The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Miami Heat last night, in Miami, 114-107. For the Cavalier fans this could be seen as a moral victory just based on the close score, yet only reading the box score is limiting. It limits the concern over defensive intensity. It limits the excitement over the large comeback orchestrated into the 3rd quarter. It limits the long term, looking ahead that this game calls for.
A Schedule Loss
The Cavaliers were playing on the second night of a back to back, after beating the Orlando Magic Friday night. The Heat on the other hand had 3 nights off before the game last night, losing to the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night. The Cavs are the younger team but playing back to back games, both on the road, can be highly problematic for any team. The Heat, on the other hand, were able to rest after a grueling game against the Pacers. This is especially beneficial for Dwayne Wade, with his cranky knees, and some of the teams older players like Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Wade was able to put in 34 minutes, with Allen adding 25, giving the Heat depth, experience and playmaking that was vital in the game. Reverse the teams’ schedules and the result of the game could of easily been different.
At one point in the game the Cavaliers were down by 19 points. The Cavaliers were able to push back and actually take the lead from the Heat in a methodical comeback. Dion Waiters continued his pattern of second half explosions while role players, like Earl Clark, helped put the game in the balance. Instead of getting beaten soundly, as seen against the Spurs last month when they lost by 30, the Cavs chose to engage and fight back against a more lauded team. The Cavs didn’t shrink in the moment.
After The Comeback
Often in the NBA teams make runs and games become close. This is even true with less talented, less experienced teams. After the lesser team makes a run the superior team tends to put them in a choke hold and end any hope that teams has in the game. That didn’t happen last night. The Cavs, instead of being proud of coming back, continued their aggressive play as the Heat regained the lead and attempted to put their collective boots on the neck of the Cavs. The Heat’s defensive intensity and offensive movement obviously increased but the Cavs remained competitive. This is a great sign of the team’s development mentally and their maturity.
No Bowing to “The King”
In the past the Cavs, and many other teams, have resigned themselves when Lebron James decides to put full effort into the defense. Often the player James is guarding passes the ball quickly, forces up a shot or gets overwhelmed by James forcing a turnover. Instead Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and even Earl Clark pushed the issue when James locked down on them. Waiters particularly took James to the hole twice in a very short timeframe. Respecting a great player and submitting to him are different stories and the Cavs showed they will not submit.
Overall the Cavs have quite a few things to be excited about both from a basketball perspective but especially a mental one. The Cavs have started to turn a corner winning 4 out 6 with players starting to figure out their roles. While there are still things that need to be improved on the court, the team is coming together in ways that should strengthen their playoff possibilities and their mental fortitude.