CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – With third place in the Eastern Conference up for grabs, ironically, it was defense that helped the Cavaliers end a difficult month on a positive note.
LeBron James, who scored 24 points, stopped Miami’s James Johnson before he could get off a shot as time expired to preserve a 91-89 victory Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“You know one thing you can’t do is control when the ball goes in and out or if it goes in for you,” James said. “Offensively I think we were executing, the ball just wasn’t going our way. We had some great looks, but, to win a game on the defensive side with the struggles we’ve had, that’s pretty impressive. And versus this team, who’s had one of the best records in the NBA in January. It was a big win for us.”
Sure, it was a win.
But it was also a slop-fest that featured a boatload of bricks from beyond the arc by both teams – 45 of them to be exact – 45 fouls and 39 combined turnovers.
“We did a good job of grinding it out,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought defensively we were good.”
The Cavs only shot 35 percent from the field and they got outrebounded 52-45, but they held their opponent under 90 points for the first time since Nov. 20.
“The way we’ve been playing defense lately, we probably would have lost by 30, but we just stayed in the moment,” Lue said. “I thought guys stayed in tune, rotating guys in for defense, offense and then guys just did a good job. Defensively, holding this team to 89 points and us only scoring 91 and winning the game was big for us.”
A pair of free throws from Isaiah Thomas and 1 from Kyle Korver in the final minute also helped hold off Miami for the victory.
“We knew it was going to be one of those ugly games in the third and fourth quarter,” Thomas said. “Those are all confidence builders when you can sneak one out.”
The Cavs entered the contest with a half game advantage in the East and they left it leading the Heat by 1 1/2 in the conference standings.
Bombs Away – For some reason both the Heat and Cavs kept launching threes Wednesday night and the rims at The Q paid the price and took a beating.
Miami was 1-16 from downtown in the first half. The second half didn’t get much better as they finished just 3 for 28 for the game.
The Cavs shot 3 for 10 from beyond the arc through 24 minutes and they finished 6 of 26 on the night.
IT’s Shooting Woes – It’s unclear just what value a banged up/on-the-mend Isaiah Thomas actually gives the Cavs at this point in the season.
Thomas, who doesn’t play much defense as he continues to work his way through the hip injury that sidelined him for the first 3 months of the season, didn’t fair well on the offensive end either Wednesday night.
Thomas shot 2 of 15 from the field, but he did make all 9 of his free throws to finish with 13 points in 29:40.
“He’s our starter, what else are we going to do?” Lue said when asked about sticking with Thomas despite his struggles shooting. “He’s our starting point guard. I told him there’s going to be times like this. The only way he can shoot the basketball better, get his timing better is by playing. I feel comfortable with Isaiah on the court once he gets himself going, gets his legs. It’s just going to take some time.”
In 12 games Thomas has shot 50 percent or better in just 2 games – the first 2 he played for the Cavs. He is shooting 33.3 percent (45 of 135) over the last 10 games combined.
Frye’s The Guy – Channing Frye was sensational coming off the bench once again.
Frye finished with 16 points and he made 6 of 9 shots – including 2 of 4 from 3 – in 20:39 of work.
With Kevin Love down, Frye is one of a few players Lue plans to lean on to help fill the void.
Turnovers Galore – Both teams combined to turn it over 35 times Wednesday night – Miami 19, Cleveland 16.
James had 7 of the Cavs’ turnovers in what was a difficult month for him in that category.
Sloppy Second – After leading by as many as 14 points in the second quarter the Cavs went to the locker room trailing 50-48.
Cleveland shot just 4 of 19 and Miami out-rebounded Cleveland 18-8 in the quarter.
James had six of the Cavs’ 10 turnovers in the first half – three came in the second quarter – and he did not register an assist in the first 24 minutes despite leading the team with 13 points.
Turn The Page – While not everyone in the locker room was willing to admit it, the Cavs are happy to see the calendar flip to February.
“I’m happy January is over,” Dwyane Wade said. “Move on to February, which hopefully is a better month. In this league, you have to have a short memory.”
The Cavs went 6-8 for the month, lost Kevin Love, saw the return of Isaiah Thomas and multiple reports of discord within the locker room.
“It’s been a tough month for us,” Thomas said. “To end on a good note is always good.”
New Ball – The officials switched basketballs with 10:10 left in the fourth quarter after it went into the stands causing James to shake his head while standing at mid-court.
Bam Adebayo of the Heat lost the ball out of bounds driving to the basket and apparently it landed in someones drink. After having one of the ballboys wipe the ball off the officials opted to go to the scorers table for the backup.