Give them the nod. Mad props this morning go out to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Head Coach Byron Scott. Last night, they rolled into Miami on an eight-game losing streak to take on the red-hot Heat, winners of nine straight. This was a true case of two teams going in opposite directions.
Earlier this month (though it seems like a year ago), the Heat absolutely throttled the Cavs to the point that the anger in the Cleveland crowd turned to the home team, whose effort seemed to match that of LeBron James during the infamous Game Five against Boston in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. On that night, the Wine and Gold were disgraced and started on a downward spiral which has seen them lose by double digits night after night. On the other side of the coin were the Heat, who took off, seemed to find their way that night, and haven’t lost since.
So last night, the Cavs entered as 16.5-point underdogs and were given zero chance to win. But a different Cleveland team showed up as Scott shortened his rotation to eight guys and went with his best. All five starters played over 37 minutes and they battled until the final whistle in a 101-95 loss. They say there are so such thing as a moral victory, but if there is, last night was one.
“I couldn’t ask for them to play any harder than they played,” Scott said. “I thought they were terrific effort-wise. I thought the energy was fantastic.”
The stars of the night for the Cavs were Boobie Gibson and Anderson Varejao, though it was a true team effort that kept them step for step with the Heat for 48 minutes. Boobie seemed to knock down big shot after big shot, leading the Cavs with 26 points. Andy was all over the floor like the guy we all fell in love with over the last five years. He finished with 17 points and 15 boards while owning the paint. Credit must also go to the much maligned Anthony Parker who played as close to perfect defense on LeBron as anyone possible could. James was just 5-15 from the field, missing all four of his shots from deep.
Speaking of defense, the hard fouls that so many expected to happen in the home debacle on December 2nd, showed up last night. Joey Graham and Gibson were amongst the Cavs would took shots at James and Dwyane Wade as they drove to the hole. It was the kind of physical play that is needed against a Heat team that some view as soft.
Said Gibson: “They’ve been doing what they want to do. What we wanted to do tonight was any opportunity we got to step in front of somebody or stop somebody from scoring, whatever that meant, that’s what we were going to do.”
The tactics worked. While the Cavs allowed over 100 points for the ninth time in 10 games, their overall defense was much tighter as a unit. The Heat shot 45% from the field and were forced to the line a whopping 41 times.
The nice-nice routine was also gone from this game, after being talked about ad nauseum after the last time the two teams met.
“No talking,” Mo Williams said. “We just played basketball.”
The difference in this tight game was the Heat’s stars. While James struggled and Chris Bosh was having a relatively quiet night, Wade exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his 28 points.
“He’s a big-time player who made big-time plays,” said Gibson of Wade.
Of course, nobody is happy that the Cavaliers have lost nine straight, but something good came out of last night. The shortened rotation and defined roles led to better on-the-court play. Plus, the group banded together for their best effort and performance in three weeks.
Scott put it best: “I hope this is the last time I have to say, ‘If you continue to play this hard, with this type of energy every single night, we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win.’ That’s all we ask.”
The Cavaliers try to end their skid tomorrow night in Indiana against the Pacers.
(photo via Hector Gabino/El Nuevo Herald/MCT)