CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers struck first. Every time the Indiana Pacers started to make a push, the Cavs pushed back harder.
The result was an impressive and important 90-76 Cleveland victory Sunday at Quicken Loans Arena, and it came against the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“We didn’t back down,” said Cavs guard Dion Waiters, who had a game-high 19 points. “We kept coming at them all night and we got a huge win.”
In winning for the fourth time in their last five games and pulling within 2½ games of the Atlanta Hawks in the battle for the final playoff spot in the East, the Cavs (30-45) not only matched the physical play of the slumping Pacers (52-22), they often exceeded it.
The only negative was losing center Anderson Varejao to a strained right shoulder late in the first half. Already minus All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for the eighth straight game — and C.J. Miles and Anthony Bennett — the Cavs will learn more about the severity of Varejao’s injury after he’s examined today.
Varejao’s latest injury, however, didn’t lessen the positive vibes that came from beating a Pacers team that lost for the fourth time in five games and failed to score 80 points for the fourth time in that span.
“We threw the first punch,” Waiters said of Cleveland’s 8-0 run to start the game. “We weren’t on our heels at the beginning of the game and we just stayed with it for 48 minutes.”
Even when a figurative push became a literal one, the Cavs reacted in exactly the right way.
With 6:52 left in the game, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova fouled David West under Indiana’s basket. West responded by elbowing the Australian guard, and when Cavs center Spencer Hawes came over to intervene, West pushed Hawes in the throat area.
After a video review, Dellavedova was given a personal foul, West and Hawes got technical fouls and West also got a flagrant foul.
“That happens,” Dellavedova said. “There’s not much to it.”
Because it was Hawes’ 12th technical of the season, it will cost him $4,000, but Dellavedova was grateful for the show of support.
“I appreciate it, even though it might cost him some money,” he said. “I’ll give him some Tim Tams (Australian chocolate biscuits) to make up for it.”
Cavs coach Mike Brown, who sprinted the length of the floor to make sure things didn’t escalate, liked the way his players responded to the incident and the way they played immediately after it.
Dellavedova made the two free throws resulting from the flagrant foul and Waiters scored on the ensuing possession to give Cleveland a commanding 21-point lead.
“I’m pushing our guys to be more physical,” Brown said. “I’m pushing them to stand up for each other. That’s all our guys did in that situation.”
The Cavs reacted the right way all afternoon.
After their 8-0 lead turned into a 17-16 deficit, they bounced back and went up 29-20 early in the second period. After Indiana got within one, Cleveland closed the half on a 14-2 run to go up 49-36. After the Pacers scored seven quick points to start the third period, the Cavs regrouped and built a 17-point lead late in the quarter.
“It’s just getting a little bit more mature,” Brown said. “It’s having an understanding and a trust and a belief in your teammates.”
Luol Deng had 15 points, five rebounds and three assists for the Cavs, Tristan Thompson had 12 points and was a monster with 16 rebounds, Hawes had 13 points and five boards and Dellavedova had 11 points and six assists.
The most important player, however, was veteran point guard Jarrett Jack, who had 11 points, six rebounds, nine assists, a steal, a block and no turnovers in 35½ minutes.
Brown was so impressed he called the ninth-year pro the “floor general, floor commander, floor chieftain.”
“That leadership on the floor and off the floor has been terrific,” the coach said. “He’s kept us composed in tight ballgames.”
The struggling Pacers shot just .372 (29-for-78), with their five starters going 20-for-56 (.357). West was 6-for-16, Paul George was 5-for-13, 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert was 2-for-9 and couldn’t make a layup and George Hill was 3-for-9.
“I think we’re playing against ourselves right now,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “There’s a level of play that we’re trying to reach, and we’re not close to where we need to be.”
The Cavs, on the other hand, are playing their best basketball of the season, although they remain four games back of the Hawks in the loss column.
“It’s good to know we’re still alive,” Dellavedova said. “We’ve got a shot (at making the playoffs) if we play well these last seven games.”
Cavaliers 90, Pacers 76
INDIANA (76): George 5-13 2-3 15, West 6-16 2-2 14, Hibbert 2-9 2-3 6, G.Hill 3-9 2-4 9, Stephenson 4-9 1-2 11, Mahinmi 0-1 1-2 1, Turner 2-5 0-0 4, Sloan 2-6 0-0 5, Scola 3-6 0-0 6, Copeland 2-3 0-0 5, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, S.Hill 0-0 0-0 0, Butler 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 29-78 10-16 76.
CLEVELAND (90): Deng 6-12 3-5 15, Thompson 4-10 4-4 12, Hawes 5-9 2-2 13, Jack 4-11 2-2 11, Waiters 9-20 0-0 19, Dellavedova 3-6 3-4 11, Varejao 2-3 2-2 6, Zeller 1-3 1-2 3, Gee 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 34-76 17-21 90.
Indiana 20 16 22 18 — 76
Cleveland 25 24 24 17 — 90
3-Point Goals—Indiana 8-22 (George 3-9, Stephenson 2-5, Copeland 1-2, Sloan 1-2, G.Hill 1-3, Turner 0-1), Cleveland 5-14 (Dellavedova 2-4, Jack 1-2, Hawes 1-2, Waiters 1-4, Deng 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Indiana 50 (G.Hill, George, Stephenson 7), Cleveland 51 (Thompson 16). Assists—Indiana 21 (G.Hill 6), Cleveland 20 (Jack 9). Total Fouls—Indiana 21, Cleveland 21. Technicals—West, Hawes. Flagrant Fouls—West. A—17,147 (20,562).