July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Which was better: Cavs win or Heat loss?

Let’s call it a two-day moment of closure.

The biggest debate in Cleveland this morning could be what the fans enjoyed watching more — Boston turning away LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Tuesday night or the Cavaliers downing the same Celtics team one night later?

It’s probably a coin flip.

The two games combined to provide the best salve for the burn Cavs fans have been feeling since James ceremoniously dumped his hometown team more than three months ago. The NBA’s two-time defend­ing MVP announced on a one-hour special called “The Decision” that he would be walking away from the only team he’d known through seven years of professional basket­ball and taking his ball to South Beach to play with his buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The sting was lessened a bit Tues­day as the Celtics handed the Heat an 88-80 defeat in the season opener for both teams.

James led the Heat with a game-high 31 points, but also finished with eight turnovers and spent most of the second half trying to put the team on his back and create plays … basically the same thing he’d done — and complained about — with the Cavs the last few years.

Cavs fans enjoyed watching the nationally televised game so much, the Celtics barely were booed at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday — surprising since it was Boston that has eliminated Cleveland from the playoffs two of the last three years.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said that several Clevelanders approached him while he was walking around the city Wednesday afternoon, wanting to shake his hand and congratulate him for beating Miami.

“That is surprising,” Cavs guard Daniel Gibson said. “But that just goes to show you the loyalty and love for the game the fans in this city have. That’s why I’ve come to love this team’s fans. I completely understand.” But it might be the Cavs’ surprising 95-87 win over the Celtics that allows fans to finally put the King in their rearview mirrors.

It took awhile for Cavs fans to get into the spirit of things Wednesday night.

They knew beating the Celtics without James and top player Mo Williams, who was on the inactive list, was going to be a tall order, and the festive attitude that filled the arena the past few years seemed to be missing.

Fans weren’t settling into their seats with the feeling that they were about to see the beginning of a special season that might culminate in a championship five decades in the making.

They weren’t on their feet for every play, ready to sacrifice their lungs and their vocal chords to cheer on a team they believed was going to accomplish great things over the course of 82 games … and beyond.

In fact, it’s probable that the 20,000-plus fans that packed the arena had spent more energy cheering for Boston on Tuesday night then they did cheering against the Celtics during the first half Wednesday.

But that changed when the players began to share the workload and find success.

J.J. Hickson hit midrange jumpers all over the floor, Jamario Moon hit several baseline 3-pointers and Ramon Sessions flew into the lane for layups and pulled up for quick jumpers.

“Their true strength is playing together,” Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said. “They don’t have that one or two go-to guys, but they do play well together. They play hard, and when you don’t match that, you find yourself in difficulty.

“When you play together, you dilute the responsibility.”

Anthony Parker hit a clutch three, Ryan Hollins was solid off the bench with 10 points and Gibson scored all 16 of his points in the second half. None were bigger than the two free throws he sank after Boston’s Nate Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal were given technical fouls on the same play. The free throws gave Cleveland its first fourth-quarter lead.

“It was bananas in there,” Gibson said. “It was amazing to see the fans stand up and in tune with the game. I don’t think we even knew what we were in store for with the way the fans received us.”

There are still going to be plenty of fans who keep an eye on what James and his new team are doing — taking delight in every Heat defeat — but Wednesday night’s win gives most of them a reason to keep the other eye on the Cavs.

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com.