CLEVELAND, Ohio – The level of energy the Cleveland Cavaliers’ reserves created in the fourth quarter Wednesday should help produce wins.
The Cavs were down by six at the end of the third quarter, only to see their bench players fuel a furious start of the final 12 minutes that built an 11-point lead. It was a familiar issue — poor offensive execution over the final minutes — that led to a 116-110 home loss to Houston.
Though their losing streak has reached eight games, the Cavs’ bench, led by rookie Kevin Porter Jr., had Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse electrified in the fourth. Porter, John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson combined for 53 points for the game, four fewer than the starters’ 57. Porter scored 24 points to snag a new career high.
It was his first time playing at the end of a game where the Cavs had a good chance to win. He enjoyed the moment.
“Definitely the energy and the atmosphere is different,” Porter said. “You feel that energy from the crowd, you feed off of that. The game just seems like it’s a nailbiter. I like being in that position for sure.”
Aside from Porter’s career night, the best strength of the second unit was its defense. Porter and Clarkson accounted for four of the Cavs’ eight steals, with Porter having a team-high three. The unit’s length and quickness were effective on the perimeter, as the Rockets committed five turnovers in the fourth quarter. According to NBA.com stats, the Cavs had nine points off turnovers in the fourth. Cleveland finished with 23 points off turnovers, its second-highest total of the season.
While Porter and Clarkson manned the perimeter, Henson patrolled the paint. Known for his shot blocking, Henson is 12th among active players for blocks per game (1.5), according to NBA.com stats. Though he didn’t record a block Wednesday, Henson contested six shots, with four being 2-pointers.
As Henson recounted the team’s performance, he spoke of how hard it is watching James Harden score with such ease despite being defended well. Harden finished with 55 points, pouring in 20 in the final quarter.
“It’s kind of tough man,” Henson said. “I didn’t think we gave him a lot of open shots. He just hit some tough, tough makes, and that’s part of being in the NBA.”
The league’s best scorer, Harden often faces defensive trapping, but he’ll more often than not just find an open teammate. Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks tried basically letting Harden drive to the hoop, forcing him to either score in the lane against help defenders or create for others as much as possible.
“We tried to come with a two and two thing and corral him, and (it) didn’t work,” Henson said. “We’ll be better for it, but we played well down the stretch.”
The defensive energy created some offensive opportunities that weren’t cashed in because of the balky execution. Porter committed two costly turnovers in the final minute.
Despite the loss, the Cavs have something to built upon with this second unit’s defensive potential. Dellavedova has made a career out of playing stout perimeter defense. Porter and Clarkson have shown good awareness when playing passing lanes.
Henson protects the interior well, and Nance is the most versatile member, being able to defend guards, wings and bigs.
“That unit was all plus by a lot,” coach John Beilein said of the reserves’ plus-minus. “They really were playing well together.
“It’s probably our better defensive team overall. And that’s not to talk poorly about the first team. It’s just a really good defensive group.”