1: Their team is alive, angry and capable of playing solid, competitive basketball.
2: They lost to the hated Miami Heat Wednesday night, but they lost more to the brilliance of Dwyane Wade than anything else. Including That Other Guy.
An ultra-competitive game that in no way resembled the Heat’s blowout win in Cleveland Dec. 2 ended with a 101-95 victory that extended the Heat’s impressive win streak to 10. But the Cavaliers led by as many as 10 in the first half and fought back from 14 down in the final five minutes to make it closer than Miami bargained for. Wade got 17 of his game-high 28 in the fourth and got them on a variety of twisting layups and other “wow” plays that kept the Cavaliers at bay.
The Cavaliers haven’t won since Thanksgiving Weekend and now have lost nine straight, their longest skid since LeBron was in high school. But this was one of their best efforts of the season — certainly their best road effort in a month — and left them feeling ready to tackle what’s ahead. Seven of the last eight left them feeling anything but that.
This one was different as the Cavaliers built some early momentum and sustained much of it. Byron Scott shortened his rotation and saw all five of his starters score in double figures; all five also played at least 37 minutes. The Cavs were energetic early, created open looks with solid ball movement and got another great game in the post from Anderson Varejao, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Daniel Gibson’s team-high 26 points included 4 3-pointers; Antawn Jamison made 3 from beyond the arc and had 15 points and 8 rebounds.
Ultimately, their legs got heavy; trying to keep up with Wade and LeBron James (21 points and 13 rebounds) has that effect. The Heat pushed a 73-71 lead after three into a 95-81 advantage with a little over four minutes to go. The Cavaliers chased and chased but couldn’t come all the way back.
“I couldnt ask for our guys to play any harder than they played,” Scott said.
“We wanted to win,” Gibson said. “What we wanted didn’t happen but we played the game the way we’re supposed to play it. Tonight was a big step. We got back our intensity and our tenacity.”
Besides Wade’s late burst and Miami turning up the defense in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers are left to lament the last two minutes of the first half. The Heat, as they’ve started doing to a lot of teams, started pushing the tempo and closed the half on a 7-0 run, trimming the Cavaliers’ halftime lead to 49-46.
James shot just 5-of-15 from the field and was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc but still forced tempo, put pressure on the Cavs defense and was all over the glass. Unlike the first meeting, though, the Cavs made sure this one was more about basketball than about their ex-teammate.
James earned all 13 of his first-half points; the Cavs held the Heat to just 42 percent shooting in that half. The Cavs held a 36-26 edge in points in the paint, turned it over just 9 times and made 16-of-20 at the free throw line. They didn’t win because the Heat just had a little more at both ends, got the big rebounds and used their athleticism to create scoring chances and wear down the visitors.
“Even when D-Wade got rolling, I thought defensively we came together and adjusted to that,” Mo Williams said. “We wanted to be tough like that, make them shoot fadeaway 3s or get in the lane and have to go over two big guys
“We didn’t win the game but if we take this effort we gave tonight and push it forward, we’ll win our share.”
The Heat had won each of their previous nine games by double digits and now head to Madison Square Garden for a Friday night game with the Knicks. The Cavaliers flew directly from South Florida to Indiana for a Friday night game with the Pacers. They host the Knicks Saturday night.
“I hope tonight is the last time I have to tell our guys that this is the kind of energy that gives us an opportunity to win,” Scott said. “We don’t care who we’re playing. We just want to win.”