In a season already full of lows, the Cleveland Cavaliers hit rock bottom against the Orlando Magic.
Cleveland had Monday's game in the bag after J.R. Smith hit a would-be dagger three to put the Cavaliers up 100-95 with 40 seconds left. Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Tristan Thompson, and Cedi Osman embraced Smith at center court as they prepared to celebrate just their second victory of the season.
But it was all downhill from there. The Cavaliers proceeded to put on a comical display of ineptitude over the last five possessions of the game and allowed the Magic to score seven points in less than 24 seconds. It was an embarrassing choke job, even by Cleveland standards. Here's how that final stretch broke down:
An unlikely bounce
Osman nearly seals the win with some tremendous defense against Evan Fournier. He comes inches from stealing the ball with a diving effort near half court, then recovers to force Fournier into a tough shot.
However, the Cavaliers fail to secure the defensive rebound. Smith dutifully boxes out the bigger Aaron Gordon, but the deep triple produces a long rebound that falls right to Gordon, who promptly overwhelms the smaller Smith to score with just under 24 seconds on the clock. Chalk this sequence up to bad luck.
An entirely avoidable mistake
Cleveland still has the upper hand despite Gordon's layup. All they need to do is inbound the ball, safely cross half court, and hold onto the ball until the Magic commit the intentional foul with the shot clock turned off.
Smith successfully inbounds to Hill, who anticipates the oncoming trap and splits three Magic defenders with an incisive pass to Osman, a 76 percent foul shooter. The 23-year-old should just shield the ball, milk the clock, and invite the foul to seal the game.
Instead, Osman gets greedy and goes for the home-run play by passing to a cutting Clarkson, who appears to have an easy layup. However, Clarkson fumbles the pass, then immediately fouls D.J. Augustin while trying to recover the loose ball. That leads to two free throws for the Magic, cutting the lead to one.
Cleveland still has a chance to win despite their previous gaffes. Interim head coach Larry Drew calls timeout to draw up an inbound play designed to stretch the Magic defense by stationing two players in the backcourt and two in the frontcourt.
However, the Cavaliers negate the advantages of Drew's set by inbounding to Kyle Korver in the most dangerous spot on the floor. Korver catches the pass but is trapped between the sidelines and half court while being hounded by Fournier and Terrence Ross. Korver succumbs to the blitz, and the Magic race the other way for another two free throws.
Cleveland dodges a bullet when Fournier splits the pair to tie the game instead of taking the lead. Drew calls another timeout, and the Cavaliers nearly turn it over on the same spot on the floor before Hill rescues the pass.
At this point, the Cavaliers get into their set with plenty of time remaining. The action is supposed to involve Clarkson setting a screen for Thompson in hopes of coaxing a switch and luring Nikola Vucevic to the perimeter so Hill can attack the paint with no rim protectors. However, Clarkson whiffs on the screen and Vucevic manages to stay in the paint and block Hill at the rim. To make matters worse, Hill fumbles the ball after the blocked shot and gives possession back to the Magic.
The saddest part of the entire sequence is that Drew defers to a Hill-Thompson pick-and-roll when he needs a basket the most. If that's the best option, then it's no wonder Cleveland is 1-9 to start the year.
A fitting end
Orlando spares Cleveland from playing another five miserable minutes by ending the game in regulation.
Magic coach Steve Clifford draws up a set designed for his shooters to get a quick look with 1.8 seconds on the clock. The first option is to find Ross curling to the corner, but the Magic wisely look him off after Smith stays attached through the screen. Orlando goes with option No. 2 in Fournier, who curls around another screen by Vucevic to catch the ball up top.
Fournier gets just enough separation from Osman with a pump fake before repositioning himself and calmly draining the game-winning shot to complete Cleveland's epic collapse.
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