The Cavaliers have locked up their 2nd straight Central Division Championship with a hard fought 99-94 win over the Indiana Pacers. The 20,592 in attendance tonight wouldn't know that - the team made no mention of the 'accomplishment' at The Q. I understand - the division crown is hardly what the Cavaliers are after - but it's good to stop and smell the roses, to appreciate every step in the journey.
Not that I will criticize the Cavaliers too much - at 54-15 the team is steamrolling towards the post-season. Tonight's win was the Wine and Gold's 24th straight against teams under-.500. The Cavs haven't lost to a team with a losing record since dropping one to the Wizards on November 18th.
The Pacers made it difficult, however, despite missing 4 of their regular contributors. The Cavaliers were sleepwalking through most o the first half, eventually taking a 2 point lead into the locker room(50-48). They came out looking like a team ready to finish the game off early, starting the 3rd quarter on a 11-2 run to take a 61-50 lead. The Cavs continued to add to the lead stretching it to 16 heading into the 4th quarter. Down 18(83-65) early in the 4th Quarter, and with LeBron on the bench ready to take the rest of the evening, the Pacers mounted a furious comeback.
Behind Troy Murphy and A.J. Price, the Pacers out-scored the Cavaliers 22-5 to close within 1 at 88-87 with 4:03 to go. That's when Anderson Varejao and LeBron James do what they do best - make all the plays to take over the game. In the final 4 minutes, LeBron scored or assisted on all 11 Cavalier points. He also forced 2 steals and had two monster blocks. People say Kobe is the ultimate closer - well, I'll take LeBron James, not because he'll bury buzzer-beater after buzzer-beater but because he makes plays in the final 5 minutes of games - on both ends of the floor - to close out opponents.
The Cavaliers continue to win games, despite being at a size disadvantage almost every night. Tonight was no exception with Roy Hibbert having his way inside with 20 points on 8-12 shooting. Murphy was solid too, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds - giving the Cavaliers a glimpse of what could have been if the deal for Antawn Jamison wasn't made.
It was a lot of LeBron James for the Cavaliers. James scored 32 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 9 assists. Jamison had 17-9 while J.J. Hickson was a spark early on with 13 points.
Mike Brown had little to say after the game, visibly annoyed with how his team was dominated for the first half of the 4th quarter. The Cavaliers are winning, but they aren't winning the way Brown would like them to win. Division Champs or not, there is plenty of work to be done - the playoffs start one month from today.