Sometimes regular season games mean a little bit more. The coaches won't admit it, players avoid talking about it, hell even bloggers like me try and talk it down. Deep down, though, we do know it means a little more. Tonight was one of those nights - Lakers-Cavs is one of those games.
Finding out just hours before the game that they would be without Mo Williams for about a month, the Cavaliers spotted the Lakers the first 9 points of the game before righting the ship and beating Kobe's Bunch 93-87 at the Q. LeBron James scored 37 points, Kobe Bryant 31. It was a classic duel, deserving of the pre-game hype - even if it was a bit much.
The Cavaliers without Mo Williams are a team in flux, you can tell already. Delonte West got the start at the point and the offense never really seemed to get into a rhythm. It's hard to blame West for that since he was making his first start of the season and he really isn't a point guard.
The Lakers took advantage, taking a 26-17 lead after the first quarter behind the hot hand of Kobe Bryant. Bryant looked as though he had heard enough about any supposed rivalry between the Cavs and Lakers, and looked as though he wanted to avenge the beating LA took at home on Christmas Day. Bryant hit 7 of his first 10 shots while LeBron struggled from the perimeter. The final 3 quarters, however, were all about LeBron, all about the Cavaliers defense.
Mike Brown came to Cleveland preaching defense. Defense can be relied upon when shots aren't falling. Defense can be relied upon when starters get injured. Defense is how the Cavaliers beat the Lakers. After allowing 27 points on 52% shooting in the 1st Quarter, the Cavaliers held the Lakers to 60 points the rest of the way, finishing at 39% shooting for the game. Defense.
I can't go any further with mentioning J.J. Hickson. I say that becase Hickson's worst game as a pro may have come last season at The Q when the Lakers handed the Cavaliers their first home loss of the season. Hickson was victimized on countless occasions by the Lakers, especially Lamar Odom.
Hickson played 25 minutes and in many ways kept the Cavaliers in the game in the 1st Quarter. With Pau Gasol helping on LeBron every time he touched the ball, Hickson was able to roam free to do what he does best - dunk the basketball. The early scoring success gave Hickson the confidence on the glass as well. Hickson finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points, grabbing 14 rebounds. It was a flash of the potential that excites the Cavaliers, and now the fans got a peek at it in a big game.
While LeBron was huge, especially during the 4th Quarter with 12 points, Shaquille O'Neal overcame a rough start to become a huge presence in the 2nd half. O'Neal finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds, banging against Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all night. O'Neal played 28 minutes as well, showing he can still extend in games.
As for Delonte West - 42 minutes, 3 points on 1-4 shooting. 4 rebounds, 3 assists. Not pretty, unless you look at the final stat - only 1 turnover. D-West will have games where he scores. More importantly, if he can take care of the basketball the Cavs will be fine.
A great game, yes, but still just a game in January. The Cavaliers have a long way to go and they need to find a way to survive without Williams. The journey continues Saturday Night against Oklahoma City.