James bemoans soft-touch Cavs as Celtics close in

The Nuggets' Gary Harris fending off the Cavs' Kyrie Irving. With Cleveland's loss to Denver, Boston are closing in for top billing in the East.
The Nuggets' Gary Harris fending off the Cavs' Kyrie Irving. With Cleveland's loss to Denver, Boston are closing in for top billing in the East.PHOTO: REUTERS

DENVER (Colorado) • The Cleveland Cavaliers' lead over the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference is now down to one game.

With 12 National Basketball Association (NBA) regular-season games to go for Cleveland after their 113-126 loss at Denver on Wednesday, Cavs star LeBron James demanded more from his team-mates.

"It ain't about a group. It's about individuals," he told reporters after the reigning NBA champions allowed the Nuggets to score 73 points in the first half and score 70 points in the paint. "We've got to be more, just do more. It ain't about no group. You can't preach toughness. You've got to have it."

With their latest poor defensive performance, Cleveland (46-24) have given up 112.6 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, which ranks 29th in the 30-team league.

And with the Boston Celtics (46-26) defeating the Indiana Pacers 109-100 on Wednesday, the Cavs have a battle on their hands to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East.

Cleveland have a game left at Boston on April 8. They hope to shore up a shaky defence that has let three straight opponents shoot better than 50 per cent.

"We didn't play inspired basketball. Very rarely do you see that from us," Cavs power forward Kevin Love said. "In the third quarter, we played hard but the rotations weren't there, help defenders weren't there. Too many offensive rebounds, too many extra possessions."

Gary Harris scored 21 points for Denver, Will Barton had 20 and Wilson Chandler scored 18. Nikola Jokic finished with 16 points and also had 10 rebounds.

"We've been playing with a certain type of confidence the last few weeks and I feel like we're clicking right now," said Harris.

Denver (34-37) will need to carry that effort if it wants to hold off the Portland Trail Blazers (32-38) for the last Western Conference play-off spot.

Kyrie Irving led Cleveland with 33 points, James scored 18 and Deron Williams had 19 off the bench.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2017, with the headline 'James bemoans soft-touch Cavs as Celtics close in'. Print Edition | Subscribe