CLEVELAND — The night started with a concussion and very well could have ended with a couple more.
Somewhere in between, the Cavaliers turned Quicken Loans Arena into their own personal steel-cage match, wrestling away a 99-92 win over the new-look and fairly chippy Los Angeles Clippers.
It was an impressive win over what is widely considered one of the Western Conference’s top four teams, a win that came without rookie point guard and leading scorer Kyrie Irving, a win that proved the Cavs understand you need to have guts to get any glory. A couple of hard fouls might not hurt, either.
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But back to Irving.
He was expected to play and square off with his favorite player while growing up, Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul. But shortly before tip off, Irving reported that his head felt like it was on fire. The diagnosis: A concussion, suffered in Tuesday’s loss to Miami.
So Irving took a seat for the night and without delay, the Cavs had an all-new starting backcourt from the night before.
This time it was Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson, who missed the previous five games with some sort of bizarre neck infection.
But the only thing that the Clippers may have found bizarre on this night was it was Gibson who buried perhaps the evening’s biggest basket. That was a 3-pointer off a pass from Sessions with 1:20 left — breaking an 87-all tie and giving the Cavs the lead for good.
And that perhaps wasn’t even Gibson’s most notable play. Early in the first half, Paul decided to put on a fancy dribbling exhibition that is usually reserved for sneaker commercials. It ended, however, when Gibson stripped him and the ball rolled down to Sessions for a layup.
That right there, folks, shows these Cavs (10-14) aren‘t going to spend this season getting punked.
Of course, that wasn’t the only example. Anyone who saw Anderson Varejao fall to the floor and land hard on his back — TWICE — can tell you that. Varejao also addressed the media afterward with a black eye, proving that defending Clippers big man Blake Griffin doesn’t come without a steep price.
Griffin put the “power” in power forward, and finished with an impressive 25 points and 15 rebounds. But he also may have raised his hands to the heavens and gave thanks that he is done seeing Varejao for the season.
Bottom line: The Cavs overcame another key injury, were unfazed by the opponent’s desire to get physical and talk some trash, and have now defeated defending champion Dallas and the top-flight Clippers (15-8) in consecutive home games.
“We’re a resilient bunch, man,” Gibson said. “Coach (Byron) Scott instilled that in us. In practice every day, we scrimmage with three different teams. It’s a lot of guys in a lot of different roles. So any time a guy is down, another guy is ready to step up.”
That showed, as Gibson finished with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting, and Sessions out-played Paul with 24 points and 13 assists.
Of course, we can’t forget Antawn Jamison. All the veteran forward did was finish with a season-high 27 points and eight rebounds — and he did it one night after playing perhaps his best game of the year.
Mostly, though, this was a total team effort in the truest sense. And it was an effort that proved the Cavs will do it by any means necessary. Even if those means entail beating you up.
“We’re a team that will fight back,” Jamison said. “Nothing dirty, but we’re not going to let you push us around. We do a good job as far as playing physical basketball. But we do it the right way.”