CLEVELAND — LeBron James for Sixth Man (and MVP). Anderson Varejao for Comeback Player of the Year. Larry Hughes for, uh, Most Improved?
With those three players performing extremely well in non-starting roles, the Cavaliers looked sensational in beating the Indiana Pacers by the deceiving final score of 118-105 Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Me, Larry and Andy coming off the bench is pretty dangerous,” said James, who had 17 points, three rebounds and five assists in just 23 minutes. “It shows — 74 points off the bench.”
Hughes, coming off the pine for the second straight game after missing the previous 11 with a bruised knee, was otherworldly in scoring 36 points in only 26 minutes. A .307 shooter from the field coming in, Hughes left at .391 after going 13-of-17 against the Pacers, including 5-of-8 from
3-point land, as Cleveland’s six-game losing streak vanished into the distant past.
“We’re not wavering in how we play and how good we think we can be,” Hughes said. “We just hit a bump in the road early. There’s still a lot of time left.”
Hughes became the first Cleveland player to score at least 30 points off the bench since Ricky Davis had 32 on April 8, 2002, at Indiana. The last Cavalier to have more points off the bench was Phil Hubbard, who had 37 on Dec. 4, 1984. It was also Hughes’ most points, period, since scoring 37 at Philadelphia on Nov. 19, 2005.
“Larry Hughes was fantastic,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said. “I thought they had two LeBron Jameses out there.”
James, who had missed the last five games with a sprained left index finger, did not start for the first time in 366 games as a pro (333 regular season, 33 postseason), but he certainly finished.
“The last time I didn’t start was probably never,” said the 22-year-old, who played with a black glove that covered the top of his left hand. “It was definitely different, but I had no problem with it.”
Varejao’s statistics weren’t overwhelming – six points, nine rebounds and one flop that resulted in a blocking call in 24 minutes – but he looked good for his first game of the year following a lengthy holdout.
The Brazilian also avoided what probably would have been a loud chorus of boos by entering the game along with James and Hughes with 5:59 to go in the first period. The 20,010 fans responded with a standing ovation, the vast majority of it welcoming back James.
“He’s not going to get too many boos if we all come in at the same time, especially me,” said James, who asked coach Mike Brown to bring him off the bench for that reason.
Cleveland (10-12), which had already scored seven straight points when those three players entered, expanded its run to 29-5 to take a whopping 37-16 lead after the first period.
Still lacking a killer instinct, the Cavaliers allowed the Pacers (10-11) to go on a 15-2 run at the start of the second period before pushing their lead back to 16 at halftime.
Indiana then made another run to get within nine early in the third, but that’s when James, Hughes and Varejao got off the bench again. Soon after, the Cavaliers went on a 15-0 spurt to go up 88-64. It was highlighted by an underhanded lob from Hughes to James, who hung onto the rim one-handed for added emphasis. That was immediately followed by a Hughes 3-pointer.
“When you have LeBron, Larry and Andy coming off the bench, it makes for a pretty good bench,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
The Cavaliers, who led by as many as 25 before Indiana staged a totally fake rally behind Mike Dunleavy (23 points), set a season high with 65 points in the first half. They had 97 points at the end of three periods, which is 15 more than they averaged for an entire game in their five contests without James.
Cleveland, which set season highs in points and field goal percentage (.547) while recording its most bench points since putting up 76 against Detroit on Feb. 2, 2002, also got 17 points from center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, seven points and 11 rebounds from power forward Drew Gooden and 12 points from Sasha Pavlovic.
More important than any numbers, though, was the fact the Cavaliers had most of the players – point guard Daniel Gibson did not dress after having a wisdom tooth pulled – who helped them reach the NBA Finals a season ago.
“People were looking at us like we were not a good team,” James said. “We knew when we got all our guys back it would be totally different.”
Noland may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4061.
Cavaliers 118, Pacers 105
INDIANA (105): Granger 3-9 3-4 11, O’Neal 8-14 2-3 18, Murphy 4-8 5-6 14, Tinsley 4-12 0-2 10, Dunleavy 7-11 7-8 23, Williams 4-8 3-4 12, Rush 1-8 0-0 2, Daniels 3-5 0-0 6, Owens 1-3 0-0 2, Graham 3-4 0-0 7. Totals 38-82 20-27 105.
CLEVELAND (118): Pavlovic 5-10 1-1 12, Gooden 3-9 1-1 7, Ilgauskas 5-11 7-9 17, Snow 1-1 0-0 2, S.Brown 2-7 2-4 6, Hughes 13-17 5-5 36, James 5-9 7-10 17, Varejao 2-3 2-3 6, Da.Jones 2-4 0-0 6, Newble 3-4 2-2 9. Totals 41-75 27-35 118.
Indiana 16 33 25 31 — 105
Cleveland 37 28 32 21 — 118
3-Point Goals—Indiana 9-24 (Dunleavy 2-3, Tinsley 2-5, Granger 2-5, Graham 1-1, Williams 1-2, Murphy 1-2, Daniels 0-1, Owens 0-1, Rush 0-4), Cleveland 9-18 (Hughes 5-8, Da.Jones 2-3, Newble 1-2, Pavlovic 1-3, James 0-1, S.Brown 0-1). Fouled Out—Williams. Rebounds—Indiana 43 (Murphy 12), Cleveland 50 (Gooden 11). Assists—Indiana 25 (Tinsley 9), Cleveland 23 (Snow, James 5). Total Fouls—Indiana 24, Cleveland 24. Technicals—Indiana defensive three second 2. A—20,010 (20,562).