ORLANDO — With his hood covering his wet hair and Beats headphones around his neck, Cedi Osman stared down at the floor inside the visitor’s locker room at the Amway Center.
He was shaken. Disappointed. Sorry.
Nearly 40 minutes after his critical mistake played a key role in Cleveland’s painful 102-100 loss against the Orlando Magic, Osman was still reeling.
“Obviously it was a bad pass. That was a huge mistake. I think it cost us the game,” Osman said.
Aaron Gordon had just made a basket for the Magic, cutting the Cavaliers’ lead to three points. With the shot clock turned off, JR Smith inbounded the ball to George Hill who snapped a pass to Osman alone across the timeline.
All Osman had to do was hold the ball, force the Magic to foul and cap a sizable comeback at the free throw line. Instead, Osman tried to get the ball back to Hill, as the veteran point guard was streaking down the opposite side with about three steps on the closest defender.
“I just saw G Hill because he was wide open and that layup, like if he scored fast the clock will go and at that time JC was running through the middle and I didn’t see JC,” Osman said, as he replayed his biting mistake. “I should just keep it in my hands and we (win) the game. It was a bad decision.”
It wasn’t the only one on this night. At the end of that miscue was Clarkson colliding with D.J. Augustin, being whistled for a foul and sending Augustin — a 90 percent free-throw shooter — to the stripe where he cut into the lead even more. That applied immense pressure to the still-learning Cavs and they were visibly rattled.
Seconds later, Kyle Korver had an inbounds pass stolen away from him.
Instead of going to the line with a chance to increase the lead to three points, the Magic were racing to the other end of the floor where Evan Fournier was fouled.
There was also George Hill attacking quickly, not solidifying the final possession while giving Orlando one last shot at the game-winner.
Untimely blunders and unfavorable whistles led to Cleveland’s undoing. Osman, however, could only think about one play.
He wasn’t sulking over his defense against Fournier on the game-winning shot. Osman felt he did his best and contested the shot well. For him, it was all about that “stupid turnover.”
“It was a huge disappointment from myself,” he said. “That was a mistake that for myself as a professional for a lot of years should not have made that. Just a bad decision and I have to live with it. I said I’m sorry to the guys about the game. That’s how I feel. It was on me tonight.”
Following the game, head coach Larry Drew told Osman to “keep his head up.”
“He knows that if he could do it all over again he would’ve held onto the ball,” Drew said. “Be strong with the ball, make them foul us. We’ll learn from that. We get in this situation again, we’ll know what to do.”
Tristan Thompson, one of the team leaders who recorded season-highs in points (19) and rebounds (16), had a similar message before heading back to Cleveland.
“Many plays and many stretches where we could have put ourselves in better position,” Thompson said. “The last minute is a great learning experience for us. It’s great to have Cedi out there, Rodney out there and Jordan Clarkson out there to be in those situations. We trust them.
“I think it’s a great learning experience for them and if ever in that situation again we will learn from that and continue to grow. I think no one should hold their head down. As long as we compete we will give ourselves a chance to win ballgames and that has to be our mentality moving forward and that’s what we did today.”
A win is the only thing that will help break the Cavs out of this rut. Everyone understands that. But all was not lost on Monday night.
As hard as it is for some to hear and as difficult as it is for some within the organization to admit, the Cavaliers are rebuilding. There are steps along this arduous journey. With that comes growing pains. They need to show pride in sufficient performances like these because they’re no longer a given.
Many of these players are being thrust into new spots. It takes time to learn how to win. It takes experience in those pressure-packed situations before being fully comfortable.
When the Cavs were plowing through the Eastern Conference and earning trips to the Finals, Osman was either overseas or cheering from the bench. Same with Clarkson, who also earned meaningful crunch time minutes on Monday night. When the Cavs won their first game of the season against the Atlanta Hawks, it was a rout, no need to make the proper plays at the end.
Monday was the first time they had taken a lead into the fourth quarter. It was the first time they were in a one-possession game that late. It was the first time they had to go to someone other than LeBron James to seal a win in the closing seconds. Admittedly, they didn’t handle it well.
But Osman, who owned his mistake, was the only person leaving the Amway Center with his head down because efforts like Monday, apart from the ghastly final 30 seconds, provide a roadmap to future success.
“The more you’re in those situations, the more you know what to do,” Drew said. “And like I said, I’m a big stickler in, even losses, let’s make sure we have a takeaway. And the takeaway in those situations, we know what the takeaway is. We’ll be in that situation again. We put ourselves in that position game after game after game, we’ll win some games.”