CLEVELAND -- With the game in the balance, Cavaliers rookie guard Dion Waiters dribbled near the top of the key, passed to rookie center Tyler Zeller, who then passed it back.
Two rookies. One ball. One outcome to be determined. The results werent likely to be very good.
And they werent.
Waiters missed an off-balance jumper from the perimeter, a shot that came with enough time to make another pass. It was the type of shot a rookie figures he can make -- but usually cant.
Now, this isnt intended to pick on Waiters or Zeller, or excuse the fact the Cavs dropped a 102-94 decision to the visiting Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
Nor does any of it justify the Hawks closing the game on a 9-0 run.
But that sequence does, perhaps, help things make a little sense. It does, perhaps, make another difficult loss at The Q a little easier to stomach.
Good example of youth vs. experience, was how Cavs coach Byron Scott summed it up.
And that, kids, was pretty much the story.
The Cavs (7-24) started the game with two rookies and two second-year guys in their starting five. Its also how they finished.
The Hawks (18-9) were considerably more seasoned than that and it showed. They passed the ball out of double teams, found the open man, worked hard for the best possible shot.
The Cavs settled for long jumpers.
Some people want to point at Scott, blaming the coach for the Cavs shortcomings in the final minutes. But Scott basically shared the same game plan as Hawks coach Larry Drew -- keep the ball moving, focus on your spacing, have faith in what you're doing.
The Hawks are polished enough to pull it off. The Cavs are green enough to make you go bonkers.
I wasnt really happy with the execution the last two or three minutes, Scott said. Thats an understatement, and I let (the players) know.
When it came to rushing shots, nearly everyone took a turn. Waiters launched his off one foot, his shoulders squared to the left, the basket sitting to the right. Kyrie Irving heaved another from the top of the key. Zeller clanged one off the side of the rim.
Everyone probably could have taken an extra dribble, made an extra pass (or three), looked for something better.
But thats youth in the NBA.
Its maddening. Its learning. Its losing games like this at home.
And that was just the offense.
Defensively, the Cavs were too often lacked focus and failed to make the proper rotations on too many possessions. Again, it was nothing drastic, nothing that screamed this team has no future. It was lapses. It was things that were correctable -- but correctable, it seems, only in time.
"Theres no doubt we have to execute first on the defensive end and that will lead to our offensive execution, said irving, who finished with a game-high 28 points. Weve got to make shots, settle in, and not lose our focus, especially in the last few minutes.
Those changes wont happen overnight. They probably wont happen this season. They will need to happen at some point, however, or folks will be playing elsewhere or out of jobs entirely.
But it's not time to get all stressed out about it.
The Cavs only need to take these tests for the time being. They cant really be expected to pass on a regular basis.
Well, at least not pass the test. The ball, however, needs to move a little more in these situations.
Hopefully, the Cavs know that now.
Waiters added 18 points for the Cavs, but just two came in the second half.
On the bright side, the Cavs were 14-of-14 on free throws. On the down side, Irving didnt attempt a single one -- a sign he probably didnt go to the basket nearly enough.
Jeff Teague scored a career-high 27 points to lead the Hawks. Coach (Drew) has pulled me aside and told me to be more aggressive, and thats what I tried to do, Teague said.
Former Cavs director of player personnel and Canton Charge GM Wes Wilcox attended the game, this time as the Hawks assistant GM. Wilcox currently works under Hawks GM Danny Ferry, also formerly of the Cavs. Ferry was not at The Q.
Waiters grabbed a career-high six rebounds. Irving also had six boards, tying his career best.
Zeller finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. Small forward Alonzo Gee added 10 points, as did swingman C.J. Miles off the bench.
Cavs guard Daniel Gibson suffered a concussion in the second quarter after a hard fall. He did not travel with the team for Saturdays game at Brooklyn.
Cavs center Anderson Varejao missed his fifth straight game with a bruised knee. He will not play Saturday vs. the Nets, either. I want to be back (Saturday), but I know its not possible, Varejao said. But hopefully another week. That would be perfect for me.
After the game, Scott pointed out that of the Cavs 24 losses, 20 have come after they led or trailed by no more than six points entering the fourth quarter. Weve been right there, he said. Its just learning how to close games out.