There are many concerns among Cavs fans after a 1-3 start to the season.
But there is one issue that was very apparent in Tuesday night’s 100-88 loss to the Hawks and could impact the team throughout the season: crunch time.
To be exact, the whole fourth quarter was poor on Tuesday.
Going into the game, the third quarter had caused alarm. The third has plagued the Cavs for the past decade, it seems.
But they actually played an outstanding third quarter and outscored the Hawks 26-15 on Tuesday.
While the third will continue to be watched closely, this is the NBA. Every team makes a run, and most games are truly decided in the final quarter.
That is why there is one big question to raise about the Cavs’ performance against the Hawks. They were outscored 26-15 in the fourth and shot just 25 percent from the field.
Who is going to take over in crunch time?
J.J. Hickson had a big night with 31 points, but was 1-for-4 from the field in the fourth.
Mo Williams was 1-for-6 coming off an injury. Antawn Jamison was out with a sore knee.
Somebody from that trio—which is far from what anybody would call the “Big Three”—is going to have to become the leader late in the game. The sharing team mentality can work for most of the game, but there needs to be a player that can come through in the clutch.
Mo looked a little bit rusty on Tuesday night, but he can become that player once he gets more comfortable in the offense. He tends to rely on the outside shot too much, but he can also lead by becoming a distributor in the clutch.
The Cavs looked disorganized offensively late in the Hawks game, and part of it was that Mo is still trying to settle in.
Hickson has shown the talent to score in bunches, but it would be nice to see him work from the post a little bit more often to put pressure on the defense. The majority of his work was done in the mid-range game on Tuesday.
Jamison, with the combination of his injury and general ineffectiveness, will be a shaky prospect at best unless he gets more comfortable. He simply has not looked like himself ever since the Cavs traded for him in February.
Daniel Gibson is a dark-horse candidate, and I can see him contributing in some late heroics because of his ability to get hot from downtown. However, you can't expect a hot-and-cold three-point shooter to lead you in crunch time every night.
As if Cleveland fans need to be reminded, there is no star player to bail this team out. To even get to the point of important crunch-time minutes, the Cavs will need to outhustle and outwork their opponents most nights.
They will need to cut down on their turnovers and play better team defense.
Those factors are all part of the formula. But the fourth-quarter execution will determine the Cavs’ fate this season.