It wasn’t as easy as it could have, and probably should have been, but the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Orlando Magic to extend their winning streak to six.
The Cavs came out in this game picking up right where they left off in Philly, jumping to a big lead early, and eventually extending the lead all the way to 21. But in the 3rd quarter the Cavs starters stumbled a bit on both ends and let the Magic crawl back into the game. Orlando would hang around the rest of the game, eventually getting within 2. But then Tyler Zeller grabbed a huge offensive rebound and converted an And-1 and the Cavaliers never looked back, coming away with a 101-93 win.
This was by no means a perfect game, but it was a game the Cavaliers needed to win and the bottom line is, they made the plays they needed to in order to get the job done.
Now lets get into some numbers…
16 points on 5 shots – What can be said about Tyler Zeller? At the beginning of this season, Zeller could barely get on the court. In his first 8 games he only played more than 4 minutes twice and more than 8 minutes once. Rather than sulk and give up, though, he kept working on his game and always stayed ready to play. After Andrew Bynum was traded and Anderson Varejao started missing games with injury, the Cavaliers needed Zeller to step up. And he has delivered in a big way, playing the best basketball of his career. Zeller continues to go strong to the rim, drawing fouls, and knocking down open jumpers from the elbow when the defense gives it. Against Orlando, Zeller scored 16 points on just 5 FG attempts. He was 4-of-5 from the field and 8-of-9 from the FT line, for an impressive 0.8929 TS%. He was a team high +15 in this game as well.
14.3% – The Cavaliers defense held the Magic to just 14.3% shooting from the field for 11 points in the first quarter. With a depleted bench, it was important for the Cavs starters to set the tone early and get off to a good start, and the defense was tremendous in the first quarter. They were pretty good for most of this game, holding Orlando to 39.3% shooting overall, but the first quarter was what really got the team off to such a strong start.
9 to 8 – With Anderson Varejao out, sliding Zeller to the starting lineup, and with Dion hurt, the Cavs’ bench was in rough shape. When the Cavaliers starters let the Magic back in the game in the 3rd quarter, it put a lot of pressure on this bench unit to maintain the slim lead. Kyrie left the game with 1:14 left in the 3rd quarter and returned with 8:55 left in the 4th quarter after CJ Miles hurt his ankle. Over that stretch, the Cavaliers outscored the Magic by a 9 to 8 margin. The bench rose to the challenge and despite shooting just 3-of-10 in that stretch, they outrebounded the Magic 6 to 3 and had 2 assists to 0 turnovers. It was one of the most important periods of the game, and the bench deserves a lot of credit for hanging on.
All 5 in double figures – With the bench being shorthanded, the Cavs really needed to lean on their starters, and all five starters scored double figures. Kyrie Irving had another excellent all around game and led the team with 22 points. Luol Deng had 17 points including a huge dagger 3 late in the game. Tristan Thompson had another double-double with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Even Jarrett Jack had a nice quiet 10 points. Other than the bad stretch of the 3rd quarter, the starters were really good in this game.
14-of-18 – In the 4th quarter of this game, the Cavaliers hit 14 of 18 free throws to help put away the game. Overall the Cavs hit 30 of their 37 free throw attempts. They had a 37 to 24 edge in free throw attempts, and when the game got close, it was the free throws that ultimately made the difference.
Once again, it would be easy to downplay the value of hanging on to beat a bad Magic team at home. But when you put together a win streak, you’re going to face some adversity and have some ups and downs. The important thing is that the Cavaliers never lost their composure and never let the Magic gain the lead. When you add in the injury losses of Varejao, Waiters, and Miles, it makes it even better that the Cavaliers were able to hang on and find a way to win.
Now the Cavaliers prepare for a crucial stretch of games against the Raptors, Wizards, and Raptors again. These next 3 games will set the stage for the upcoming stretch of difficult opponents. But for now, they can simply enjoy a well earned 6 game winning streak.