CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – For the first time in weeks, the Cavaliers felt like themselves.
They looked like themselves too.
Following a sluggish start that saw Cleveland trail by 2 at the half, the Cavs flipped the switch and exploded in the third quarter for 43 points en route to a 122-102 victory, their 50th of the season, over the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena.
“When we get out and run and play with pace, nobody can beat us and we know that,” head coach Tyronn Lue said.
They’ve now won 3 straight, their longest such streak since winning 4 in a row from Feb. 11-23, helping to relieve some of the tension that had been building up over the last 6 weeks within the locker room.
“I feel good about this team all the time,” Lue said. “It’s like a soap opera, but I love this team. We know what we’re capable of doing.
“It’s just who we are. We love the drama.”
The win over Orlando tied them with the Celtics, who they will play Wednesday night in Boston, at 50-27 for the best record and No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
How’s that for drama?
“Can’t wait. It’s exciting,” Kyrie Irving, who scored 24 points and had 8 assists, said. “Whoever’s competing for first place, second place… It’s just great competitive basketball, and I’m glad we get to see them in the regular season. I know they’re excited as well. A lot of great players on the floor at one time, like I always say. But it’s great competition. See where we stand.”
The defending NBA champions are trying to play their way out of a funk that saw the team be ravaged with injuries to key role players, a brutal month of March where they went 7-10 and played 12 games away from home in addition to growing tension within the locker room that was magnified Sunday when Tristan Thompson went after LeBron James in the closing minute of the second overtime before they beat Indiana prompting James to issue a public apology to Thompson after the game.
“Things like that happen,” Irving said. “We’re all grown-ups here, being able to talk to one another if we see something differently out there . Sometimes it may not be emotionally communicated the right way all the time but who cares?
“As long as we know that every loose ball, anything that we need, everyone’s willing to dive for that and go after it for one another – and not for themselves but the team – then we’re good. We’re in a good place.”
And now the Celtics, who haven’t played since Sunday, await in Beantown to test whether or not the last 3 wins that have come in the last 5 days really have gotten the Cavs back on track.
“I think we need it,” forward Kevin Love said. “It will be good for us and it’s definitely up there, especially timing wise. It will be a good test for us and I think it will get us even more prepared, even more locked in, win or lose. But we’re going in, we want to win the ballgame.”
Love finished with 28 points – and he missed 4 layups – to go with 11 rebounds Tuesday night.
As for talk of a critical showdown with the Celtics, LeBron James isn’t having any of it. At least not in early April.
“Their crowd is going to be great and it’s a very good team we’re going to be playing against,” James said. “We know that. Taking nothing from them, they’ve been playing some great ball, but I’m not one to get caught up in the regular season.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been to six straight Finals, man. I’m the last person to ask about a regular-season game. Sorry.”
James registered his second straight – and 12th of the season – triple double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
But that third quarter was fun to watch. It might have been more fun for the players.
“That’s us,” Love said. “That’s our basketball. That’s the way we’re meant to play, how we’re supposed to play. It felt good to get a great quarter but now we need to d it for 3 other quarters.”
The Cavs unloaded on the Magic in spectacular fashion with a barrage of bombs from deep, stiff defense, aggressive rebounding and symmetry on the offensive end that hasn’t been seen in a while.
J.R. Smith looked like his regular self hitting 3 3-pointers in the span of 90 seconds in the third and he finished 5 of 8 from deep. He’s hit 19 of 34 from downtown over his last 4 games. Cleveland hit 17 of 24 shots, including 9 of 13 from beyond the arc and they out-rebound the Magic 14-5 to outscore them by 23 in the third to all but put the game on ice.
It was a welcome sight considering on March 30 Irving lamented things seemed to be getting ugly following a loss in Chicago.
“We still have some things to correct and it’s definitely going to take some more time but I’m excited,” Irving said.