CLEVELAND -- After falling 117-115 on Sunday to an Atlanta Hawks team with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers showed signs of becoming a team divided, as several bench players called out the Cavs starters for their shoddy play.
"It's no secret we're starting games off awful," Dwyane Wade said after scoring a season-high 25 points as a reserve. "Terrible. And [Atlanta] got it going early, and the effort or the focus just wasn't there to start off, and you try to battle back, you waste a lot of energy trying to come back from 16-18 down, and it's tough nightly to do this. And we all know this. It's no secret in this locker room, but our first unit, we got to start off better."
Cleveland trailed 37-28 after the first quarter, making it the seventh time in 10 games that the team was down after one. The Cavs have given up 311 points in the first quarter this season, while scoring 262.
"I want one time for the first unit to get on the second unit because we blew a lead," Wade said with a chuckle. "I'm waiting for that day to happen."
All five Cleveland starters finished with negative plus-minus ratings against Atlanta. However, some (Derrick Rose was minus-27 in 20 minutes, Jae Crowder was minus-24 in 24 minutes) fared worse than others (LeBron James was minus-4 in 41 minutes).
Kevin Love might have had the worst day of any of them. First, he became so frustrated by picking up his third foul in the first half that he ripped his jersey in half, Hulk Hogan style. Then he exited the game for good in the third quarter with an illness, finishing with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and four rebounds. He was immediately taken to the Cleveland Clinic for evaluation, according to the Cavs, and was released a few hours later. Channing Frye, who filled in for Love with seven points and five rebounds -- but missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left -- was as outspoken as any Cavs player after the loss.
"We got to play harder," Frye said when asked about the slow starts. "We have to play harder, and I think we have to be more, more attentive to details, and I think we just have to have a better sense of urgency. ... We suck right now."
At least James showed some urgency after the game. He didn't even take the time to put on clothes after his shower, entering coach Tyronn Lue's office for a postgame meeting wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and slide sandals.
"No energy," James said after he followed his 57-point performance against Washington with 26 points, 13 assists and two blocks (and six turnovers) against the Hawks. "The effort was pretty bad, and you turn the corner, but you can't fix it in one game. This is something that has been going on for a while. We just have to try to figure it out. Tonight we fell into that again. ... We don't want to single anyone out, but everyone has to step up their play for us to be as good as we'd like to be."
Making matters worse, Atlanta came into Sunday riding an eight-game losing streak and was missing five rotation players because of injuries.
"I just think that every night we've got to respect our opponent and have a sense of urgency -- not in the fourth quarter, not the last six minutes, but from start to finish," Lue said. "It's been happening over the course of the last four years. When guys are out or we're playing teams that don't have a good record, we've got to understand they're still going to compete, and they're still going to play hard. If we don't match their energy, we're going to get beat."
One aspect of the game in which Cleveland did beat the Hawks was bench scoring, which was 64-26, aided by Kyle Korver scoring 19 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter while the Cavs tried to mount a comeback. Yet that only underscored Atlanta's starters' outscoring the Cavaliers' first unit 91-51.
"This goes back to we can't get behind the eight ball too much," Wade said. "We're getting behind 10-plus, and I told the guys, 'Every time I've came in the game besides one game, it's been a 10-plus hole that we're trying to dig out of.' We're confident in our second unit, but we don't want all that. Not every time."
Lue, who has tried to fix his team's first quarter problems by using six starting lineups through the first 10 games, was asked if it's his responsibility as the coach to get more out of his guys from the opening tipoff.
"I don't know," Lue said. "I've been around, it's my 20th season, and it's not a rah-rah thing. These guys are grown men. Just tell them the truth that teams are going to play hard. Isaiah Taylor and [Taurean] Prince, these guys are going to play hard, they're going to compete. Whether we know who these guys are or not, we've got to respect them."