PHOENIX — A 22-point lead for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second quarter Sunday turned into a tie ballgame with seconds to go in the third before the Cavs held on for a 120-116 win over the Phoenix Suns.
Outside of the tally in the win column, some numbers for Cleveland were alarming: 20 turnovers leading to 27 points for the Suns, 30 fast-break points for Phoenix and a wild 66 points in the paint for the young Suns.
It brought to mind the type of stats we last saw when the Cavs went on a three-game losing streak to Milwaukee, the L.A. Clippers and Chicago.
The Cavs, however, chose to take the glass-half-full approach to digesting what went down.
“We made enough plays down the stretch to get a win,” said LeBron James, who coughed up seven of those turnovers but scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to keep the Suns at bay. “We played good ball, except for the third quarter we allowed them to get out in transition and them being young and athletic they took advantage of it, but it’s a good start to our road trip so far.”
Indeed, the Cavaliers are 2-0 to begin the longest journey of their season, a six-gamer that will continue through Utah, Portland, Sacramento and Golden State.
And while Kyrie Irving’s seven turnovers or Kevin Love’s 3-for-10 mark from 3-point range also weren’t too positive, the fact that James, Irving (27 points) and Love (25 points) all topped the 20-point mark for the fourth straight game suggests that things are clicking at the top.
Throw in the fact that Kyle Korver already is with the team in Phoenix, expected to partake in his first practice with the group on Monday and play Tuesday against the Jazz once Mike Dunleavy’s situation is resolved in Atlanta, and Cleveland is in a good place right now, winning 15 of its last 18 (and 15 of 16 with James in the lineup).
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue woke up his team after that three-game slide earlier in the season with a brutal film session that players readily admitted was embarrassing to watch as Lue picked apart mistake after mistake, leading to the losses.
Another session like that could be in store.
“We’ll show the film, we’ll get better,” Lue said. “You turn the basketball over and you’re taking bad shots, we didn’t trust the offense like we did in the first half and we start playing more one-on-one basketball, it’s hard to score. They’ve got some good defenders. Tyson Chandler anchoring their defense. If you don’t play the right way, it can come back and bite you. That’s what it did in the third quarter.”
Even with Irving and Love recovering from their recent health scares and Korver added to the group, the Cavs won’t be a team that improves by drilling stuff 5-on-5 in practice over and over again. Lue has even spoken openly about canceling some shootarounds as the season wears on to keep his guys off their feet a little more.
James told Fox Sports Ohio’s Allie Clifton in his postgame interview that the win was an example of “championship composure.” It’s always interesting to see how James, with three titles to his name, reacts in these regular-season situations. There are times when a win isn’t enough if it doesn’t involve what he likes to call “continuing to work our habits.” Then there are times, like Sunday, when he doesn’t sweat the small stuff. The Cavs got the win, they’re about to add one of the greatest shooters in the past 15 years to their group and they get a night to enjoy weather in the high 60s, miles and miles away from the Cleveland winter.
“We’re a veteran ballclub that can take what we see on the film and implement it into a game,” James said of correcting what went wrong Sunday. “We still go through things at our shootarounds and things of that nature of what we need to do coverage and things of that nature, but we’re able to look at things on the fly and make it happen being a veteran ballclub and guys having the experience.”