CLEVELAND: Final thoughts from the Cavs’ stunning 100-94 victory over the Lakers. The Cavs ended their five-game losing streak, while the Lakers have dropped five of six.
* Hard to know where to start after a game like this, so let’s start with Kyrie Irving. Someone who knows nothing about basketball could turn on film of the Cavs’ last 11 games, then watch tonight’s game and see a noticeable difference. That’s the special aura Irving brings.
* C.J. Miles knows it, too. Miles’ first two 3-pointers were wide, wiiiide open. Even by Miles’ standards, since it seems teams stopped defending him around the 3-point line weeks ago. The reason Miles was so open was Irving, whose dribble penetration collapsed the defense. Twice Irving drove the lane and kicked to Miles and both times Miles knocked down the shots. “The floor is a lot more spacious with him out there because he draws so much attention, he passes the ball so well,” Miles said. “He made some big shots, held the tempo really well, got it up and down the floor and slowed it down when he needed to. He was who we thought he was.” Yes, Miles chuckled after that last line.
* Kobe’s block on Kyrie was memorable, but so was Irving’s ability to salvage a truly awful fourth-quarter possession. The Cavs lead was down to 77-75 when they spent about 21 seconds dribbling and passing without really getting into an offensive set. Finally the ball landed back in Irving’s hands, and with time running down, he drove down the lane and flipped the ball up just as the shot clock expired. Antawn Jamison was whistled for a questionable foul on the play and Irving completed the three-point play, extending the Cavs’ lead to 80-75.
* There were a few times Bryant and Irving were matched one on one, but the most memorable ended with Bryant’s swat. Moments before that, Irving seemed to have the edge and looked like he’d beat Bryant to the basket, but he lost the handle and had to regroup and start over. That’s what led to the block. Miles said even the other eight guys on the court could sense that moment and didn’t want to screw it up. “Everybody on the floor was just watching that play," he said. "Nobody had any intention of getting involved in that play. You knew he was going to shoot it and you knew Kobe was going to try his best to stop him from shooting it. It’s kind of like one of those things you’re waiting to happen, like you want that moment to happen in the game. It’s great to see two guys who compete so hard go against each other."
* The Cavs have been in this position plenty of times in recent weeks, squandering late leads to both Miami and Memphis on the road when Irving was on the bench. This time, with their star in the game, the Cavs answered every time the Lakers charged.
* Miles’ contributions can’t be overlooked. Scott started him on a gut feeling after he liked the way Miles has played in recent games. He responded with his best game of the season. Miles had 28 points, hit open shots and attacked the basket. It’s a best-case scenario for a player who has been up and down his entire career. But he picked a great night to have his best game of the season. He seems to be a guy who really feeds off confidence, so he’s likely to stay in the starting lineup at least until Dion Waiters can return. That may not be until next week.
* Daniel Gibson hyper-extended his troublesome right elbow and did not play in the second half, although he said after the game he was traveling with the team to Indiana and he would play in Wednesday’s game against the Pacers. This injury is in a different spot than the previous problems he’s had with his elbow. Antawn Jamison set a screen and Gibson caught his arm in it, but insisted he’s not missing anymore time. We’ll see.
* Scott reiterated before the game Waiters must practice first before he’ll play him. The Cavs won’t have another practice until Monday, meaning if he keeps his word, Waiters won’t play in a game before next Tuesday at home against Toronto.
* Tristan Thompson had some truly awful moments, such as the time when his shot was blocked by the bottom of the backboard. He only scored 1 point and he missed all three of the shots he took. But he did grab 10 rebounds and seemed to play decent defense all night.
* Dwight Howard had 19 points and 20 rebounds, but I thought the Cavs actually did a nice job defending him. They doubled him most every time he touched the ball in the post, and more importantly, the guys behind the doubler (Thompson) typically rotated properly. It was perhaps their best defensive performance of the season, given the explosive potential of the opponent. They also forced 19 turnovers, although 13 of them came in the first half.
* The Cavs, incidentally, have won three straight over the Lakers at the Q and seven of their last eight. A number of those came during the LeBron James era, of course, but two of the last three have come without him. The Lakers did not play at the Q last season because of the lockout.
* Scott had the best night of anyone because his daughter and granddaughter are visiting. When his granddaughter began cackling during his postgame press conference, Scott interrupted it with, “Did I say something funny?” When it was over, he was greeted with a kiss.
* Tonight we’ll give the last word to Scott, on the impact of Irving’s return: “We just needed a win, and we needed it in the worst way. It was good to have him back. Monday you could see guys feeling better he was coming back and having a little more confidence. From this point on, hopefully we can play this way.”