CLEVELAND — The Browns didn’t play Sunday afternoon, so the Cavaliers filled in with a despicable loss.
Playing an Atlanta Hawks team that has the worst record in the Eastern Conference and was minus five players due to injury, the Cavs suffered their worst loss in what has been a season of bad losses, falling 117-115 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We overall have got to play better,” said reserve Channing Frye, who missed an open 3-pointer in the closing seconds that would have won it. “We suck right now.”
The Cavs (4-6), who have not had a two-game winning streak since opening the season 2-0, are 2-4 at home, where they also have lost to Orlando, New York and Indiana, none of which will be mistaken for a title contender.
The Hawks (2-8), who had lost eight in a row, started players like Taurean Prince (17 points), Luke Babbitt (17) and Dewayne Dedmon (15) and brought guys named Isaiah Taylor (14) and John Collins (12 and 13 rebounds), a promising rookie big man from Wake Forest who killed the Cavs with seven offensive boards, off the bench.
Even Tyler Cavanaugh, who was signed to a two-way contract Sunday morning, saw action for an Atlanta team that was without Ersan Ilyasova, Miles Plumlee and Mike Muscala.
“Whether we know who these guys are or not,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said, “we’ve got to respect them.”
The Cavs, who trailed by 16 with nine minutes to go, did not do that but still almost pulled off a stunning comeback.
Kyle Korver, who had 19 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, hit a 3-pointer with 22.8 seconds left to make it 115-111 and the Hawks turned the ball over trying to inbound it.
LeBron James (26 points, 13 assists, six turnovers) got a layup on Cleveland’s subsequent inbounds play to make it a two-point game, but Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder (28 points, nine assists) made two free throws with 18.4 ticks on the clock.
Another James layup made it 117-115 with 12.2 seconds to go and Taylor missed two free throws 0.1 seconds later.
With both teams out of timeouts, James rebounded and pushed the ball up the floor, with Frye missing a 3-pointer. A tip-in try by Dwyane Wade (25 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) was off the mark and the buzzer sounded before the ball got into Korver’s hands above the 3-point line.
“I should have made it,” Frye said. “You get the opportunity to go out there, you’ve got to make that shot.”
It was a fitting end to another poor performance by the Cavs, who trailed by 16 points in the opening quarter, gave up 37 points in the first and third periods and made just 10 of 36 3-pointers (.278).
“No energy,” James said. “The effort was pretty bad.”
Cleveland also lost Kevin Love to illness in the third period. Love, who was taken to the hospital and later released, was 1-for-6 from the field and had four points and four boards in 18 minutes.
Derrick Rose was a horrendous minus-27 in 20 minutes, going 4-for-12 from the field with one assist and four turnovers, while J.R. Smith, who had six points in 34 minutes, was invisible until he refused to take several open 3-pointers in the fourth period.
The Cavs were so bad for so long that Lue turned to seldom-used Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic early in the final quarter. They did nothing and Cleveland quickly went back to a more conventional lineup.
“Every night we’ve got to respect our opponent and have a sense of urgency,” Lue said. “Not in the fourth quarter or last six minutes, but from start to finish.”
Schroder lit up a porous Cleveland defense for 13 points in the first 7:20 of the third period as the Hawks took an 80-64 lead, forcing an angry Lue to call timeout for the fourth time.
Up 82-68, Atlanta had a golden opportunity to extend its lead when Kent Bazemore (14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) was fouled by Wade and Jeff Green, who came over to help, got a flagrant foul with 3:46 left in the period. Bazemore made just two of four free throws and missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but the Hawks still led 91-78 entering the fourth.
“We’ve just got to try to find a way,” James said. “With guys in and out (due to injury) and different lineups and things of that nature, I don’t want to single anyone out, but guys have to step up.”
In a second quarter better suited for the peach basket days, both teams went 6-for-24 from the field and scored 17 points. That was enough to keep the Hawks up 54-45 at intermission.
It would have been a lot worse for the Cavs, who shot .298 over the opening two quarters (14-for-47) and were 2-for-16 on 3-pointers, had Wade not scored 19 points in 15 first-half minutes.
James had six points on 2-for-7 shooting, two rebounds, four assists and three turnovers at halftime, but he was solid compared to Rose, who had six points on 2-for-9, no assists and three turnovers as the Cavs were outscored by 23 points in the 12:53 he was on the floor.
“We were climbing up a hill all game,” Frye said. “We have got to do better.”
What was left of a bad-to-begin-with Hawks team went on a 25-6 run to take a 27-11 lead with 4:09 left in the first period, at which time the Cavs were 3-for-15 from the field and a disgruntled Lue had already called two timeouts.
Behind 6-for-7 3-point shooting and 13-for-18 overall from the floor (.722), Atlanta led 37-28 after one.
“To be honest, we’ve got to play harder,” Frye said. “I think we have to be more attentive to details and have a better sense of urgency.”