June 27, 2016

Mostly cloudy

James rises up for Cavs

CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers will work on impressive wins later. Sunday night, they were satisfied with just getting a victory.

Cleveland still has a lot of work to do before the playoffs start, but it halted a three-game losing streak by coming from behind to beat the Philadelphia 76ers 91-88 at sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.

“It’s a little frustrating at times because we have guys going in and out of the lineup,” said LeBron James, who hit the game-winning hoop with 19.3 seconds left. “Hopefully, we can continue to get better.”

James led the Cavaliers, who had lost six of their last nine games, with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. After doing next to nothing in the first half, he bounced back for 20 points, five rebounds and six assists in the second.

Cleveland (41-33) also got a huge game from point guard Delonte West, who had two huge fourth-quarter 3-pointers among his 18 points. West, back after missing one game with an inflamed tendon in his foot, added six rebounds and a season-high 11 assists.

“Delonte was huge,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He made a couple game-winning plays for us. … He can be big for us. He’s athletic and he’s a good player in a lot of different ways.”

Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 14 points for the Cavaliers and Joe Smith provided 13 points and eight rebounds off the bench, but there are still plenty of reasons for concern.

Devin Brown, who got the starting nod at shooting guard, went a dismal 3-of-13 from the field, while Anderson Varejao started at power forward in place of Ben Wallace (back spasms) and had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting.

On top of that, Daniel Gibson experienced soreness in the left ankle that caused him to miss six weeks and left the game for good late in the third quarter. Sasha Pavlovic, who had been starting at shooting guard, didn’t play a minute and often didn’t even get off the bench to join the team huddle during timeouts. Damon Jones played four minutes, but only because Gibson got hurt, while Wally Szczerbiak was 0-of-4 from the field in 10 more awful minutes.

“We’re playing OK,” James said. “We’ve had games where we could have played better. Like tonight, we had another lineup change. We’ve had so many lineup changes the last month and a half, it’s hard to catch a rhythm. We have eight games left, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Cavaliers caught a rhythm just in time against the athletic and free-wheeling Sixers (37-37), who led by 11 and had a 14-0 edge in fastbreak points late in the first half.

Cleveland, which didn’t attempt its first free throw until 5:53 was left in the third period, held the Sixers to 40 points in the second half. More importantly, the Cavaliers won the battle of fastbreak points 13-4 after intermission.

“(Mike Brown) harped on that at halftime,” James said. “We needed to shut them down if we wanted to give ourselves a chance to win. That’s what we did.”

The Sixers, who didn’t commit a turnover until midway through the second quarter, wound up with 14. That, in large part, was why the Cavaliers were able to go on a 20-5 run that spanned the second and third periods.

“We tried to confuse them a little bit,” West said. “We put some smaller, quicker defenders on their wings and a bigger guard on (point guard) Andre Miller.”

Philadelphia, which had won 19 of its last 25 games, still led 88-85 and had the ball following a Devin Brown turnover with 1:37 to go. Andre Iguodala (19 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) couldn’t score on a drive, however, and West buried his second three in a span of 1:14 to tie the game at 88.

“You just sit there and the ball comes to you,” West said of learning to play with James. “The clouds open up. You’ve got enough time to get your toes straight, your elbow in, eyes on the rim and sometimes, clunk, you miss it.

“This game is extremely mental. Anything that keeps you positive, that keeps you aggressive, you’ve got to ride it. It’s something I will try to build on.”

The Cavaliers will try to do likewise, but victory didn’t come easy.

After West’s game-tying three, the Sixers missed two shots before the ball went out of bounds to Cleveland with 40.6 seconds left.

James then drove right and hit a running bank-shot over Iguodala to put the Cavaliers up 90-88 with 19.3 seconds to go. Louis Williams missed a 3-pointer on the Sixers’ next possession, and Smith split a pair of free throws with 6.1 ticks on the clock to put Cleveland up three.

With the Sixers out of timeouts, James astutely used a foul the Cavaliers had to give with 2.9 seconds left, then tipped the ball out of bounds with 2.3 seconds to go. Iguodala then caught a pass, pump-faked James off his feet and had a potential game-tying 3-pointer rim out.

“We’ve had a couple tough losses,” Smith said. “We just wanted to try and bounce back and take care of business on our home court.”

Noland may be reached at rickn@ohio.net or 330-721-4061.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.