Following the Cleveland Cavaliers (11-21) 87-81 overtime win—marking the first time an NBA team has played in four overtime games over a five-game home stretch—against the Orlando Magic (10-22) on Thursday, point guard Jarrett Jack was shown on the jumbotron thanking Wine & Gold fans who still held a glimmer of belief that their team could overcome a seven-point deficit with under one minute to play in regulation. Down nine points with 1:04 remaining in the contest, a good handful of those that faired the horrendous Cleveland snow to watch a couple of teams fighting to pull out of the bottom of the Eastern Conference piled out of Quicken Loans Arena. But the reason was justified: both teams were shooting under 40 percent and the Cavs started off the first six-plus minutes of the fourth quarter scoring a meager five points.
But those who believed were awarded a late Christmas present from the Cavaliers, as Cleveland halted a six-game skid dating back to Dec. 21 thanks to resilience and focus down the stretch.
“It was an ugly game, just how I like them,” head coach Mike Brown said in the postgame presser. “Our guys never gave up. They just kept fighting and fighting, and that’s one of the things we’ve been trying to tell our team: ‘Hey, just keep competing.’”
The game was horrid enough that Jack, in front of those still in attendance after the final buzzer sounded, referred to the victory as an “ugly-ass W.” It started ugly, it continued to get ugly and it ended ugly. However, it was against two teams fighting for their 11th win of the season, so ugliness was certain to be abound at the Q.
Both teams started the game shooting well south of 40 percent, with the Cavs coming up on the worse of two ends with a 33 percent clip from the field over the first 12 minutes. Jack, who was starting in place of the injured Kyrie Irving, was trying his best to get his teammates to be productive by calling for the offense to move. Nevertheless, small forward Earl Clark was throwing up brick after brick in an attempt to make up for Irving not being on the court, counteracting Jack’s efforts. This resulted in six missed shots (0 of 3 from beyond the arc) in eight minutes of play, netting just four points.
Trailing 19-23 after the first frame, things didn’t get any better offensively for either team. In fact, the Cavaliers totaled seven of their 12 turnovers in the second quarter. But they were still able to keep the game close enough and even took the lead heading into the locker room. Behind Jack’s nine points and four assists, Cleveland was somehow on top of a Magic team that was shooting a rancid 41.2 percent in the paint without their star center, Nikola Vucevic.
Then, as was the case in multiple Cleveland losses this season, the offense became stagnant and was stalled. The only player that was moving around trying to create something for Jack was shooting guard C.J. Miles. The starting guard had his time reduced, however, because of two early fouls. Fourteen points on 4 of 8 shooting from the field was proof of Miles’ noticeable effort, but his hot hand wasn’t going to be the one to save the Wine & Gold on Thursday night.
A huge second half from Magic forward Glen Davis—13 points on 5 of 11 shooting and nine boards—quickly removed any trace of a Cleveland lead, as Orlando was leading by 10 from the five-minute mark until there was 1:30 left to go in regulation.
Then rebounding machine Anderson Varejao and “Oh my gosh, he can actually finish!” Dion Waiters came to ruin Orlando’s day. After an invisible first two quarters by the aforementioned duo, they showed their clutch genes over the final 29 minutes of play. Varejao shot 5 of 12 from the field (12 points) and recorded 19 of his career-high and franchise-tying-record 25 boards, while Waiters erased his 2 of 7 half with a 4 of 13 effort (13 points) and two driving layups to power his team into overtime. Down 10 points with 1:34 left, Cleveland rallied behind four Varejao rebounds, a horrible shooting foul by Jameer Nelson on a Jack three-point attempt and six points from Waiters. This awarded Cleveland five extra minutes to gain some sort of redemption from their previous efforts—in this game and the previous six.
“We’re still learning how to close games out, but I think this one was important,” Waiters said. “You’re only down when you’re down and we still had fight in us. One thing about the NBA, it’s never over until there’s triple zeros on the clock.”
Overall in the fourth quarter, Waiters logged 11 points and Varejao grabbed 10 rebounds to bring the Cavs back into the game. Andy’s effort, most importantly, was apparent on the court tonight even though he can be the quiet warrior on most nights.
“Andy’s like a right guard on the offensive line,” Brown said of Varejao after the game. “He just continues to do grunt work, grunt work, grunt work. The running backs bust through the hole, they get the touchdown and they do their little dance and Andy comes back to the sideline and gets his rest and then goes back and does it again.”
The grunt work helped to motivate his team down the stretch and throughout the overtime period, holding the Magic to just two points over the final six minutes of the game. But what was done off the court was just as vital as the work done in the huddle during timeouts in helping to end the Cavaliers’ losing streak.
“Everybody was very attentive in the huddle. Everything we told our guys they tried to do out there,” Brown said. “(Jarrett Jack and Delly) were keeping those guys in tune (in the huddle). If a guy wandered a little bit they said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get a stop! Listen up, listen up.’ We’d tell them what to do and Jack would repeat it, Delly would repeat it.”
Sounds like a team to me. Finally.
The Wine & Gold will hope to bring that same focus to the court against the Brooklyn Nets (11-21) in Barclays Center this upcoming Saturday. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m and if you’re looking to go to the game, you can grab your Cavaliers vs Nets tickets here.
PG Jarrett Jack – 14 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and one turnover in 42 minutes, while shooting 5 of 16 (31.2 percent) from the field
Jack was tremendous tonight. He really showed why the Cavaliers brought him to Cleveland in the first place: to provide a veteran voice and to serve as a backup to Kyrie Irving. He fulfilled both of those roles tonight, and did it with an unenthusiastic team for most of the game. Jack did his best to play court general, but things just weren’t working out, as the offense stalled on multiple occasions. But he drew a crucial foul near the end of the game, converting on all three free throws, and helped the Cavaliers secure an overtime victory. Not much else you can ask for from a lifetime backup who is asked to start.
SG C.J Miles – 14 points, while shooting 4 of 8 from the field, 3 of 5 from three and 3 of 3 from the free throw line
Miles’ stat line doesn’t show it, but the starting shooting guard was all over the court in his 27-plus minutes of play. Two early fouls sent C.J. to the bench for most of the first half, but his energy really helped loosen the Cavaliers offense when the team really needed points. I want to see more plays designed in favor of C.J.—especially from beyond the arc—because lineups consisting of him are starting to become my favorite kind of lineups.
SF Earl Clark – Four points and two turnovers, while shooting 2 of 10 from the field and 0 of 5 from three
Terrible. Just terrible. It was obvious that Clark was trying to step up and consume the number of shots taken because of the lack of Kyrie on the court. Let’s just say it didn’t work out too well for him. Whether they were open threes or plays designed in his favor, Clark was putrid from everywhere on the court Thursday night. When are we going to make a move for an adept three?
PF Tristan Thompson – 16 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting 6 of 13 (46.1 percent) and 4 of 8 from the free throw line
Tristan was Andy’s partner in crime Thursday night, and I loved how it played out. TT is good for these double-double performances now and then, but that’s the thing. Thompson needs to start playing consistent ball, however, if he wants the Cavaliers starting lineup to be a consistent bunch. We haven’t seen the double-double machine of early 2013-14 in quite some time. It was good to see him come out again.
C Anderson Varejao – 18 points, franchise-tying record 25 rebounds (eight offensive) and three assists, while shooting 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from the field
Bravo. Vintage Wild Thing performance right here. It’s great to have someone who actually wants to make this team better in the middle of the starting lineup. Varejao is the anti-poison for the Cavaliers, and enough can’t be said about his effort on the court on a nightly basis. On nights like Thursday it’s great to see his hard work show on the stat sheet, because, as Coach Brown said after the game, a lot of Andy’s effort goes unnoticed because people shoot straight to the box score.
SG Dion Waiters – 17 points, four rebounds and three assists, while shooting 6 of 20 (30.0 percent) from the field and 5 of 6 from the free throw line
Waiters, despite having an awful start to the game, was the savior for the Wine & Gold against the Magic with Kyrie on the sideline. Dion had two plays drawn up for him by Coach Brown at the end of the game, and he converted on both of them. They were ISO drives, and although he hasn’t been a strong finisher at the rim so far throughout his career, he did convert on both of the attempts to send the game into overtime. Dion has some pretty awful shooting games, but he always seems to make up for them by the end most of the time. Tonight was one of those times.
Since I had the chance to attend the game as a member of the media, I had the opportunity to sit in on Coach Brown’s postgame presser. Here are some leftover quotes from the Cavaliers head honcho that didn’t fit my recap but I deemed them important enough to include in the Coach’s Corner:
Brown on the play of his team in overtime
That was exciting for us to go into overtime and win by getting stops instead of outscoring somebody. They scored two points in a five-minute overtime.
Brown on Dion’s final two shots of regulation
You don’t have to score to win games. If you just fight, play with some grit, take care of the basketball and take advantage of whatever is in front of you—for instance, Dion. Dion had two huge drives for us. He struggled shooting the ball most of the game, but he stepped up, he attacked the rim and finished at the rim the right way for us. For him to hit those two buckets at the time that he did, especially knowing he didn’t have a lot of time to set his guy up, was huge.
Brown on what it’s going to take for his team to win regularly
If you keep competing, keep showing grit, mental toughness, physical toughness, things can happen for you that are positive. Our guys just never gave up.
Brown on the positive attitude and vocal leadership of Matthew Dellavedova, Jarrett Jack and Anderson Varejao
When you have guys like Delly, Jack and Andy speaking that way, understanding that the game of basketball, especially in a one, two-possession game, is about stops, when you have your main guys speaking that way and then going out and doing it—not just lip service—it’s a good thing.
Brown on the play of Anderson Varejao
Most nights you won’t be able to see his numbers in front of you. He does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, but when you’re watching the tape you’re like, “Oh man, that’s pretty clever.” Or, “Oh wow, he helped us get a bucket.” But he’s not going to get any glory from the fans or the media because it might not be seen during the flow of the game.
Brown on Anderson Varejao receiving a lot of playing time
It was an overtime game, but he played 39 minutes. It’s a ton of minutes. If I can help it I don’t want him to play 39 minutes, but tonight it was needed.
Brown on Anderson Varejao’s leadership in the overtime period
Andy said, “Hey, all we need is one stop and the game is over. One stop and the game’s over.”