This game had all the ingredients for a bloodletting; not only would the Cavs’ 29th-ranked offense have to break through the Lakers’ top-ranked defense, but it would also have to do so less than 24 hours removed from a horrific showing in Boston.
Early on, things looked headed that way. The Cavs’ offense sputtered early as Collin Sexton struggled to shake the Alex Caruso-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope twosome, and the Lakers spent much of the first half up double-digits. But Andre Drummond (17 points, 11 rebounds in the first half) dominated the Lakers’ mondo frontcourt, and Cedi Osman went bananas from deep (5-for-7 on threes, including three in a one-minute span) to keep the Cavaliers within shouting distance.
But LeBron James must have been feeling nostalgic, because he indulged in a few of his old habits—namely, his signature pregame chalk toss and running roughshod over Cleveland basketball courts. James pummelled the Cavs with 23 first-half points and, when the Cavs threatened late in the game, LeBron turned on apocalypse mode; James repeatedly knocked down insultingly difficult shots and outscored his former team by himself in the final frame to put the Cavaliers to bed.
The Cavaliers played well for three-and-a-half quarters and had a legit shot at a win. But the Cavaliers did not have LeBron James, and the Lakers did. As Cleveland well knows, that’s generally the only thing that matters.
Up Next: The Detroit Pistons come to town on Wednesday, where they’ll look to avenge a December 26 double-overtime loss. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.