CLEVELAND — March Sadness continued at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night.
The shorthanded and slumping Cavaliers dropped their fourth straight game, falling 118-111 to the high-octane Houston Rockets in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicates.
Just as they did Thursday, when they trailed Oklahoma City by 24 in the fourth period and ended up losing by seven, the Cavs (26-44) staged a cosmetic rally, cutting a 29-point deficit to seven against the Rockets (47-22).
That rally came with James Harden sitting on the bench the entire fourth quarter. In the 29 minutes he played, the 6-foot-5 guard had 37 points and 11 assists. He made 9-of-15 from the field, 5 of 8 3-pointers — one turned into a four-pointer when he was fouled — and all 14 of his free throws.
“His ability is off the charts,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said.
Houston played minus All-Star center Dwight Howard (ankle), while the Cavs were once again without Kyrie Irving (biceps), Luol Deng (ankle), C.J. Miles (ankle), Anthony Bennett (knee), Sergey Karasev (tendinitis) and Carrick Felix (knee).
Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor in their prime might not have been enough for defenseless — figuratively and literally — Cleveland on this night, as Houston scored on its first eight possessions in taking a 17-4 lead just 3:38 into the game.
The Cavs actually shot .523 from the field in the first period, but never led — all night — because the Rockets shot .636 in taking a 39-31 lead after one.
“We have to have a sense of urgency,” said guard Dion Waiters, who led the Cavs with 26 points, four rebounds and eight assists. “We’ve got to have energy right from the start and not be lackadaisical and get punched in the mouth first.”
It was the second straight game the Cavs fell behind by double digits early, with Spencer Hawes (three points on 1-for-7 shooting), Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee getting pulled from the game after the Rockets’ 17-4 start.
“Our first group was flat,” Brown said. “They’ve been flat offensively and defensively and we’re fighting from a hole. … We have to do a better job at the beginning of the game of hitting first rather than being the recipient of being hit.”
Down 12 at halftime, the Cavs scored seven straight points to start the third period, but then gave up nine in a row.
“We started turning the ball over and they started getting out in transition,” said Brown, whose team’s 18 turnovers cost it 22 points. “Between our turnovers and their ability to get out in the open court, that was the difference in the game.”
Things reached their low point late in the third period, when the Rockets, a team constructed by general manager and Highland High graduate Daryl Morey, poured in 18 points in just 2:34 to take a 101-72 lead.
That stretch featured a four-point play, a three-point play, a 3-pointer, another three-point play, a dunk and another 3-pointer.
Twelve of the points were by Harden, who had 29 points from the 3:01 mark of the second period to the 1:45 mark of the third, a span of 13:16.
“They made their run and we made our run,” Harden said.
The Cavs once again fought back to make the final score respectable, but the outcome was never really in doubt.
“We’ve got to come out with the mindset that we have to play the same way we do in the last five minutes of the game,” Waiters said. “We’re shorthanded.”
The Cavs got great games from Tyler Zeller, who had a career-high 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting and 11 rebounds, and Matthew Dellavedova, who tied his career highs in points (14) and assists (10) while posting his second straight double-double. He also had six rebounds and six turnovers.
In addition to Harden, Houston got 16 points, four rebounds and six assists from Chandler Parsons, 15 points from Patrick Beverley, 14 points from Terrence Jones and 13 points on 3-for-11 shooting from Jeremy Lin.
“They came out with more energy than us,” Hawes said. “They tried to make a run early and they did that. You can’t play on your heels.
“It’s always tough. It takes too much energy in this league to get back in games when you’re giving them that kind of spread from the get go.”
Seth, not Steph
Guard Seth Curry, signed to a 10-day contract Friday, played nine minutes and had three points, one rebound and two steals.
The 6-1, 180-pound guard went undrafted out of Duke, where he played one season with Irving. The rookie appeared in one game for Memphis, but had spent most of the season in the NBA Developmental League.
Curry is the son of former Cavs guard Dell Curry and the younger brother of All-Star guard Steph Curry, who was born in Akron while Dell was playing in Cleveland.
“I think it’s an advantage,” Curry said of being Steph’s younger brother. “He’s been through a lot of the same things I’m going through, him and my father.
I can lean on him for wisdom and know I’m always going to get an honest answer. I try to use it the best way I can.”
Brown said he’s unlikely to change his starting lineup, largely because Anderson Varejao (12 points, 11 rebounds in 24 minutes) is currently having his minutes limited to 25.
* All the injured Cavs players except Felix flew with the team to New York.
Rockets 118, Cavaliers 111
HOUSTON (118): Parsons 7-17 0-0 16, Jones 4-5 5-7 14, Asik 4-8 1-2 9, Beverley 6-12 0-0 15, Harden 9-15 14-14 37, Motiejunas 5-5 1-1 11, Casspi 0-3 0-0 0, Lin 3-11 6-6 13, Hamilton 0-2 0-0 0, Canaan 0-1 3-4 3. Totals 38-79 30-34 118.
CLEVELAND (111): Gee 4-6 0-0 9, Thompson 4-8 2-2 10, Hawes 1-7 1-2 3, Jack 5-13 1-1 11, Waiters 11-20 3-4 26, Dellavedova 5-11 1-1 14, Varejao 5-7 2-2 12, Zeller 10-16 3-5 23, Curry 1-3 0-0 3. Totals 46-91 13-17 111.
Houston 39 28 34 17 — 118
Cleveland 31 24 24 32 — 111
3-Point Goals—Houston 12-35 (Harden 5-8, Beverley 3-9, Parsons 2-7, Jones 1-2, Lin 1-5, Canaan 0-1, Hamilton 0-1, Casspi 0-2), Cleveland 6-15 (Dellavedova 3-4, Curry 1-1, Gee 1-2, Waiters 1-5, Varejao 0-1, Jack 0-1, Hawes 0-1). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Houston 37 (Asik 9), Cleveland 57 (Thompson 12). Assists—Houston 31 (Harden 11), Cleveland 33 (Dellavedova 10). Total Fouls—Houston 18, Cleveland 27. A—19,058 (20,562).
WHO: Cleveland vs. New York
WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/RADIO: FS Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM