Cleveland Cavaliers – 140
Washington Wizards – 135
It seems like the Washington Wizards have been trying to earn their relevance with a win over the Cavaliers for 15 years. That wait is going to be just a bit longer, as the Cavs beat the Wizards 140-135 on Monday night in a game John Wall called the biggest regular season game of his career.
The win didn’t come easy, as it required a herculean effort from LeBron James and Kevin Love. James scored 32 points and added a career-high 17 assists. Many of those assists were to Love, who had an incredible night. He ended with 39 points and 12 boards as well as some solid defense down the stretch. The Cavs fought back from a six-point first quarter deficit to take a four point lead into the fourth quarter, with Love providing 15 points in the third quarter comeback. The two teams traded blows through the fourth, with the Cavs hitting five consecutive three pointers down the stretch. But they were unable to shake the Wizards, trailing by three with only seconds left after a missed LeBron James layup attempt.
But, as he does so often, James delivered. This time it was a turn-around bank-shot three pointer with 0.3 seconds left in the game to push the Cavs into overtime. Kevin Love hit James with the picture-perfect pass on a play Ty Lue called “Touchdown” in the post game.
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2017
Overtime would present its own challenges. James would then foul out a minute into the extra period, leaving a struggling Kyrie Irving to create offense for the Cavs. Irving was unable to deliver initially, getting tunnel vision and forcing shots in traffic rather than finding open shooters on the perimeter. As often happens, Love was frozen out down the stretch, even on a night where he was dominant throughout. But, down by three with two minutes left, Love was able to grab a rebound, drive to the rim, and findd Kyle Korver in the corner for one of his many big threes of the evening. That three would tie the game with two minutes left in overtime.
And then it was time for Kyrie to take over. He would hit a contested layup and an impossible jumper before setting up for his now signature shot.
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2017
As you can see in that clip, LeBron was engaged all night, celebrating with Kyrie here and Love earlier after one of his big shots. It was obvious the Cavs wanted this one, and the game had a playoff feel throughout.
The Wizards deserve credit for this one. They had won 12 of their last 14 games and 17 straight at home. Bradley Beal was incredible, making tough shots all night and especially down the stretch. John Wall did what he always does and kept pressure on the Cavaliers’ defense with his speed. Otto Porter, who is quietly putting together a monster season, hit five of his seven three piont attempts and ended with 25 points on the night. This is a young team that started the season in a tough spot, but has responded to become one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. It was interesting to hear Kevin Love and Ty Lue both compliment Wizards coach Scott Brooks multiple times in the post game interviews. They obviously had studied this team and respect them as an opponent.
Prior to the game, noted Kevin Love trade rumor enthusiast Frank Isola dropped his annual “Kevin Love to the Knicks trade rumor” piece.
LeBron is doing Phil a big solid. https://t.co/q5D1yUJL3U
— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) February 7, 2017
Ty Lue wasted no time shutting the rumor down, saying post-game, “We’re gonna trade him tonight. 39 and 12? C’mon man…Kevin should be happy teams want him, but he’s not going anywhere.” LeBron had an even stronger stance:
LeBron responds to the recent K Love/Melo trade rumors… pic.twitter.com/zmLTovOpxN
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 7, 2017
Let’s look behind the box score after a thrilling victory:
22 – Points for Tristan Thompson. He has now scored 22, 12, 18, 0, 19 over his last five. His scoring average this season was down a bit, but he’s been better of late. He was finding soft spots in the defense and rolling hard to the rim for lobs all night, even with a bigger defender in Marcin Gortat in his path.
19.3 – Kevin Love’s rebound percentage this season. This is his highest as a Cavalier (previous high was last season with 17.8 percent). He’s even topping teammate Tristan Thompson, who comes in at 18 percent this season.
65.6 – percentage of Kyle Korver’s shot attempts without a defender within four feet. This is up from 55.8 percent in Atlanta this season. Korver’s presence in the lineup has felt a bit disjointed or forced since he was acquired in January, but he’s shooting 42 percent from three and scoring nearly the same amount as in Atlanta.
5 – Turnovers per game by LeBron James in January. He hadn’t averaged even four turnovers in any month this season prior to January. If you want to look at some of the issues the Cavs had during that month, there is a big one.
Iman Shumpert twisted his ankle and did not return. With J.R. Smith sidelined with a thumb injury and now Shumpert down, it will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers fill their empty roster spot. Shumpert has also been starting, which means Ty Lue will have to pick from Kyle Korver, DeAndre Liggins, or Jordan McRae for Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. Personally, I’m hoping for Korver. His defense gets exposed when he plays in the second-team units with Kay Felder, Channing Frye, and Richard Jefferson. They also are forced to spend a lot of time running obvious plays for him that seem to disrupt the offense. Letting him play alongside the starters and get more natural looks could do wonders for getting him jump started.
See you Wednesday!