Following the Cavaliers’ loss to the New York Knicks, the defeated members of the Wine and Gold sat in front of their lockers, echoing the words of their head coach — we’re not good enough to merely flip a switch and expect to win. The league is tough, full of talented players who are perpetually out to prove their worth. To coast at any point in a contest is to allow changes in momentum, changes that are often never regained.
And then Wednesday happened.
The Cavaliers were lackadaisical. Their attempts to attack the rim were qualified as “going through the motions,” which directly led to multiple double-digit deficits and plenty of head scratching. Then following a third-quarter time out, Byron Scott, in his head coachly way, told his team that they were showing zero interest in their current habitat and that if they wanted to not be embarrassed in front of 13,000 Cleveland fans, that it was going to be a now-or-never approach to the game’s final 15 minutes.
Seemingly out of the ether, the Cavaliers decided that they would choose “now,” and stunned the Utah Jazz with a flurry of punches — three-pointers, charges, steals, transition dunks — that left the visitors stunned and wobbling. The Jazz would take one more swing, a full-speed lay-up attempt from the right hand of former Cavalier Mo Williams, but it would not connect and the Cavaliers would steal a game that they had no business winning. But rather than attempting to go blow-for-blow with the Jazz as they did the Knicks two nights earlier, the Cavs not only stepped up their intensity when possessing the ball, they did even more so when they were without it.
“We got much more aggressive on the defensive end,” said Scott. “We held them on the offensive rebounds, we made some shots, we started attacking more and our energy level for some reason went sky high the last 15 minutes of the game. We just started getting into them and playing a little bit more physical. We gave ourselves an opportunity and we got the big steal with Wayne [Ellington] getting the dunk.”
The injury-riddled Cavs were primed to be the ones receiving the body blows given the size of the Jazz frontcourt. Playing without center Al Jefferson, Utah still reaped the benefits of big-bodied forwards Paul Millsap and Enes Kanter as well as the 270-pound Derek Favors. Though they were giving up a few pounds on the post, it would be Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller who would step up, blocking six of the team’s season-high 12 shots. The last time the Cavaliers had at least 12 blocks was in November of 2007 ((Coincidentally also against the Utah Jazz)).
Looking past the on-again-off-again effort, this recent Cavaliers win had something for everyone. All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving took the role of distributor and defender once his shot was not falling — he added a season-high seven rebounds as well as 10 assists, two steals and a blocked shot to his quietly accumulated 20 points. Thompson recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 boards 1 . CJ Miles and Mo Speights combined for 26 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks off of the bench 2 . And serving as icing: the win pushed the free-falling Jazz to a mere 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs — a slight continuation of this trend and the Cavaliers have the ability to move up considerably with their second first-round selection this coming summer.
“The coaches challenged us before the game and we let our offense take care of itself,” said Irving. ”Our defense led out to a couple of transition baskets. C.J. [Miles] played a hell of a game, especially in the fourth quarter. He hit some big shots. We were just trying to make [Utah] miss and in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. We got a couple of steals and transition baskets and that sealed the game for us.”
For at least one night, Cleveland sports fans can say that they finally caught a break. Sure, it was a regular season win against a team that will only pay a singular visit to Cleveland, but as Miles would say, the “basketball Gods” smiling down on this city for a night. A game that was seemingly well out of reach with just seven minutes to go turned into one of the more exciting finishes of the season. He would also echo his sentiments from two nights earlier that while luck played a large role in their win, the team is not experienced enough to simply flip a switch and decide to play over the waning minutes — consistent effort and aggressive play is integral in sustainable success.
On Wednesday night, the Cavs were handed a gift. The subsequent games, however, will more often than not have to be earned.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
- Over his last 35 games, Thompson has recorded 16 double-doubles and is averaging 13.7 points on 50-percent shooting, 10.5 rebounds and a block [back]
- Miles has quietly scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games [back]