CLEVELAND —Even the Browns might be able to score against the Golden State Warriors.
It wasn’t nearly as easy as it should have been, but the Cavaliers did enough things right to get past the extremely shorthanded and defenseless Warriors, winning 114-108 Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
While they haven’t all been impressive, especially at The Q, Cleveland (8-3) has now won five straight games and eight of its last nine.
“We’ve been able to execute down the stretch,” LeBron James said after putting up 31 points, five rebounds and 12 assists. “Putting teams away and winning by 20 or 25 is OK. At the same time, playing close games and having to execute down the stretch makes it a lot better late in the season when the playoffs come and it becomes a one- or two-possession game and you have to get stops and really execute.”
The Cavaliers played without big men Shaquille O’Neal (shoulder strain) and Anderson Varejao (hip contusion), then lost swingman Jamario Moon to a sprained ankle early in the second half. O’Neal and Varejao won’t play tonight in Washington, while Moon —he started the third period because Anthony Parker got blood on his uniform and had to change —is questionable.
The Warriors (3-7), who lead the league in scoring (111.6) but are last in defense (113.7), were in far worse shape, as they had just seven healthy players in uniform. All seven, however, scored in double figures as Golden State used its free-wheeling offensive system to keep the game close.
“They do a lot of things that are unorthodox,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It’s a tough matchup for us.”
It got tougher because the Cavaliers, like many teams around the league, fell into the Warriors’ trap and spent large portions of the evening playing Golden State’s game. That’s why Cleveland recorded a season high in points, yet also allowed a season high in that category.
Throw in 88 shot attempts by the run-and-gun Warriors and 79 by the Cavaliers —not to mention 9-of-24 3-point shooting by Golden State and 9-of-20 by Cleveland —and a lot of seemingly impressive offensive numbers were posted.
Twelve of the 16 players who saw action scored in double figures on a night when the Warriors, who traded Stephen Jackson and Acie Law on Monday, stayed in the game until the end.
“We were right there,” Golden State coach Don Nelson said. “I was happy with the way we played with kind of a pickup team.”
After leading by as many as 15, Cleveland was up just one with 3:05 to go. The Warriors had a chance to tie the contest with 2:21 left, but Anthony Morrow missed a wide-open 3-pointer. Cavaliers forward J.J. Hickson then hit a free throw and threw down a dunk off a James lob to preserve the victory.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we did find a way to close the game and get the ‘W,’” Brown said.
Hickson set a career high in scoring for the third straight game, finishing with 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting. The second-year forward also tied his career high with nine rebounds.
At intermission, Hickson was 7-of-7 from the field and had 16 points and eight boards as Cleveland took a 66-55 lead on .619 shooting from the field (26-of-42).
“I’m trying to be the best player I can,” the power forward said. “The sky’s the limit. I’m just playing as hard as I can.”
The Cavaliers also got 16 points, eight boards and six assists from Mo Williams, 14 points from Zydrunas Ilgauskas and 13 points from Daniel Gibson, who now has the state of Texas shaved into the side of his head.
Monta Ellis, who is currently the subject of trade rumors, led the Warriors with 23 points and eight assists, while Corey Maggette had 19 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.
Morrow (18), Stephen Curry (14 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists), Anthony Randolph (13 points, 8 rebounds), Vladimir Radmanovic (11) and Mikki Moore (10) also scored in double figures for Golden State.
“They’ve got guys who can dribble, they’ve got guys who can shoot and they’ve got guys who can attack,” James said. “You’re going to be in different (defensive) positions all night.
“Do I like the way they play? It’s real free. It’s a good system, but they’ve got the right players for that system.”
Those players don’t work real hard at the defensive end, however, which is why Cleveland led 35-30 after the first period.
The lone defensive highlight of that quarter was James’ tremendous chase-down block as Ellis drove to the hoop.
“He didn’t see me,” James said. “That’s becoming one of my go-to plays. I saw it the whole way. I knew I had him.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.