CHARLOTTE — The good vibes from the night before in Indiana seemed to emanate from their all-white uniforms. The stellar play carried over early as well.
By the end of the second quarter, everything had changed. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost each of the final three quarters and then the game 110-99 against the Charlotte Hornets Wednesday night.
The Cavs raced out to a 9-2 start. They led by nine at the end of the first quarter, smothering the Hornets and holding them to just 16 points.
It was Cleveland’s second-best defensive opening quarter and the start it needed while playing shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back.
But a nasty turnaround started at the 4:58 mark of the second quarter when Larry Nance Jr. was whistled for his third foul. Forced to the bench, disgusted with the call, Nance shared words with the officiating crew while the Hornets finished the half on a 14-6 sprint, seizing momentum going into the locker room.
That frustration was a common theme.
It took the Hornets just five possessions in the third quarter to grab their first lead of the game. And while the two teams went back and forth for the first part of the second half, Charlotte All-Star Kemba Walker relentlessly attacked Cleveland rookie Collin Sexton and ripped the game from the Cavs with a 17-point explosion in the third quarter. The Hornets outscored the Cavs 41-29 in the period.
“Kemba, he started to heat up in that third quarter and kind of took over,” Larry Nance Jr. said after recording another double-double with 10 points and 15 rebounds. “Think we gave up 40 in that third quarter and that was mainly him so any time a player like that gets going it’s hard to slow him down.”
Walker finished with 30 points on 11-of-26 from the field.
The Cavs’ anger reached a crescendo late in the fourth quarter, as head coach Larry Drew received a pair of technical fouls, getting ejected for the first time ever after arguing a no-call against Sexton on a transition attempt.
Following a Hornets bucket at the other end, Drew walked all the way to halfcourt, shouting at official Tyler Ford, and didn’t walk back to the bench until the stoppage was nearly over. By that time, he was headed to the back and the Cavs’ chances at a comeback were done.
“I thought he got fouled,” Drew said. “It’s plain and simple. I don’t think it was the right decision that Collin made to shoot a pull-up in that situation, but clearly I thought he got fouled. And at that point, I don’t know what the score was, but from my vantage view I thought that as he pulled up there was a lot of contact from behind and there was no whistle. Referees didn’t see it that way and so we’ll move on.”
The Spectrum Center hasn’t been kind to the Cavs — or Sexton — this season.
It was the setting for an embarrassing 32-point loss that preceded an airing of grievances in the locker room after the game. That night, veterans pointed the finger at Sexton and said he didn’t know how to play while Walker and veteran Tony Parker schooled the youngster.
Sexton and the Cavs have grown since that night on Nov. 3. Wednesday’s loss didn’t have that same feeling.
But a night that started with so much promise still had a familiar ending. The one Cleveland has gotten used to this season.
Jaron Blossomgame’s career night
Playing on a two-way deal, bouncing between the G League and the NBA, Blossomgame is starting to turn heads.
“He continues to blossom,” Drew said. “He’s been good for us. He plays with a lot of energy. He plays hard. He’s a live body. You don’t have to run plays for him, he just plays within himself. He’s a company guy. I know each and every night that I’m going to get that same effort from him. He’s starting to really lock in to what we’re doing and I feel really good putting him out there.”
Blossomgame scored a career-high 15 points on 6-of-7 from the field in 23 minutes, helping the Cavs continue to deal with starter David Nwaba being on a minutes restriction as a result of an achy knee.
The Cavs officially started Sexton and Nwaba in the backcourt. That duo was crushed by the Hornets’ combination of Walker and Jeremy Lamb, outscored 48-14.
Sexton scored 11 on 5-of-15 shooting. Nwaba had just three points in 16 minutes.
Jordan Clarkson’s return helps bench
One night earlier against the Pacers, the Cavs’ reserves scored just 35 points, snapping a streak of four straight with at least 50.
Clarkson’s return led to a turnaround.
The team’s leading (healthy) scorer looked good after a one-game absence to rest his sore back. He scored 20 points on 8-of-19 from the field and 4-of-10 from 3-point range.
In all, Cleveland’s bench tallied 50 points — even without Matthew Dellavedova. The backup point guard missed his first game since joining the Cavs because of knee soreness.
The Cavs head to Toronto for a matchup against the Raptors on Friday night.