CLEVELAND — Payback was a cinch.
The Cavaliers avenged a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, leading from start to finish and going up as many as 28 points en route to a 105-89 win Tuesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We’re definitely conscious of when we lose to a team,” LeBron James said after putting up 20 points, six rebounds and a career-high-tying 15 assists.
The Grizzlies (26-22) beat the Cavaliers (39-11) 111-109 in Memphis on Dec. 8, but they never had a chance in this one, as James recorded at least 11 assists for the seventh time in the last 11 games.
In winning its ninth straight game, Cleveland held Memphis to .380 shooting from the field (35-of-92), with 21-point scorer Zach Randolph limited to eight on 3-of-14 shooting and 18-point man O.J. Mayo getting 10 on a 4-of-15 performance.
On the flip side, the Cavaliers were shooting a sizzling .589 from the field until a 7-of-25 effort in a fourth quarter that consisted of a lot of garbage time.
Center Shaquille O’Neal was great once again, putting up 13 points and a season-high 13 rebounds, plus four blocks. O’Neal had nine points, 11 rebounds and all his blocks in the first half, which ended with Cleveland up 55-37.
“He looks great,” James said. “He’s motivated. … He’s playing with a real bounce in his step.”
The Cavaliers, who once again played without guards Mo Williams (sprained shoulder) and Delonte West (fractured finger), also got a season-high 16 points from Daniel Gibson, 15 points and eight boards from a dunk-crazed J.J. Hickson and 14 points from Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Despite all those numbers, coach Mike Brown was most enthused about the performance of Anderson Varejao (eight points, six rebounds), who combined with Hickson to hold Randolph scoreless until 57.6 seconds remained in the first half.
“If he isn’t first-team all-defense, or even gets some votes for Defensive Player of the Year, I’m going to be floored,” Brown said of Varejao. “He does some amazing things for us that just don’t show up in the box score.”
Varejao was also part of a unique four-point play that gave the Cavaliers their biggest lead of the night, 86-58, with 52.4 seconds left in the third quarter.
As Jawad Williams was nailing a 3-pointer, Rudy Gay (15 points) fouled Varejao while trying to fight through a screen. Williams and Varejao wound up on the floor, where they promptly extended their arms and helped one another up in unison.
The Cavaliers were in perfect sync, as well, especially on the defensive end. James recorded another sensational chase-down block, this one of a Mayo shot he viciously swatted off the backboard. Offensively, the 25-year-old added to his personal highlight reel with a Jordanesque drive where he switched the ball from his right to left hand in midair.
Cleveland was just as good, at both ends of the floor, when it came to making the basic plays.
“It was fun to watch tonight,” Brown said.
The Grizzlies were coming off a home victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, but they never had a chance to post their second straight huge win.
“If we play the right way, that’s a good team in that (Cleveland) locker room,” Brown said. “If we play the right way, we can do some real special things.”
- Who: Cleveland vs. Miami
- When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
- Where: The Q
- TV/radio: TNT, FS Ohio, Channel 43; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.