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Wrap-Up -- There are no moral victories in the NBA, but the Cavaliers have nothing to hang their heads about as the calendar year comes to a close.
Playing with just nine healthy bodies throughout their three-game roadie – and again on Saturday night in Atlanta – the Wine & Gold battled for the full 48. But a huge turnover in the final minute cost them a chance at salvaging the trip as the Hawks held on to hand Cleveland the 111-108 heartbreaker at State Farm Arena.
The shorthanded Cavaliers closed out the calendar year with six straight losses, but get a well-earned four day break and a four-game homestand to tip off 2019.
The Cavaliers trailed through most of the second half and were down 11 early in the fourth quarter, but they continued to attack, coming all the way back to tie the contest at 106-apiece when Atlanta native Collin Sexton split a pair of free throws with just under a minute to play.
With 47.9 to play, the Hawks regained the lead on John Collins’ putback of his own miss.
The Cavaliers had a chance to tie on their next possession, but after a timeout Alec Burks had trouble in-bounding the ball and Justin Anderson came up with the steal with 33 seconds to play.
Atlanta canned three of their next four free throws to take a five-point lead with six seconds to play. Burks scored on a late layup, but it wasn’t enough as the Hawks won for the second time in three tries against Cleveland this season.
For most of the campaign, the Cavaliers’ bench has been the driving force, but on Saturday the starters came to play.
Larry Nance Jr. records his sixth double-double of the season.
Cedi Osman – who was aggressive from the opening tip – led the way with a game-high 22 points, going 8-of-12 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from beyond the arc, to go with eight boards and three assists.
Larry Nance has been outstanding all month and has turned it up substantially in Tristan Thompson’s absence. On Saturday night, he doubled-up with 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, adding a game-high 15 boards and four steals to go with a team-high seven assists.
Collin Sexton, playing for the first time as a pro in his hometown, chipped in with 18 points on 6-for-15 shooting, adding six assists and three boards in the loss.
Alec Burks saved his best for last – netting 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, going 7-of-14 from the floor overall while adding five boards, five assists and a pair of steals.
As usual, Jordan Clarkson notched double-figures off the bench – finishing with 15 points on 6-for-14 shooting to go with three boards and a pair of assists.
Rookie Trae Young finished with 21 points for Atlanta, but it was a player on the other end of the age spectrum who seemed to do the most damage – with 41-year-old Vince Carter netting 17 of his 21 points after intermission, going 3-for-4 from long-range in the third period and drilling a pair of free throws to seal the deal in the fourth.
Turning Point -- In a game that featured seven ties, five lead-changes and a wild fourth-quarter flurry, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when the tide turned.
But it was an early moment in the game that set the tone for at least the first half of action.
The Cavaliers were cruising in the first quarter and took a 10-point lead, 24-14, with just 1:14 to play in the period. After a quick back-and-forth, they still led by eight with 17.5 to play in the period. But a dunk by John Collins followed by a steal and three-pointer by DeAndre’ Bembry at the buzzer got the Hawks right back in the ballgame – trailing by only three after one.
It seemed somewhat inconsequential at the time, but Cleveland wouldn’t lead by more than three the rest of the way – needing a 34-point fourth quarter to make it interesting down the stretch.
By the Numbers – 12.0, 10.5, 4.9, 2.4 … points, rebounds, assists and steals that Larry Nance Jr. is averaging over his last 10 games dating back to December 12 – with five double-doubles in the mix over that stretch.
Quotable – Collin Sexton, on his first time back in Atlanta as a pro …
”It felt good playing in front of my hometown just because I haven’t played in front of them in almost two years, so it felt real good to get out there and play. I had my family and friends here, old coaches, really everybody. I had a huge crowd here tonight, so that was really fun to play in front of them. I just wish we could have gotten the win.”
Up Next -- With Saturday night’s loss in Atlanta, the Cavaliers close out the 2018 portion of their schedule, with a much-needed four-game homestand awaiting on the other side. On Wednesday night, the Wine & Gold welcome the Heat to town, hoping to avenge Friday night’s loss on South Beach. After that, it’s a weekend back to back – with Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz rolling in on Friday night followed by a visit from Anthony Davis and the Pelicans the following evening. The Wine & Gold wrap up the four-gamer the following Tuesday against the Pacers before departing for their longest trip of the season – an 11-day, six-game junket – the following night.