The Cleveland Cavaliers needed more than a win – they needed a big one. LeBron James, helped out by Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, delivered and big time as they beat the Washington Wizards 113-87. It gets them back to .500, and it also gives them something of a proclamation victory in a game about Eastern dominance.
The Cavs lost by 13 points and it actually looked worse the last time these two teams met. They shot badly, couldn’t control the paint and finished with just 78 points in what was probably their worst performance of the season. Nothing of that sort can be said of their home win against Washington, as their defense and offense clicked in the best way that it has since the beginning of the season, even finishing level on paint points, usually a problem for the Cavaliers.
It was another big game for LeBron James, scoring 29 points (14-of-17 from the line) to go with 10 rebounds and 8 assists, missing out on a triple double. He got plenty of help from Kevin Love who is looking more comfortable in the offense he struggled in over the last two games, scoring 21 points, and also from Kyrie Irving. Irving had 18 points, but his main contribution was on defense, holding John Wall to just six points on 2-of-6 from the field.
The main criticism from within the team during their recent losing streak had to do with their ability to handle crisis. Every time they hit a roadblock, the team folded within itself and stopped functioning. The win over the Orlando Magic and now the Wizards showed a different kind of mentality. Aggressive, fighting, hustling. The Cavs forced 18 turnovers and scored 17 fast break points compared to just two by the Wizards. When the ball moves quickly, it’s a whole different kind of game when facing them.
A secret to success might be the points LeBron James scores. When he has 25 or more this season, the Cavaliers are 6-1. When he’s under 25? Only 1-6. James and Blatt want this team to be able to do without him and allow him to sometimes take a backseat and navigate things without forcing himself on the scoring. However, he’s still the best player on this team, maybe in the league. It’s only natural they do better when he’s playing his best basketball.
Both Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson scored in double figures off the bench. Waiters was a terrible 6-of-17 from the field to score his 15 points, and is shooting just 37.7% from the field. Thompson added 10 points, having a pretty easy time in the paint without anyone doing a lot to stop him. He and John Wall had a little moment in the third quarter which earned both of them technical fouls. Maybe this is a sign of the renewed rivalry between the teams, which was pretty relevant during James’ first tenure in Cleveland.
Rasual Butler had plenty of minutes to hone his garbage time skills with 23 points. Paul Pierce finished with 15, leading the lineup players for the Wizards, but like most of his teammates, he was pulled off the court rather early, with the game slipping away from the Wizards quite quickly, with the fourth quarter losing all meaning very soon. The Wizards grabbed only 26 rebounds in the game, getting outdone 32-26. They gave up 24 points off turnovers.
At .500, this is just the beginning of the comeback for the Cavaliers, hoping that they’ll be working out the kinks in their still-flawed system without having to fall back into another losing streak. Defensively they’ve come around, and now it’s up to the offense to keep things going. As much as James would love to see others take the bigger load, it’s probably going to stay this way for quite some time before everyone’s a bit more comfortable in making a switch.