Cleveland Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao (17), point guard Jarrett Jack (1) and power forward Tristan Thompson (13) celebrate after defeating the Orlando Magic 87-81 in overtime at Quicken Loans Arena.
CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers won a game they were supposed to win, which may not sound like much, but it sure beats the alternative.
And the alternative on this night was doggone close to reality.
But sadly, for the Cavs these days, beating the alternative is reward enough.
The Cavs were minus star guard Kyrie Irving, out with a bruised knee, yet scrapped to a hideous 87-81 overtime victory Thursday vs. the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena.
"It was an ugly game," said Cavs coach Mike Brown, and he was right on target. "Just like how I like it."
The number of poor souls who braved the blizzard-like conditions to watch two teams slog their way through this basketball torture chamber was announced at 14,248. It was probably closer to 11,000 — but either way, every last one of them deserved a medal.
Even Cavs guard Jarrett Jack praised the die-hards who stuck around despite the fact Cleveland trailed 78-68 with 1:34 remaining in regulation — and by seven points with a measly 14 seconds left.
"It turned out to be a crazy, ugly (butt) ‘W,’ but we got it," Jack said.
And while the Cavs (11-21) may not be No. 1, they are now at least No. 1 Better Than the Magic (10-22).
That, perhaps, tells you most of what you need to know about the way things are going. But sometimes, all it takes is a victory, any victory, to make you realize winning is still an actual possibility. Winning can cure a crummy mindset. Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter that the opponent stinks.
"It was exciting for our guys to win by getting stops," Brown said.
It was also exciting for anyone who stayed in the building to watch Cavs center Anderson Varejao play like the Varejao we loved and remembered from last season.
Actually, Varejao never stopped being Varejao. It’s just that now, he’s not backing up the plodding Andrew Bynum (more on him in a minute).
As Brown pointed out, Varejao always gives a fantastic effort and always makes winning plays. But Thursday, everyone got to see Varejao’s value in the box score: 18 points, a career-high 25 rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.
That’s right: A whopping 25 boards.
"It’s hard to explain his importance," Brown said of the man affectionately known as The Wild Thing. "A lot of nights you won’t be able to see his numbers in front of you. Andy’s like a right guard on the offensive line."
In other words, the running backs get all the glory, but it’s the linemen who pave the way.
"I still don’t know how we won this game," Varejao said.
Neither do the miserable Magic, but if you ask Brown, it was with defense. That’s what Brown has wanted all along, and if you’re going to beat anybody without Kyrie Irving, you’re not likely to do it by scoring a bushel of baskets.
Unless, of course, you’re talking about Dion Waiters. The Cavs guard entered the night as the top scoring reserve in the Eastern Conference at 15.5 points per game. He finished with 17, none being more important than the two he put through to tie it with 0.6 seconds left in regulation. Waiters sized up Magic guard Arron Afflalo, put the ball on the floor, drove to the basket and made what NBA folks like to call a winning play.
Tristan Thompson added an underrated 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Jack and C.J. Miles tacked on 14 points apiece. Rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova also provided his usual dose of fearlessness, including the huge charge he took on huge Magic forward Glen Davis (16 points) late in overtime.
The Cavs have a ways to go, especially when it comes to playing well for an entire 48 minutes. But they’re 1-0 while missing both Irving and Bynum, and maybe you can build off that.
Irving will be back, perhaps very soon (he’s listed as day-to-day). Bynum, however, will not. The Cavs are still working on trading him, if not to the Los Angeles Lakers in a deal for Pau Gasol, then perhaps in a move for something, anything, for anyone.
Bottom line: The Cavs won a game they should win. Next step: Finding ways and assembling a roster that helps them to win some they shouldn’t.