If there ever was such a thing as a "one-game season", it was on display tonight. Despite the flurry of injuries, setting the record for longest losing streak, and enduring the criticism of the pundits of the media, the Cavaliers set it all aside for one night, for their own pride, for Coach Byron Scott, and most importantly, for the fans. On the spot where the tailspin of this season began, the Cavaliers demolished the Heat 102-90 to a once-again rocking crowd.
I absolutely have to start with Ryan Hollins's performance. Now, I've been one of Hollins's harshest critics for most of this season after initially falling in love with his play in the first ten games of the season. I even resorted to calling him "Charmin Soft" Hollins. But, he was undeniably the energy man for the wine and gold tonight from the beginning. After his dustup with Dwyane Wade that resulted in double technical fouls, it was clear that tonight's attitude was different. Instead of refusing to foul anybody hard, the Cavaliers were going to play physically, and if someone got knocked around in the process, then so be it. Hollins was a foul-drawing machine, and he took two charges. Most telling was the Cavaliers being a whopping +33, PLUS 33!, with Hollins on the floor. Playing heavy minutes with Samardo Samuels out and only three frontcourt options available, Ryan tallied 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks in the most important game he'll probably ever play in his career. This is my official apology to Ryan Hollins. For your flatout non-stop effort tonight, I retract everything negative I've said about you, and I promise to refrain from criticizing you for the rest of the season. Bravo, Ryan, bravo!
Just as instrumental to the Cavalier victory tonight was Anthony Parker. If Hollins is the leader in criticism from me, Parker is a close second. But, fortunately, tonight Parker's Jordanesque jumpers fell as AP hit 7-of-9 shots on his way to 20 points and adding 7 rebounds. Parker also spent a lot of time covering Dwyane Wade, who was held relatively in check with a 8-for-20 shooting performance and 24 points. Parker also turned in a +21 plus/minus.
Of course, the major change since the last meeting has been the addition of Baron Davis and subtraction of Mo Williams. While I was a Mo Gotti fan, he certainly didn't have the dynamic in his game to take over and be the go-to guy. Baron Davis clearly has his flaws, none more evident than his nagging injuries which still have him on a minutes cap and only permitted him to start his first game as a Cavalier tonight, but he also has that takeover persona. Baron hit a key three pointer at the halftime buzzer that slowed a 8-0 run by Miami that cut the lead to eight. He also put the icing on the cake with a lay-up through the Heat defense with 1:35 remaining and added his own cut-throat symbol that it was, undeniably, over. Davis had just 10 points in 24 minutes, but he dished out 7 assists and had a plus/minus of +22, second highest on the team. Coach Scott almost made the crucial mistake of bringing Baron back in the game too late as Davis re-entered with the Cavaliers up just two with 7:18 to play. But, Baron saved the day, and his first start as a Cav will always be remembered as a resounding success.
Oh, and that James fellow? He did post a triple double (27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists), but he was held scoreless for nearly 23 minutes that encompassed the entire second quarter and most of the third. I thought Alonzo Gee and Christian Eyenga rose to the challenge and prevented James from going December 2nd on us. LeBron missed pre-game intros because he had to go to the restroom (...right...), but he was complimentary to the fans after the game and sought out several Cavs players after the game for the pleasantries. The difference? This time, the Cavalier players didn't seek him out and joke with him. Not even James's knack for the big play, like his three-quarter court shot at the third quarter buzzer (which should not have counted), could rule the day that the Cavaliers won with hustle, toughness, and home court momentum.
The only real thorn in Cleveland's side was Mike Bibby. The veteran point played the role of James Jones in the last showdown between these two in the Q, nailing seven three pointers while adding 23 points in all. This was mainly on the Cavaliers for leaving Bibby open and not chasing him off his hot spots on the court.
One player who didn't make much noise was Chris Bosh. Not only did he shoot just 5-of-14 for his 10 points and 4 rebounds, but the team was -24 with him out there, and he was thoroughly outplayed by Ryan Hollins. Four of Bosh's shot attempts were blocked, which is quite a statement against a team that doesn't block a ton of shots with its lack of size.
Here are some more stats that keyed the Cavaliers victory. Cleveland shot 56% as a team compared to Miami's 42% mark. They also outrebounded the Heat 44-30. Miami's weaknesses continue to be their point guard and center positions, particularly on the defensive end. Nothing dismissed that notion tonight. J.J. Hickson added 21 points and 12 rebounds in yet another strong performance that is telling of his recent play.
Earlier today, Brendan talked about how he felt it was time to put James up there as simply the most hated opposing player and begin to move on from it. While I don't 100 percent agree with that notion (I feel this will never truly be over until the Cavaliers win a title and/or LeBron retires), tonight was a nice step in that direction. We took our pound of flesh from #6 and the Heat tonight, and while they're headed for the playoffs and the wine and gold are headed for the lottery, it's a statement and something that this city and organization so desperately needed. Now, we can try to take that next step and embrace that next era of Cavaliers' basketball. While we don't know who will be here, the ten who laced it up tonight, in particular Hollins, Parker, and Davis will always be a part of Cleveland sports history, the good part.
All for one. One for all.
(Photo: AP/Mark Duncan)