Cleveland Cavaliers – 116
Charlotte Hornets – 105
One of the most fun aspects of this Cavaliers season has been that nearly every game has been a group effort. With Kyrie Irving leading the team in scoring, Kevin Love’s constant triple-doubles, and contributions from Channing Frye, Tristan Thompson, and Iman Shumpert, you can rarely point to one player as to why the Cavs won any particular game. Tonight, you could point directly at LeBron James as the reason the Cavaliers rolled to a 116-105 victory over the Southeast Division-leading Charlotte Hornets.
James scored 44 points in 42 minutes on Saturday night. He added nine rebounds, ten assists, three steals, a block, and at one point scored 17 straight Cavaliers’ points. His scoring streak was broken when he assisted on a back-breaking Iman Shumpert three-pointer to put the game away. James was 5-of-10 from three, feeling it from beyond the arc after averaging only a four attempts from beyond the arc on the season.
This isn’t to say other Cavaliers didn’t have big nights. Kevin Love was again fantastic in the first quarter, scoring eleven points on five of seven shooting. Shumpert’s hot shooting continued, going 4-of-6 from three on his way to 16 total points. Tristan Thompson scored 13 points after scoring only eleven in the previous three games combined.
The Cavs rolled out a lineup with James at center in the first half and went back to it for an extended stretch in the second half of this game. While somewhat a function of Frye’s absence for personal reasons, this is a new wrinkle that could be useful against a potential Finals rematch against the team that blew a 3-1 lead in last year’s Finals. This super-small lineup was able to disrupt the Hornets with the amount of athleticism the Cavs could put on the court. They forced turnovers, got in transition, and forced the Hornets into fouls as they couldn’t keep up with the speedy Cavaliers.
The Hornets’ leading scorer was Kemba Walker with 24 points. The point guard in the midst of a fantastic season and has led the Hornets to the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent injury, but his scoring helped keep the game within reach for the Hornets for most of the contest.
The Hornets are a quality opponent and on a night where Irving didn’t quite have it, the Cavs were still able to mostly control the game from start to finish. The Cavaliers face the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night in Cleveland before traveling to Memphis for a home/away back-to-back. With this win, the Cavaliers maintain their lead over the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs also own the tie-breaker against the Raptors as they’ve already won the season-series against Toronto.
Let’s look behind the box score:
42 – Minutes for LeBron James. You’d obviously prefer LeBron to not have that heavy a load, but when he’s playing as well as he was in this game, you aren’t going to pull him out of the game.
15 – Minutes for DeAndre Liggins. Cracking the starting lineup while J.R. Smith was out with an injury, Liggins’ energy on defense earned him a spot in the rotation. His contributions don’t show up in the box score, but that’s why this is called behind the box score, guys. On a team with the talent-level of the Cavaliers, guys who can bring energy and defense every night are essential in these regular season games.
34.9 percent – LeBron James’ shooting percentage from long-range coming into this game. He went five for ten vs Charlotte and may be finding his shooting touch, again. If he’s able to consistently hit threes like he was in Miami, it adds an entirely new element to the Cavaliers, an element that is mostly unguardable with the other shooters already on the roster.
32 – The combined points of Cody Zeller and Marco Belinelli. Which is just silly. Belinelli had a stretch of shot making to keep the Hornets in it before he went cold in the second half.
19 – The Cavs’ biggest lead in this game. This gif sums up the Hornets’ ability to sort of get in the Cavs’ way but mostly get blown by.
3 – The Cavs’ next five games come against three opponents, as they have home/away back-to-backs against both Memphis and Milwaukee coming up.
1 – Speaking of Memphis, there’s only one Zach Randolph and he’s the best.
After an incredible amount of drama the last two seasons, it’s refreshing to tune into a laid-back Cavaliers team that takes care of business and seems to really enjoy playing together. See you Tuesday!