Forget holiday cheer and all of that nice stuff. Christmas Day or not, the Cavaliers needed to get a little nasty Tuesday in order to get back to playing their type of basketball. The Cavs showed a lot more toughness, especially on the defensive end, in beating Miami, 96-82.
Forget holiday cheer and all of that nice stuff. Christmas Day or not, the Cavaliers needed to get a little nasty Tuesday in order to get back to playing their type of basketball. The Cavs showed a lot more toughness, especially on the defensive end, in beating Miami, 96-82. They treated a soldout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena and a national TV audience to perhaps their most complete game of the season. The margin of victory is their largest. “As a team, we have to fight if we want to get back to the level we want to be at in the end,” Cavs point guard Daniel Gibson said. LeBron James gave the fans what they wanted from Christmas at The Q. He delivered two right-handed tomahawk dunks and a number of pinpoint passes as part of a 25-point, 12-assist, six-rebound performance. But it was much more than James and any of the usual highlight plays that carried the Cavs (13-16) to a win. When there were loose balls, they hit the floor. When they got stuck in traffic on offense, they played strong with the ball. And when they needed to play defense, they dug in and got stops, limiting Miami (8-20) to 43.1 percent shooting and forcing 18 turnovers. “When we play defense we are a pretty good team,” James said. “If we don’t, we don’t look so good. It’s as simple as that.” Look no further than the third quarter for evidence. After controlling the early part of the game -- they scored on their first six possessions -- things were beginning to slip away from the Cavs. A six-minute gap between field goals during a foul-filled second quarter cost them a 10-point lead. A sluggish start to the third quarter created a 10-point deficit. Dwyane Wade, on his way to 22 points, was leading the way for the Heat. But led by their defense, the Cavs rallied and took the lead for good with a 15-0 run late in the third quarter. “The thing that got us out of it ... we turned it up defensively,” Cavs Head Coach Mike Brown said. “We got deflections, we got steals, and we got stops because we limited them to one shot.” Cleveland forced six turnovers during that stretch. James, Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas each had steals. The Heat also missed five straight shots. “We were able to get out and attack in transition,” Brown said. “And when we turn it up like that defensively, we can be a dangerous team in transition.” No one is more dangerous than James, who contributed two fastbreak scores. The second, with 1:48 left in the quarter, capped the run. James stole a pass by Udonis Haslem and took off down the right side of the floor, soaring in and hammering a right-handed tomahawk dunk for a 67-59 lead. Four points also came from Anderson Varejao during the run. Hughes scored on a strong left-handed drive through the middle. Drew Gooden got a dunk after a James pass. And Gibson buried a 3-pointer from the left wing off a cross-court pass from James. Gibson and James gave the Cavs breathing room in the fourth. Gibson swished 3-pointers from the left side on back-to-back possessions. James drew the full attention of the defense on the right side each time before firing a pass across the floor to Gibson. Gibson finished with 16 points in his first game as a non-starter. He made 4 of 6 3-pointers. Varejao also was big off the bench, with a season-high 15 points and seven rebounds. From the starting five, Gooden had 18 points and nine rebounds, Ilgauskas had 13 points and eight rebounds, and Hughes made six assists and four steals. “We know the way we’ve started this season is not by any means the way we feel like we should’ve,” Gibson said. “... We’ve just got to fight every single night, who ever we’re playing.” Reach Canton Repository sports writer Chris Beaven at (330) 580-8345 or firstname.lastname@example.org.