with more expected to be known about Thompson’s injury today.
It all had James in a salty mood afterward, as the normally cooperative small forward gave a lot of one-sentence answers like “It’s a new month” (when asked why he was more upset than after previous losses), “We can’t sustain for 48 minutes” (when asked what the issue was) and “I don’t know” (when asked how to solve the team’s inability to sustain).
James certainly did his part to give the Cavs a chance, scoring 14 fourth-quarter points on 6-for-9 shooting. The rest of the team had eight points on 2-for-10.
Kevin Love was just 4-for-12 from the field and 2-for-6 on 3-pointers for the night, while J.R. Smith was 2-for-6 from the floor, all of them 3-pointers. Crowder was 3-for-10 and 0-for-5 and 35-year-old Dwyane Wade was completely out of sorts while going 2-for-7 and 0-for-2.
Despite all that, the Cavs were down just seven heading into the final period.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Love said. “We just didn’t get there at the end.”
Apparently, baby steps is where the Cavs, who have reached three straight NBA Finals, are at right now.
“The other games we got our butts kicked,” Lue said. “Tonight we did some good things. Just couldn’t sustain it.”
Oladipo, who started 1-for-8 from the field, had 12 points in the third period as the Pacers took a 92-85 lead into the fourth. James kept the Cavs in it with nine points in the quarter, making a 3-pointer and three mid-range jumpers from the left wing, but Cleveland never got over the hump.
“We have an opportunity to be very good,” James said. “But then you see some of the lulls we have.”
The Cavs were down 49-40 midway through the second quarter and going nowhere fast when Indiana’s Lance Stephenson decided that rather than blow in James’ ear, as he did a few years back, he’d hit him where it hurts. That led to a flagrant foul and an 11-0 Cleveland run in just 1:37, but the Pacers regrouped enough to lead 62-61 at intermission.
The first quarter was like a moral victory for the Cavs, who trailed just 30-28 but now have been outscored by 56 points in the opening period over their last six games.
It could have been worse, as the Pacers repeatedly beat Cleveland down the floor, went on a 10-0 run, made nine of their first 12 shots and led 22-14 early.
“Tonight our mindset was there,” Lue said. “A lot of times your mindset can be there and you just can’t get there. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”