CLEVELAND — Two bad teams, each minus a top player, led to some very bad basketball Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was so bad, in fact, that it actually got exciting at the end of regulation and in overtime.
On a night when horrible weather led to a horrible crowd, the only thing that really mattered was that the Cavs somehow ended a six-game losing streak with an 87-81 overtime victory.
The game completely lived down to expectations until the final minute of the fourth quarter, when the Magic somehow found a way to blow a nine-point lead.
“It turned out to be a crazy, ugly-(expletive) ‘W,’” veteran Jarrett Jack said.
The Cavs (11-21), who were seemingly headed for their ninth loss in the last 10 games, were playing without point guard Kyrie Irving (bruised knee), who missed his first game of the season, while Orlando (10-22) was minus center Nikola Vucevic.
Jack started in place of Irving, Jason Maxiel started for Vucevic and fans — paid attendance was 14,248; actual attendance was about 6,000 — started waking up in the closing minute of regulation.
That’s when Orlando, apparently intent on proving that anything the Cavs could do bad, it could do worse, totally gave the game away.
The Magic committed some incredibly dumb fouls — one on a Jack 3-point attempt with 13.9 seconds to go and the Cavs down seven — while also failing to get the ball inbounds and bricking two free throws.
All this happened in the final 15 seconds of regulation, making it a microcosm of the entire evening.
“It was an ugly game — just how I like them,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “The great thing about it was our guys never gave up.”
Not a team to rest on its laurels, the Magic also played incredibly bad defense with the Cavs down two, as Dion Waiters drove right past Aaron Afflalo and was never contested at the rim on a layup that tied the game with 0.6 seconds left in regulation.
“I just wanted to be aggressive and get to the rim,” said Waiters, who drove left before laying the ball in with his right hand.
Given new life, Cleveland never trailed in OT, going up 85-81 with 1:34 to go after back-to-back set shots by Anderson Varejao, who was sensational in finishing with 18 points and 25 rebounds, the latter tying the club record set by Rick Roberson on March 4, 1972, at Houston.
“Wild Thing” added two free throws with 23.9 seconds left in OT to put the Cavs up six, which was more than enough for the victory given that Orlando scored exactly two points in the five-minute extra session.
“He’s like the right guard on the offensive line,” Brown said of his starting center. “He just continues to do grunt work, grunt work, grunt work. The running back scores a touchdown and does his little dance, and Andy just comes to the sideline.”
Largely because of Varejao — and Orlando’s complete inability to do anything right in the last minute of regulation — the Cavs ended a two-game overtime losing streak. Four of Cleveland’s last five home games have gone into OT, the first time that’s happened in NBA history.
“It just seems normal for us to go into overtime,” Brown said after his team improved to 4-2 in OT on the season.
The Cavs got 17 points from Waiters, who was 6-for-20 from the field, 16 points and 10 rebounds from Tristan Thompson, 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists from Jack, who was 5-for-16 from the field, and 14 points from C.J. Miles.
Glen “Big Baby” Davis led Orlando with 16 points and 13 rebounds, but he was 6-for-19 from the field and 4-for-8 at the line.
The Cavs shot a woeful .344 from the field (33-for-96) and made just four of 19 3-pointers, but Orlando wasn’t much better, hitting at a .381 clip (32-for-84) while going 7-for-25 from downtown.
“One thing about the NBA — it’s never over till there’s zeroes on the clock,” Waiters said.