OAKLAND, CALIF.: The team no one can explain was back doing the unexplainable Friday night, winning another game no one thought possible in a season that hasn’t made much sense since it started.
Spencer Hawes had 22 points and 13 rebounds and the Cavaliers rallied from an 18-point deficit Friday for a 103-94 win over the Golden State Warriors, marking their largest comeback of the season.
“We fought and we fought,” said Dion Waiters, who scored 18 points in one of his finest performances of the season. “We got back into it and we didn’t give up.”
The team seemingly left for dead following four consecutive losses to begin March is breaking through its casket again, winning the first two games on this West Coast trip and positioning for an improbable sweep Sunday at the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavs pulled within 3.5 games of the idle Atlanta Hawks for the final playoff spot in the East with 16 games to go.
The Warriors shot 60 percent in the first quarter and opened a 20-4 lead early. Kyrie Irving was yanked five minutes into the game after committing two turnovers and looking lethargic at both ends and the deficit swelled to 36-18 early in the second quarter before the defense – and Waiters’ hot shooting stroke – started kicking in.
Waiters scored 12 points in the second quarter, including a pair of big 3-pointers, and the Warriors started missing shots they were making in the first quarter.
The Warriors were playing without Klay Thompson, who missed his first pro game to attend his grandfather’s funeral, but they still had plenty of weapons. The Cavs denied nearly all of them.
The Warriors shot 42 percent and totaled 62 points after the first quarter, Cavs defenders clogged the paint all night and they stormed out of Oracle Arena with their most impressive comeback of the season.
It was the largest comeback since the Cavs rallied from 20 points down to beat the Milwaukee Bucks at home 113-108 on Jan. 25, 2013.
“This is a good win, especially from the standpoint that we came out at the beginning of the game and Golden State really hit us in the mouth,” Mike Brown said. “We could have folded.”
Instead they kept fighting and erased the Warriors’ largest lead in just 5 ½ minutes. Waiters’ 3-pointer with 5:22 left in the half completed the comeback and put the Cavs ahead 40-38. His stepback jumper midway through the fourth flipped that 18-point deficit into a 16-point lead.
Irving responded from his slow start with 16 points and four assists, including 13 points in the second half, and Luol Deng had 16 points and six rebounds.
Hawes destroyed Andrew Bogut, whom Warriors coach Mark Jackson was praising prior to the game as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Bogut finished with four points and 12 rebounds, but struggled chasing Hawes around the floor.
“They just outhustled us and outworked us for three quarters at home,” Bogut said.
The Cavs have now won six of their last eight games against the West and improved to 12-15 against the powerful Western Conference this season. They’ve also beaten 10 of the 15 teams in the West at least once and can add to that figure next week when they host the Houston Rockets.
It’s just another inexplicable twist in a season most everyone struggles to explain.
“There’s games we should have won if we’d have played more consistently on both ends of the floor,” Brown said. “Not necessarily about playing harder, just playing more consistently, the right way. These guys know how to play the right way. We could have won some that we’ve lost. But it is what it is. We are where we are.
“Nobody can figure it out. I'm sure they can't even figure it out. The longer the group's together, the harder they work, the more they pay attention, the more success we have, it gives us the belief, I think the better we'll become in time.”