CLEVELAND — Merry Christmas, ABC!
In a nationally televised game that featured two of the most disappointing teams in the NBA, the Cavaliers did enough things right in the second half — and the Miami Heat did more than enough things wrong — to register a 96-82 victory Tuesday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The Cavaliers, Eastern Conference champions in 2007, are now 13-16 after winning for just the fourth time in their last 14 games. Miami, which represented the East in the NBA Finals in 2006, is a conference-worst 8-20, with little hope of getting any better.
“We can’t afford to continue to take one step forward and two steps back,” Cleveland small forward LeBron James said. “We’ve got to go (forward).”
James, elbowed in the face by 325-pound Shaquille O’Neal in the first half, led the way with 25 points, six rebounds and 12 assists. Drew Gooden had 18 points and nine boards, while Daniel Gibson (16 points,
4-of-6 3-pointers) and Anderson Varejao (season-high 15 points, 7 rebounds) played huge roles off the bench. Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 13 points and eight boards while moving past John “Hot Rod” Williams and into second place in franchise history in total rebounds.
The Heat, an aging, disinterested team severely lacking in talent, got 22 points from Dwyane Wade, who was 7-of-18 from the field and an ugly 8-of-16 at the line. Ricky Davis had 15 points and O’Neal, who didn’t foul out for the first time in six games, had 13 points and nine boards.
Up four at halftime and by 10 early in the third period, Miami scored just 14 points in the third quarter and 35 in the second half.
“When we play defense, we’re a pretty good team,” James said. “When we don’t, it doesn’t look so good. It’s as simple as that.”
Down seven in the third period, the Cavaliers played a rare stretch of good basketball in outscoring Miami 15-0. It was capped by a James steal and dunk where the 6-foot-8,
250-pounder’s head was at rim level.
Cleveland played excellent defense during that run, but Miami’s woeful offense played just as big of a role. The Heat actually led 53-43 early in the second half, only to get outscored 24-6.
“As long as we embrace our identity, which is a defensive team, we are going to gain confidence,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. “We’re going to become a better team because we’ll have something to hang our hat on.”
With Gibson hitting back-to-back 3-pointers, both off James assists, the Cavaliers stretched their run to 32-12 and led 84-70 with seven minutes left in the game.
“When we turn it up like that defensively, we can be a dangerous team in transition,” Brown said.
There was a little bit of everything – almost all of it bad – in what may have been the most boring Christmas Day first half in NBA history.
There was a washed-up O’Neal (5-of-10) – and Wade, for that matter – bouncing free throws all over The Q. When O’Neal wasn’t missing, he was committing foul line infractions.
There was Udonis Haslem shooting some of the most beautiful 17-footers ever seen – from 15 feet away from the basket.
Not to be outdone, Cleveland’s Gibson, coming off the bench for the first time this season, seemed intent on pounding the ball through the arena floor.
Larry Hughes, rewarded with a starting assignment after going 14-of-61 from the field over his previous six games, was 1-of-3 from the field in the first half and finished 2-of-7.
Sasha Pavlovic, kept in the starting lineup despite 10-of-37 shooting in his previous six games, was 0-of-5 from the field over the first two quarters and finished 1-of-8.
But, hey, look at the bright side: The Cavaliers are 1-0 this season with the starting backcourt that helped them reach the NBA Finals in 2007.
“Any time you win a game, it’s a good thing,” Brown said.
Things started out well enough for the Cavaliers, as James drove baseline and dunked on the first possession of the game.
Cleveland actually made six of its first seven shots in taking a 13-4 lead and led by 10 early in the second period. The Cavaliers, however, missed 18 of their last 26 attempts and Miami ended up scoring 30 second-quarter points to take a 47-43 lead.
It wasn’t pretty, as 35 fouls were called and 45 free throws were attempted in that span. The Cavaliers were 14-of-23, while the Heat was 12-of-22.
Noland may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4061.
Cavs 96, Heat 82
MIAMI (82): Wright 3-3 0-0 6, Haslem 3-8 0-0 6, O’Neal 4-7 5-10 13, Williams 4-10 1-2 9, Wade 7-18 8-16 22, Davis 6-14 2-2 15, Barron 3-7 1-3 7, Cook 0-2 0-0 0, Blount 0-0 2-2 2, Jackson 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 31-72 19-35 82.
CLEVELAND (96): James 9-19 7-11 25, Gooden 6-13 6-6 18, Ilgauskas 5-12 3-4 13, Hughes 2-7 0-0 4, Pavlovic 1-8 3-4 5, Varejao 5-5 5-7 15, Gibson 6-11 0-0 16, Dw.Jones 0-0 0-2 0, D.Brown 0-2 0-0 0, Snow 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-77 24-34 96.
Miami 17 30 14 21 — 82
Cleveland 25 18 24 29 — 96
3-Point Goals—Miami 1-8 (Davis 1-3, Barron 0-1, Williams 0-4), Cleveland 4-13 (Gibson 4-6, Hughes 0-1, Pavlovic 0-1, D.Brown 0-2, James 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Miami 55 (Haslem 13), Cleveland 55 (Gooden 9). Assists—Miami 16 (Wade 8), Cleveland 23 (James 12). Total Fouls—Miami 27, Cleveland 28. A—20,562 (20,562).