A starting five featuring three players who had never suited up along side LeBron James. Rather than pregame hugs and handshakes, the sellout crowd at Quicken Loans Arena needed a self-proclaimed King to skip out on pregame introductions, only to come back on to the floor when the lights had gone dim.
Instead of former teammates Jawad Williams and Anderson Varejao giving way to an embarrassment of riches, Cleveland needed half-court alley-oops from Baron Davis to Alonzo Gee; blocked shots and two-hand finishes from Ryan Hollins.
Maybe the environment within The Q needed to be a bit different. With considerably less negative energy permeating from the wine-colored seats, the overall reception was not as raucous as it was on December 2 when the Cavaliers were dealt one of their more crushing, effortless defeats of the season.
Rather than providing Williams, Joey Graham and Jamario Moon with 47 combined minutes at the wing, Byron Scott needed to go with the undersized yet (somehow) effective Anthony Parker, who would surprise even the most delusional of Cavalier fans by finishing with 20 points (on 1.000 eFG%) and seven rebounds in 29 minutes of hard-nosed, determined play. Compared to settling for mid-range jump shots, the Cavs were apparently better off attacking the rim and getting 22 combined free throw attempts from their starting frontcourt alone.
Piling on, Ryan Hollins has never taken more than 10 free throws in a single game in his entire career. He had also never played 36 minutes in a contest. On this night, he made it to the line 12 times and led the team in playing time with 36 minutes and 24 seconds; he also exchanged words with Dwyane Wade, drawing a technical foul and a “get out of jail free” card from all in attendance.
Miraculously, Hollins finished the night +33 in terms of point differential. Chris Bosh was -24.
Sure, the night came with it’s nail-biting moments where the Cavaliers would squander a huge 23-point lead to have the game tied up midway through the fourth quarter. But with Davis checking in right around this mark, the Heat would go scoreless for nearly five minutes of play as the Wine and Gold would extend their lead for good as the night became such a meaningful win that even the free chalupas were an afterthought.
Dan Gilbert tossed high-fives to anyone in he could reach. Smiles on the Cavaliers bench were ear to ear. Head coach Byron Scott let out a huge sigh of relief. And, perhaps most importantly, LeBron James walked off of the floor with his head down in defeat as 20,562 fans soaked in every step of his depressed march.
In the grand scheme of things, this was only the Cavaliers 14th win in a season that is nearing it’s end. But in a picture much larger than the grand scheme, the lowly, misguided Cavaliers topped the Miami Heat at home. It may not have been on TNT, but the world was certainly watching. And it may not have been a complete retribution for the complete destruction that took place almost four months prior, but man it was a lot of fun to watch, even if it was just for one night.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)