With LeBron, all things again prove possible for Cavs
Ten random dribbles on the Cavaliers’ thriller of a 122-121 win over the host Boston Celtics on Friday:
1. The rest of the NBA has some nice teams, even some teams that are built to win a championship. But none of those teams has LeBron James. The Cavs and their fans should truly celebrate that fact — and Friday was another shining example why.
2. A lot of folks have been all over James lately. They spew doubts. They talk about James "losing his explosiveness" or "putting it in neutral." I don’t know about any of that. I don’t care. And neither should you. Bottom line: LeBron scored 41 points and willed his team to victory. He is still the best in the NBA, and to be blunt, it’s not really even close.
3. What I liked most about LeBron on Friday was how he constantly took on the biggest challenge defensively. Celtics center Kelly Olynyk got hot early, so guess who decided to defend him? Yep, LeBron James. Later, the Celtics’ most dangerous man was point guard Rajon Rondo. And guess who defended him at crunch time? Yep, LeBron James.
4. LeBron split a pair of free throws to give the Cavs their 122-121 lead. You could tell he was upset with himself for not making both. On the next trip down the floor, Rondo drove to the basket, and LeBron stripped the ball — which bounced right off Rondo’s foot and out of bounds. Cavs ball.
5. That is what you call a winning play made by a guy who’s been to four straight Finals and owns two championship rings with the Miami Heat. LeBron gets it done when it matters most. Remember, the Cavs trailed by 16 points with 12 minutes to go. And say what you will about what went wrong (read: plenty), the bottom line is they won their third straight. That is all that matters in this business.
6. Obviously, LeBron was a huge reason for the comeback, and that can’t be hyped enough if you ask me. As I said in the four seasons before this one, the Heat have LeBron and no one else does. But for the Cavs, this was a team rally in the truest sense. Kyrie Irving got it all started by scoring 12 points in the first THREE minutes of the fourth quarter. It was an amazing display on his way to 27 points (on 8-of-16 shooting).
7. The other third of the Big Three, Kevin Love, struggled mightily on offense. He went 2-of-12 from the field and even missed four free throws. For the first time this season, Love failed to hit a 3-pointer (0-of-3). But he deserves tons of credit for being the best rebounder on the floor, which is not uncommon. Love finished with 15 boards — and make no mistake, he played a huge role in this win.
8. OK, now for the negatives. I still think the bench is being drastically underutilized and coach David Blatt is struggling with his rotation. I could be wrong. Maybe this is the way Blatt wants it. But I doubt it. LeBron and Kyrie played 41 minutes apiece. Love played 37. And aside from Tristan Thompson, everyone who received time off the bench was a shooting guard/swingman (Joe Harris, Mike Miller, Dion Waiters). Harris hit a biggie, though, and the rookie is really playing well.
9. We all know the defense is atrocious. At least, the Cavs are refusing to play defense for a full 48 minutes. It’s more like 12. I think the Cavs can win and win a lot simply by outscoring people. And there is a long ways to go. But it would be a travesty to basketball for a team that’s this bad defensively to win a title. Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible. But I do think the Cavs can improve. If they do, well, they are in the championship conversation.
10. Every season, I’m more impressed with former Ohio State and current Celtics power forward Jared Sullinger. I felt a lot of teams made a big mistake by passing on him in the draft lottery in 2012. Sullinger is a smart player, he plays hard and he knows how to use his body underneath. He finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Old friends Evan Turner (Ohio State) and Tyler Zeller (Cavs) added 12 and eight points, respectively, for the Celtics. This team will be tough someday, as the C’s got a good one in coach Brad Stevens.