CLEVELAND — Maybe the Cavaliers are starting to get it.
Maybe the Mike Brown rally cry of needing to defend first, second and last really works.
Maybe all the Cavs really need is a little bit of time and a whole lot of Kyrie Irving.
They’ve definitely made a strong case for themselves lately — the latest example coming in Tuesday’s 109-94 sink job of the visiting New York Knicks.
And it’s certainly going well at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs have won four in a row (and four of five overall).
“It seems like we’re getting a little more resilient,” Brown said.
Perhaps no one displayed that as much as Irving. He scored the game’s first basket off an aggressive drive and layup. He worked as hard as ever defensively against Knicks point guards Raymond Felton and Pablo Prigioni. He found open teammates; he drained open shots.
In the end, Irving went for 37 points, 11 assists and one measly and meaningless late-game turnover. He’s had bigger nights statistically, but if we’re talking this season, he hasn’t played better.
“It’s just another game,” Irving said modestly, and let’s hope he’s right.
More games like these and the Cavs (8-13) are going places.
Granted, the victory came over the Knicks, who are sort of the werewolves of pro basketball. They only scare you about once every full moon.
But it’s not the Cavs’ fault that the wheels are coming off in New York. You can only beat the team you’re playing, and it’s almost as if the Cavs did that twice Tuesday night.
They led by 18 in the first quarter, before the Knicks charged back to tie it in the second. So the Cavs just built it back up to 18 in the third (and even 19 in the fourth).
And they did it the Brown way.
They used defense to help create opportunities at the other end. They took care of the ball. They knocked down open shots.
Brown has preached about “keeping it simple” since training camp. The Cavs did just that, and it would be difficult to point to a night where they played with more precision.
But what makes you think they’re finally starting to grasp what it takes to win is they brought energy and effort even when things started heading south.
Again, the backslide happened in the second quarter. The Cavs committed eight turnovers in 12 minutes, including four in nine from Dion Waiters. It gave you the feeling of, “Oh good grief. Here we go again.”
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting, began to connect. Amare Stoudemire (15 points) couldn’t miss. Even the Knicks can take advantage of your silly mistakes. Miserable or not, this is the NBA.
The Cavs had plenty of reasons to collapse. Heavens knows, we’ve seen it before.
Instead, the likes of Irving, Tristan Thompson and Alonzo Gee simply refused to allow any of that bad stuff to happen again.
Irving scored 12 points and passed for five assists in the third. Thompson scored eight of his 12, including a soaring one-handed putback dunk that lifted the team. And Gee went 4-of-4 shooting to score all eight of his points. Even C.J. Miles got in on it, tallying half of his 10 underrated points.
Speaking of numbers, let’s not forget the night put forth by Jarrett Jack. He ended up with 17 points on 6-of-8 from the field, and without question, played his best floor game of the year.
And where did most of it start? Oh, you guessed it. With defense.
“Our biggest thing was to push the pace, come out with great energy and put our foot on the gas,” Miles said of the Cavs’ mindset after halftime.
The Cavs have talked like that in the past, but rarely has it actually sprung to life. It’s just been talk.
Not on Tuesday.
So maybe, with the defense solidifying and the offense looking more cohesive, the Cavs are on to something here.
“Are we better offensively today than we were three weeks ago?” Brown asked. “Yessir.”
Are the Cavs better all the way around than three weeks ago?