Two clubs moving in opposite directions met Sunday evening at the Q. The Cavaliers came in white-hot despite a rash of injuries, winners of seven straight and just tipping off a seven-game home stand that will roll right through the All-Star Break. The Clippers, on the other hand, had dropped three straight and four of five on their East Coast swing, including losses to the horrific Timberwolves and historically horrific Nets. Two weeks ago at Staples Center the Clip Show led Cleveland for most of the way before succumbing, 102-101. But the L.A. Junior Varsity has struggled mightily since then and could not have been expected to mount a stiff challenge in Cleveland, where they hadn't won since the 2001-02 season.
As it turned out, they didn't. Indeed, this one was over early. With LeBron and his teammates on fire from the perimeter, the Cavaliers exploded for a club-record 46 first-quarter points and rolled to a 114-89 victory that was never in doubt almost from the opening minute. Cleveland is now 38-11, its second-best record in franchise history after 49 games, and maintains the league's best record, just a half-game ahead of the Lake Show. And there's much in the way of opportunity to improve that mark before the All-Star Break.
About that First Quarter: Well, let's see. In bolting out to a 46-20 lead after one period the Cavaliers a.) Tied a franchise record for points scored in a period; b.) Tied an NBA record for most three-pointers in a period with 11, c.) Hit 16-of-21 from the field and d.) Hit 11-of-13 from downtown. All 11 of Cleveland's three-pointers came in the final eight minutes of the quarter. The Cavaliers hit their first seven attempts from long range and the three-for-all was open invitation: five different players found cord from downtown during the barrage. Cleveland wound up hitting on 16-of-27 from beyond the arc, with seven players contributing to the total.
LeBron's Line: 32 points on 10-of-20 from the field, 5-of-6 from three-point range and 7-of-8 from the line with 11 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal and just one turnover in 39 minutes of work. LBJ did most of his damage in that outrageous first period, tying a Quicken Loans Arena record with 23 points for the stanza. He was hitting bombs from all angles and all ranges in that first quarter, but his initial three was the highlight: after running down a blocked shot in the corner, LeBron turned and blindly fired up a prayer that found nothing but the bottom of the net.
Hail Balance: Six different Cavaliers scored in double figures on the night. LeBron led the way with his 32 points. Shaquille O'Neal had another big game with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Daniel Gibson hit 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and scored 14 points along with (gasp!) 6 assists. The bench came through in a major way as well. Jamario Moon racked up 12 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes; Jawad Williams added 12, and Anderson Varejao had 11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots, and kept hustling long after players from both sides had packed it in for the night.
What Happened? In the last meeting between the two teams on January 16th, Rasual Butler tied a career high with 33 points. On Sunday night Butler came crashing back to earth with 5 points on a frigid 2-of-9 from the field. Only Baron Davis showed up for the Clip Show; the bearded ex-UCLA Bruin tallied 30 on 12-of-21 shooting and provided a modicum of drama when he led Los Angeles to within eleven in the early minutes of the fourth quarter.
That Kind of Night: The Clippers haven't gotten many breaks as a franchise over the years and Sunday evening was no exception. Midway through the second period, L.A. center DeAndre Jordan slapped the ball away from Anderson Varejao around the rim. The deflection kissed off the rim and settled into the net, giving the Brazilian heartthrob two free points. Cleveland wasn't missing much of anything in the opening stages of the game as it was, but picking up an own-goal never hurt anyone.
Fun Stat: In his last seven games, Shaquille O'Neal has hit on 43-of-60 attempts from the field (71.6 percent) and is averaging 17.3 points and 6.6 rebounds. If there's a silver lining from the injuries to Mo Williams and Delonte West, it's been the play of the big man. Without its two quicksilver guards the Cavaliers have been forced to become a half-court team, dumping it in to Shaq and letting the offense run around him- and Shaq has delivered, big time. We've heard a lot of talk about how Cleveland needs another scoring option to win a title, and maybe they do. But right now the big man is stating his case to be that option.
Fun Stat II: In the five games since being forced into the starting lineup due to the backcourt injuries, Daniel Gibson has scored in double figures and is averaging 13 points. His deadeye stroke from downtown hasn't developed any cataracts either; in those five games, the Artist Occasionally Known as Boobie has ripped 14-of-30 from deep. Daniel has taken a fair amount of heat for his lackluster defense and lack of point-guard chops as a passer and playmaker, but give the man credit: he's a sick shooter, he's got the balls to take the big shot, he fills his role as John Battle-type undersized off-guard to a tee, and while he'll never be Joe Dumars as a defender, he's at least tenacious and shows quick hands on that end. He's just a solid player, the kind of guy you like to have in your satchel when the big games come, just in case.
Next: Tuesday night at 7:00 PM when the Cavaliers entertain the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis is one of the league's most improved teams but they'll be on the second night of a back-to-back, having hosted the Lake Show on Monday night. Cleveland sustained one of its most galling losses at the hands of the Grizzlies, a 111-109 overtime defeat in Memphis December 8th; here is a nice opportunity to exact revenge.