For one night, Cavs get it right. And one night is good enough
Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao (17), from Brazil, shoots in front of Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) in the first half of an NBA basketball game on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Washington.
WASHINGTON — After everything they’ve been through, all the junk they’ve had to read and listen to, the Cavaliers needed a night like this.
Man, did they ever need a night like this.
"We needed a win," Cavs guard Dion Waiters said in the visiting locker room, and you could almost feel his sigh of relief.
Final score: Cavs 115, Wizards 113 in front of an announced crowd of 16,294 at the Verizon Center on Friday.
Waiters scored 24 points and played off All-Star backcourt-mate Kyrie Irving about as well as we’ve seen in their nearly two full seasons together. Irving finished with 23.
And that was just one example of how the Cavs were different on this night. But it was probably the most important.
Irving and Waiters have supposedly been at odds for most of the year. True or not, it’s been the perception. Their inability to feed off each other was among the many reasons the Cavs (17-33) have been so horribly maddening, so irksomely inconsistent.
It also played a role in general manager Chris Grant losing his job on Thursday. When Irving and Waiters aren’t cohesive, almost no one is.
"We played off one another," Waiters said. "Once we do that, it’s hard to stop us."
Waiters spoke shortly after getting a cut above his right knee bandaged by the team trainer. He didn’t really explain how it happened. He didn’t really care. He just sort of smiled and waved it off.
As a team, the Cavs sort of did the same to their miserable six-game losing streak.
They had lost eight of nine. They had suffered through reports of everything from in-fighting to partying to general discord under coach Mike Brown.
It was just one game. It was just one win. It was just one night. But man, one night can save a season. Honest.
"The energy was different," Waiters said. "These guys knew what was at stake, after going through a situation like we went through."
Brown admitted before the game that Grant’s firing was difficult. While Brown left this part out, he and Grant were close. Grant convinced owner Dan Gilbert to rehire Brown. It is a plan that has mostly failed so far.
"It’s a difficult situation," Brown said of the change. "But we’ve got a job to do."
Acting GM David Griffin, who normally wouldn’t attend these types of run-of-the-mill trips while working under Grant, flew in to be with the team. Griffin even accompanied Irving to the locker room when Irving walked back during the third quarter to have his foot examined. (Irving re-entered and finished the game, and by all accounts, is fine.)
It’s been one thing after another for the Cavs, and while Griffin’s appearance may not have inspired anyone, it certainly did not go unnoticed by the guys in uniform.
Interestingly, the last time the Cavs played this well was after landing Luol Deng — in a game that also happened to take place on the road (at Utah). Interestingly, Deng missed Friday’s game with the flu.
Interestingly, Irving was sick Friday, too. But he dove to the floor in chase of a loose ball, took a charge, and passed for a game-high 12 assists. It was the Kyrie Irving who Cavs fans grew to know and truly love.
"I’m alright," Irving said. "To go out there and for my teammates to (give) the effort that they did tonight, it was great."
The Wizards (24-25) are suddenly a team on the rise, a team now worthy of measuring yourself against. John Wall (32 points, 10 assists) is something else, an All-Star in his fourth season and perhaps playing better than any point guard in the East. Overall, the Wiz are a dangerous team from the perimeter, as evidenced by their 11-of-20 shooting on 3-pointers.
But on Friday, the Cavs shared the ball for open looks (52 percent shooting), and defended well enough. Not Mike Brown D, but enough to win.
C.J. Miles started in Deng’s place and gave another vastly underrated showing with 18 points and tons of leadership by example. Alonzo Gee showed up, too, scoring 11 athletic points off the bench.
So where do the Cavs go from here?
We’ll see. It’s been a difficult journey so far, and that cannot be debated.
But change is here again, and again, the Cavs have given us a one-night example of what can happen when they are determined and play together.