The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t make the small-ball experiment last as Kevin Love came back, but their impressive form from the previous night was on show once again led by LeBron James, although the real stars of the game were Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert being at the heart of the team’s best stretches in the game.
Despite falling behind by 18 points against the Boston Celtics, a team that beat them the last time they met, the Cavaliers won 120-103 comfortably, outscoring the Celtics 98-68 in the final three quarters. The Celtics started the game shooting 15-of-25 from the field but made only 22-of-55 the rest of the way, seemingly a bit overwhelmed by the Cavaliers turning up their physicality in defense after falling behind big time in the first quarter.
James led the team with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists on a better shooting night with 11-of-20 from the field, although his highly criticized three-point shot remains an issue, making just 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. Kyrie Irving scored 20 points and J.R. Smith finished with 14 points, but it seemed like the Cavaliers were at their best when Thompson, Dellavedova and Shumpert were sharing the floor, bringing speed and power to the defensive end, which left the Celtics a bit clueless on the other end.
Love returned and scored just 10 points while shooting 1-of-6 from the field. All the talk of going to a small-ball lineup, which means Iman Shumpert at small forward and LeBron James at the ‘4’, lasted just one game. Maybe that’s why the Cavs started so slowly, finishing the first quarter trailing by 13. Love and Timofey Mozgov don’t co-exist well at the moment, and keeping the lineup this way pretty much brings the Cavaliers back to the same position, which might be good enough to eventually win the East, but not a whole lot more.
Tyronn Lue said after the game that he didn’t rattle his players after falling behind by 18, instead taking a more gentle approach to put them back on track. They found the “nastiness” on their own while the Celtics found out, and not for the first time, that one good quarter of shooting against the Cavaliers isn’t enough to sustain even a big lead against them. Without getting pushed to the brink, it’s hard to actually slow them down for most teams in the NBA.
On a personal note, James moved a one spot higher on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list. He is now 14th with 26,378 points, going past Tim Duncan who is still around, trying to win his sixth NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs. James needs 18 points to move up past John Havlicek at 13th, 290 to blow by Dominique Wilkins at 12th, 332 points to make it to 11th where it’s Oscar Robertson and in order to make the top 10, pushing Hakeem Olajuwon out of it, James needs 568 points. With 18 games left and James averaging 24.8 points per game this season, it’s unlikely he’ll make it to the top 10 this season, but he’s pretty much guaranteed to move past the rest of them. He’s now the third leading scorer among active players behind Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant.