After a disappointing loss against the Wizards, the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back with a hard-fought 100-96 win on the back of 33 points from LeBron James.
It has been an interesting week to say the least for the Cavaliers. Following a comfortable home win against the Hornets, a win in which the Cavs appeared to have once again turned the corner, they threw away a win against the Raptors late. The moment you think you have a read on this Cavs team, they flip the script on you again. The loss against the Raptors was followed by a debacle against the lowly Washington Wizards, as LeBron James sat out. The two losses suddenly made a seemingly benign home game against the Indiana Pacers a must-win game, and the Cavs managed to tough out a win when they needed it most.
Both teams approached the game with a playoff-like intensity, defending stoutly, and the margin was no bigger than six points throughout the game. Ultimately, the Cavaliers were able to make just enough plays on both ends to come away with a four-point victory.
Here’s three things we learned from the game:
1. A Rested LeBron Is A Dangerous LeBron
As aforementioned, after playing 40 minutes in the loss to the Raptors, LeBron James was rested against the Wizards. The game against the Wizards was the second instance of him resting during the season, having sat out a game in Miami earlier in the year.
Interestingly, James’ output following both rests were almost identical. Following the Miami game, the Cavs played Portland at home and James poured in 33 points on 14-24 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and three assists.
Tonight, James also scored 33 points on an efficient 14-22 clip, whilst adding five rebounds, four assists and two steals. James was incredibly aggressive early, and had 21 points at half-time. James also made two three-point shots, his third consecutive game of two made three’s. Much has been written about James’ outside shot, which has curiously come and gone throughout the season.
Much has been written about James’ outside shot, which has curiously come and gone throughout the season. However, he seems to be getting his range back, having made 37.5% of his outside shots in his previous five games.
2. TT Bounces Back
Prior to tonight’s game, Tyronn Lue once again inserted Timofey Mozgov into the starting lineup ahead of Tristan Thompson. Whilst Thompson had impressed in a starting role, he had struggled in his previous five games, failing to deal with opposing centers such as Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat. Coming into tonight’s game, Thompson had a grand total of just 14 points in his previous four outings.
However, he matched that total tonight as he provided excellent energy off the bench. In addition to his scoring, Thompson grabbed 11 rebounds and made one crucial block, a block which wound up being the game-winner for the Cavs.
The 6’9″ big man converted six of his seven field-goal attempts in his 31 minutes of action. It will be interesting to see whether Lue continues to start Mozgov, with Thompson’s energy and hustle vital for the Cavs bench units.
3. JR Sets The Tone
A theme that is becoming more and more apparent as this season wears on is the maturation of JR Smith. Following the disappointing outing against the Wizards, Smith was very vocal in his disappointment with the Cavs effort. “We weren’t playing the way we were supposed to play. We weren’t executing our offense. We damn sure weren’t playing defense,” Smith said to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
Whilst Smith’s box score of 11 points and three rebounds on 4-14 shooting didn’t exactly set the world on fire, his effort throughout the game was outstanding. In many ways, Smith appears to be one of the barometers for the Cavaliers and his defense seemed to inspire the Cavs late in the second quarter after they had found themselves behind by six points.
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On the back of Smith’s defense, the Cavaliers went on an 8-0 run of their own and finished the first half with a lead. Like most of the Cavs players, Smith struggled from the field, making just three of his 10 three-point shots. However, he is still shooting a scintillating 44.3% from beyond the arc in the month of February.
The win against the Pacers was the Cavs third in three contests between the two Central Division rivals, having won an earlier encounter at home 101-97, before an overtime 111-106 win in Indiana. The Cavs are now 42-17 and have a 2.5 game lead against the second placed Toronto Raptors.
Next up are the Washington Wizards, as the Cavaliers will look to avenge Sunday’s horrible loss. The Wizards will be looking to clinch the season series with a win.