MIAMI: To a man, the Miami Heat insisted the Cavaliers were a better team than the one they’d faced two weeks ago.
They’d seen the Cavs’ upset of the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and their victory at the Boston Celtics. They’d seen daily growth from rookie point guard Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao’s All-Star push and Antawn Jamison’s attempt to turn back the clock.
The Heat needed a monstrous fourth quarter from Chris Bosh to put away the first game against the Cavs on Jan. 24. On Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Cavs gave the star-laden Heat all they could handle for three quarters before going cold in the fourth and falling 107-91.
“The final score was not indicative of how competitive and how close that game was,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That team has improved, they play hard and they compete. They are a tough team to put away.”
The Heat (19-6) have put together the best 25-game start in franchise history. The Cavs (9-14) return to Quicken Loans Arena for nine consecutive games, starting tonight against the Los Angeles Clippers. That will match Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul and the rookie some think is his clone, Irving.
Coach Byron Scott hopes the Cavs can move on quickly. They made just 5-of-23 shots, 21.7 percent, in the final quarter. And that wasn’t the only sad stat he dredged up. Scott said the second unit shot 17 percent for the game.
“You’re not going to win a whole lot of games if you’re not getting any contributions,” Scott said.
The Cavs’ reserves mustered just 16 points, nine from Ramon Sessions, and he made just 2-of-8 field goals. Even worse were Luke Harangody (1-of-9) and Christian Eyenga (0-for-4).
Scott said he wrestled with playing his starters or resting them for the Clippers.
“It’s that double-edged sword,” Scott said. “I wanted to try to save them as much as possible, especially if it was close in the fourth quarter, to give ourselves a chance. But with a couple minutes left I knew it was ‘OK, let’s take everybody out and get ready for tomorrow.’ ”
Scott cited the Cavs’ injuries as a major factor against the Heat. He was without guards Daniel Gibson (neck infection) and Anthony Parker (lower back) and rookie forward Tristan Thompson (sprained left ankle). Gibson has missed the past five games, Parker four and Thompson three. Starting at shooting guard was second-year forward Alonzo Gee.
“A lot of it has to do with the injuries,” Scott said. “I’m not trying to make excuses. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They’re a very good basketball team. But as young as we are, you need those guys healthy for us to really, really compete. But energy-wise, I thought we played hard, and that’s all you can ask.”
Scott might have another to worry about. Forward Antawn Jamison, who led the Cavs with 25 points, 20 in the first half, said he tweaked his right Achilles two times in the first half. He made only 2-of-8 shots in the second half.
“Everything’s fine. It’s a little stiff,” Jamison said. “That’s what happens with old age. I’ll get it [massaged] tomorrow and get ready for the jumping jack.” He was referring to the Clippers’ Blake Griffin.
Scott was happy with 17 points from Gee, who led Palm Beach Dwyer High School to back-to-back Florida Class 5A titles in 2004 and ’05.
“We asked him to guard [Dwyane] Wade at times. The other half of the time he had to guard LeBron,” Scott said. “Overall on both ends of the floor, I thought he played pretty well.”
Asked about his defensive assignments as Wade led the Heat with 26 points and LeBron James contributed 24, Gee said, “They’re All-Stars, so it was tough. I was trying to do my best to contain them.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://marla.ohio.com/. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MarlaRidenour. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.