One good thing about playing games on back-to-back nights is the opportunity for quick atonement. The Cavaliers had that opportunity against Miami, less than 24 hours after the debacle in Boston, and they took advantage. Jumping out to an early 9-0 lead, Cleveland led the Heat by 14 after one period, by as many as twenty in the second period, and survived a sluggish second half and a late Miami rally to prevail 99-89 in front of a Quicken Loans Arena crowd that wasn't exactly the most boisterous of the season.
It wasn't the prettiest win of the season. But at number 49 of the season and number 28 at home, it'll look beautiful going into the correct column on the record.
LeBron's Line: One night after his 5-of-15, four-turnover crap-fest in Boston, LBJ bounced back strong with a triple-double: 14 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds in 43 minutes. The shot wasn't any better than it was in Beantown- another 5-of-15, as a matter of fact- but the peripheral numbers were, and LeBron seemed much more in control in his role as a facilitator. He didn't force the action, he got others involved, and time and again, he made the Heat pay for double-teams with perfectly timed lasers down into the low post for Anderson Varejao and Joe Smith.
Fun Fact: Yours Truly has done the TCF game recap for LeBron's last three triple-doubles, against Memphis on January 13, against Sacramento on January 27, and on Saturday night against Miami. Yours Truly also recapped LeBron's triple-double-that-wasn't in New York on February 4. Not that one has anything to do with the other...
Quick Start: Eager to put the disaster in Boston behind them, the Cavaliers jumped all over the Heat right from the get-go on Saturday. Cleveland took a 9-0 lead, held Miami without a point for the first 4:31, and were up 28-14 at the end of the period. The Cavaliers shot a solid 52.3 for the stanza, dished out eight assists as a team, and forced eight Miami turnovers. The Heat pulled it together and played better basketball the rest of the way, but they never could quite overcome the early deficit.
Mo' Trouble for Miami: Five nights after dismantling the Heat in south Florida, Mo Williams tormented Miami again in northeast Ohio. Taking advantage of the Heat's not-so-shrewd strategy of not putting a man within ten feet of him on the perimeter, Mo poured in 29 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 6-of-7 from beyond the arc. He also added five rebounds and five assists. Just like last Monday, the Alabama sharpshooter was at his best in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 in the final stanza and employing his trademark teardrop to short-circuit several late Miami charges. The presence of another player willing and able to take over in the final period has been perhaps the biggest difference between this Cavaliers team and the teams of the past few years.
Getting His DJ On: Like a lot of his teammates, Delonte West had his problems in Boston- he was, frankly, abused by Paul Pierce down the stretch on Friday night- but made up for it with a feisty performance on both ends Saturday. Given the defensive assignment on Dwayne Wade, Redz bothered the Miami superstar, keeping him out of the driving lanes, forcing him to give up the ball, and in general keeping him from ever really getting into a consistent rhythm. D-Wade got his numbers- 25 points and 12 assists- but he only shot 9-of-23 and struggled mightily in the crucial first half, when the Cavaliers took control of the game for good. Aside from a couple of misguided passes that Wade stole and turned into easy baskets, Delonte was quietly efficient on the offensive end as well, finishing with 19 points and six assists on 6-of-11 shooting. It was just a solid all-around game for Cleveland's backcourt.
Play of the Night, Part I: Cleveland's early ball movement was superb on Saturday night, never more so than on a two-man, West-and-Williams sequence late in the first period. First Mo found Delonte in his corner office. When a potential shot was shut off, West dumped it back to Williams, who dumped it back to West, who dumped it back to Williams, who drove and scored in the lane to make the score 21-8 in favor of the Cavaliers. The sequence highlighted one of the best aspects of Delonte's game- his absolute refusal to take a bad shot. The man is as patient and methodical as can be on the offensive end, a perfect complement to the aggressiveness of LeBron and Mo.
Viva Flopper: Zydrunas Ilgauskas had an ineffectual night, scoring four points on 2-of-8 shooting and grabbing four rebounds, but his Brazilian frontcourt mate made up the difference. Moving beautifully without the basketball, Anderson scored 12 points with seven rebounds, hit 4-of-6 from the free-throw line, and finished with a Cavalier-high +13.
Play of the Night, Part II: The Heat made a strong push in the third quarter, cutting Cleveland's once-comfortable lead down to eight at 67-59, but a Keystone Kops sequence put them right back into a double-digit deficit as the period closed. With 31 seconds left, two Miami defenders collided and fell down in front of Delonte West. Redz briefly regarded those two Heat players tangled up on the floor in front of him, shrugged, and buried a wide-open three-pointer to make it 70-59.
J.J. Wasn't Dyno-Mite: Not to pick on J.J. Hickson, but the rookie had a tough night on Saturday. In five sloppy minutes the kid from N.C. State badly missed a jump shot, committed two turnovers, and finished as the only Cavalier with a minus number on the ledger (-1). J.J. has shown his tender age recently, making the pickup of veteran Joe Smith that much more important. Joe had a nice night, by the way, scoring nine points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Play of the Night, Part III: Despite digging an early hole, the Heat had several late chances to make a game of it. With less than two minutes remaining, Miami had cut the Cleveland lead to six at 91-85, but were unable to get any closer. First, Three-Point Champion Dequan Cook rattled out a triple try that would have sliced the lead down to three. Less than a minute later, with the score still 91-85, D-Wade drove, got contact from Anderson Varejao, and failed to make a lay-up. He also failed to get a foul, and that failure drove the normally cool-headed Miami superstar over the edge. Having picked up a technical foul in the second period, Wade got himself another one and was tossed out of the game with fifty seconds left. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra also got T'd up. Mo Williams swished both technical free throws to make it 93-85 and from there it was all over but the crying.
A Good Omen: In both games against Miami this past week, the Cavaliers played Dwayne Wade very physically, and for the most part the officials let them do so without recrimination. Normally a player that beats a path to the free-throw line, Wade shot only 14 charity-stripe attempts in the two games. That laissez-faire attitude by the refs is quite a contrast from the 2006 Finals, when the Mavericks were continually whistled for looking cross-eyed at D-Wade, and it bodes well for a possible playoff series between the two teams.
Magic-Number Update: With Cleveland's victory over Miami and Detroit's loss in Atlanta, the Cavaliers' magic number for clinching their first Central Division title since 1976 now stands at three.
Next: The Cavaliers begin their second and final West Coast swing Tuesday night at 10:30 in L.A. against those less-distinguished residents of the Staples Center, the Clippers.