Well! That ended much better than Thursday's game, didn't it?
I was shaking the entire fourth quarter. These past two years, watching us play at the Clippers has given me fits like no other game. When the buzzer finally went off, I let out all my tension in a battle cry and danced around my room. By now, I've settled down enough to give this game a more in-depth look.
Coming into tonight, I was feeling supremely confident. After all, the Clippers were completely destroyed by the Lakers in the second half alone, getting outscored by 37. If the Lakers could do that, surely we could beat the Clippers without too much trouble. In addition, last year, we were outplayed for 3 quarters but outscored the Clippers by 21 in the fourth -quarter to pull out a nerve-jangling win. As long as we didn't fall behind in the third quarter, I figured we would put the game away in our favor before very long.
I actually joked to myself about the possibility of the Cavs having to mount another comeback, though not from 19 points down. I didn't think my musings would prove so eerily accurate.
As if following an annual script, the Cavs were outhustled, outplayed in the paint, and completely outscored by the Clippers...for about three quarters. They started the game getting outscored 10-0, but cut the deficit to 3. LeBron also picked up two early fouls. Rumor has it some of the Clipper fans didn't like LeBron's second foul sending him to the bench. The game didn't sell out for fans to watch LeBron on the bench.
In the second quarter, LeBron's teammates tied the game. I think the Cavs actually played better with LeBron off the floor in the first half, going into halftime with just 9 points. He was bothered all night long by Craig Smith and Marcus Camby. This may explain why he finished -1 in the +/- column. Anyway, the Clippers had been hitting 61% in the first half compared to 39% for the Cavs. Cleveland just could not get hot. But it was in the second quarter when things really started to get out of hand. Rasual Butler and Craig Smith pushed the Clippers ahead by 11, and continued to hold off any attempt by the Cavs to get a run going in the 3rd quarter. Eric Gordon shot 4 of 5, pushing the Clippers ahead by 14.
With 1:30 left to go in the 3rd, the Cavs finally started to make something happen, closing the quarter on a 7-0 run and bringing themselves within 5. I was quite certain the Cavs could win, but their defense needed to improve. They allowed the Clippers to score 56 in the first half, and 22 in the second half.
In the 4th quarter, the Cavs were poised to make the final push for the lead. They were drawing fouls, sharing the ball, and getting timely rebounds. However, four 3-pointers by Rasual Butler held them off. He made life miserable for Varejao. When Ricky Davis put the Clippers back up by 5 with 6:24 left, Mo Williams picked a great time to make his first 3 pointer of the night. He was 0-6 until then. But we didn't seize the lead until D West made a tough put-back shot, giving us our first lead of the night, and putting us ahead for the rest of the game. Yep, we held the lead for just 2 minutes and 49 seconds all game long. In the final minute, the Clippers had three chances to regain the lead. The first was a miss by Craig Smith. The second was a miss by Rasual Butler. And wouldn't you know it? It was his only miss from 2-point range all game long.
And true to script, the Clippers had 6 seconds to try for a third time to win the game, and they chose to get the ball, not to Z-Bo, but to Baron Davis, who missed at the buzzer and finished 0-3 from 3-point land.
Game over, go home a winner. (By the way, the Clippers had won 4 tough home games up until this point. We succeeded where the Lakers, Boston, Portland, and Miami failed. I'd call that an accomplishment.)
LeBron James: 12-20, 3-6 from beyond the 3 point line, 32 points. All of Staples Center waited for him to catch fire, and I'd say he did in the second half. He scored 23, including two dunks that drew lots of roars from the crowd. The points didn't come easy, as Marcus Camby and Craig Smith harassed and hampered him all game long.
Mo Williams: 7-17, 18 points, 6 assists, 3-3 FT shooting. The stats say Mo finished -7 in the +/- column, but he played a much better game tonight than he did in Utah. True, he did commit two consecutive turnovers, but other than that, he was an essential piece to the Cavs' comeback, and he exhibited greater effort. He made two tough attempts to save the possession while diving into the crowd.
Delonte West: 4-7, 14 points, 5-6 FT shooting, +14 in the +/-. He and the Cavs bench played a great game, helping the team out in the first half when LeBron couldn't find his shot and was stuck on the bench. At least for the last two games, we've been seeing the Good Delonte hard at work.
Shaquille O'Neal: 3-7. 11 points, 5-6 FT shooting. So why were we able to beat a team that made 10 three pointers and shot 59 percent compared to 48 percent for us? The difference was the foul line. The Cavs have clearly been worked on their free throws since the Utah disaster, and what a difference it made. They made 9 of 10 in the fourth quarter. And how about a round of applause for The Big Aristotle: He sank his first four consecutive free throws. On the other side, the Clippers finished 17-24, including five consecutive misses during a 3:24 minute stretch in the third quarter in which the Cavs didn't score. The Clippers outscored us 5-0 in that stretch. It could have been much worse. Imagine what would have happened.
Well, that's it for the West Coast road games! Good riddance, I think. The Cavs finally come home to play the same Raptors team that beat us by 10 points in the second game of the season. I'm sure we'd all like to put that game behind us with a win. In any case, it will be a good game to prepare the Cavs for a visit from another LA team later on...