Random thoughts from the Cavaliers’ 109-105 loss at Miami on Sunday:
• People say there’s no such thing as a moral victory, but when you start two rookies and two second-year players, you’d better believe there is. And you’d better believe the Cavs got one on Sunday. Got it? Good. We can move on now.
• The Cavs trailed by 18 points at the half (64-46). A couple minutes later, they trailed by 22. We all just assumed they’d go on a little run, and probably cut the lead to 10 or 11 at some point — then lose by 25. At least, that’s what I was sure thinking.
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• Instead, the Cavs surged to an 88-83 lead behind rookie Dion Waiters and veteran reserve C.J. Miles, who decided two key 3-pointers weren’t enough, so he assembled a five-point play (with a little bit of help from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra). That’s when Miles hit a three, got fouled, made the free throw, then made a technical free throw. We always talk about the greatness of Heat stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, but it was Miles who made the play of the game.
• Waiters scored 26 points on 11-for-17 shooting. Miles scored 19 on 6-for-11. That’s 45 points and 17-of-28 for the Cavs’ two shooting guards. If you get anything close to that on most nights in this guard-dominated league … well, you should do pretty well.
• Most impressively was the fact Waiters attempted just two 3-pointers. Earlier in the season, Cavs coach Byron Scott wanted Waiters to start taking the ball to the basket more often, actually finishing be darned. The important thing was for the rookie to develop good habits, not to settle for lazy long-range bombs. Clearly, Waiters is getting the message.
• Actually, Waiters was the Cavs’ most important player on this night, and not just because he made shots. He played with fire and when he came out of the game to rest, the Cavs’ lost a little bit of their edge. The kid can flat-out fill it up, yes. But he also has some swagger. Nothing wrong with that.
• Kyrie Irving missed a couple of important shots at the end, but nothing that couldn’t be overcome. He finished 6-for-16 shooting for 17 points. He also had a few crossovers that wowed the Heat crowd. Yes, James and Wade were on the floor, and Heat fans liked what they saw from Kyrie. That’s some high praise right there.
• Meanwhile, Tristan Thompson didn’t put up huge numbers (11 points, 12 rebounds), but he was definitely a factor and even out-battled Chris Bosh (seven points, five boards). Remember, Bosh has a championship ring and started in the All-Star game. A lot of folks were calling Thompson a flop at the start of the year. That opinion had better changing, because Thompson deserves nothing but praise for his play over the past two months.
• Afterward, James said, “We’re a veteran ballclub and we’ve been in every situation that an NBA game can offer us.” He speaks the truth. The Cavs, on the other hand, are a young ballclub and relatively new to these situations. So mark this down as another phase in the learning curve.
• Even the Heat had to be surprised at how they buried a sizzling 63 percent (12-for-19) of their threes. As Scott will tell you, some of that was the Cavs’ failure to get out on shooters. As common sense will tell you, the Heat were just on fire — especially early.
• Miami shot 52 percent from the floor overall, and is 24-2 when doing so. This was the Heat’s 11th straight win, too.
• If there’s one thing other Heat opponents can learn from the Cavs, it’s that you’ll have a chance if you take care of the ball. The Cavs’ committed just 11 turnovers in each game at Miami, and each went to the final minute. Luke Walton made three turnovers, and no other Cav had more than two. Irving played all but 12 minutes and didn’t commit any.
• The Cavs (18-38) have looked much better recently, much more like a cohesive unit that really is just growing and making progress and not just talking about it. Eventually, the result will be an upset victory. For now, all they can really expect is to play hard and give themselves a fighting chance. On Sunday, they did that against the league’s best team.