Cavaliers win fourth straight with 105-94 win over Miami
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - The Cleveland Cavaliers are a third of the way through the 2021-22 NBA season, and it’s safe to say they’ve exceeded expectations thus far. After finishing with a 22-50 record a season ago, expectations for Cleveland were fairly low for this season. The Cavs, however, have improved dramatically and are already closing in on their win total from last season.
“There were a lot of lumps that had to be taken to put us in position to acquire the pieces that we ended up acquiring, and it’s painful going through it,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “The things that we had to endure last year and the year previous to that is extremely painful. As a coach, as an organization, as a fanbase, it’s hard to get through. We are fortunate that the balls bounced the way that they did and turned it into the group that we have right now that’s in front of us. There’s a group of new talent and new pieces, but then there’s also that group of guys who went through all that stuff and saw that and felt that and were motivated to do more because of it.”
One player that has been in Cleveland through the highest of highs and lowest of lows is Kevin Love, who led Cleveland with 23 points and nine rebounds en route to a 105-94 victory over the Miami Heat on Monday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The victory over Miami (16-12), which snapped the Heat’s two-game winning streak, was the Cavs’ fourth straight and eighth in their last 10 games.
“(We) try not to, at this point, put things on record,” Bickerstaff said. “The most important thing for us, are we building and playing and doing things the right way. I believe we have a ton of young talent. If you do things the right way, the results are going to come, and I think we’ve seen that and our guys have seen that. But our focus is still trying to make sure we’re doing things the proper way — we’re executing our defensive system the right way, we’re sharing the ball offensively and doing those things that we’re trying to do. That’s where we put our focus, is on the small parts and then hopefully if we do enough of the small things right, the bigger picture, which is the wins and the standings and all that, will fall in our favor.”
Things have fallen in the Cavs’ favor of late, as they seem to be figuring out how to close out games. Leading 84-79 with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter against Miami, the Cavs (17-12) immediately put together a 16-5 run that included three 3-pointers from Love, giving the home team a 100-84 lead with 5:10 to play. The Heat never recovered from the spurt.
Isaac Okoro, who has found his game offensively of late, finished with 18 points and five rebounds against Miami. Jarrett Allen totaled 17 points and eight rebounds, while Darius Garland finished with 16 points and five assists. Lauri Markkanen chipped-in 12 points and four rebounds.
Ricky Rubio, who finished with seven points and seven assists, became the 11th active player to total 5,000 assists in his career. He’s one of the few veterans on a Cavs roster that is loaded with young talent, and his leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed this season.
“The biggest thing to me is just watching how the guys get along, and how well they play together and how they try to help one another,” Bickerstaff said about what stands out to him thus far this season. “When you’re trying to build and to go in the direction that we’re trying to go, the buy in is the most important thing. Guys being committed to what you’re trying to do and committed to one another is the most important thing that you can have. I think that’s where we’ve seen the biggest leap.
“For coaches, that’s the most enjoyable part of it, is watching teams come together. At this early of a stage and as soon as its been with just the different pieces and how the team was built and the new guys that were here, that’s been the thing for me that’s been the most exciting is the chemistry that the guys play with, how they just go and get it for one another.”
It was a struggle for both teams from the field in the first half, as the Cavs and Heat found themselves tied at 37 with just under five minutes to play in the second quarter. The Cavs, though, began to find their offense in the final minutes of the half, closing out the second quarter on an 18-7 run to take a 55-44 lead into the break.
The Cavs were stingy on defense once again, as has been the case all season. They entered the game against Miami allowing the second-fewest points per game this season.
“I think it all at the end of the day for us is going to come back to our defense,” Bickerstaff said. “Defensively, we have to be able to get stops, and we have to be able to control the ball.”
The Cavs are certainly one of the surprise teams in the league this season, as they have one of the four best records in the Eastern Conference. Bickerstaff was asked if he was surprised at the success the Cavs have had thus far.
“Honestly, we didn’t know,” Bickerstaff said. “We went out on a limb and took a pretty big gamble on what we were going to look like…you put together this three-big package, and it’s a gamble that you take. It’s a gamble that you take with obviously a lot of studying, but we didn’t know how well it would work because we knew it was going to take time to get there and I think the guys are still working at it — how they play together and how they play off each other. But it was a gamble that we took, so we really didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”
At this point, other teams around the NBA are aware of how the Cavs have played this season when they step on the court with them. The Heat, which were led by P.J. Tucker’s 23 points on Monday, are certainly aware after losing their second game to the Cavs in less than two weeks.
“What we do is aim for other people’s respect,” Bickerstaff said. “When people have to game plan for you, that means you’re earning their respect. The guys are doing things correctly when teams start to do that, and they know you’re competitive and they have to make an adjustment to your system, that means you’re earning people’s respect.”
The Cavs will seek a fifth straight win when they host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
POSTED 12/13/2021 22:17