CLEVELAND: They were down seven points to the Orlando Magic with 15 seconds to go, making victory for the Cavaliers seem as likely as Anderson Varejao tying the club record for rebounds when he was still three away.
Yet somehow, to the surprise of most everyone, the Cavs won in overtime 87-81, Varejao tied the mark with 25 rebounds and the Cavs finally ended their six-game losing streak, which was the longest of the season.
In a game they struggled miserably without Kyrie Irving, who missed with an injured left knee, Varejao grabbed every big rebound and the Magic fumbled away a sure victory.
“I still don’t know how we won that game,” Varejao said.
He’s not alone.
The Cavs trailed 79-72 and their seventh consecutive loss appeared certain when Jarrett Jack was fouled attempting a 3-pointer. He made all three foul shots, the Cavs forced a turnover when the Magic failed to get the ball inbounded, Matthew Dellavedova came up with a big charge and finally E’Twuan Moore missed a pair of free throws with 9.3 seconds left, allowing Dion Waiters to tie the game in the final second and force the overtime.
The Cavs’ last three home games and four of their last five have now gone to overtime.
“It just seems normal for us to go into overtime,” Mike Brown said.
Varejao’s 25 rebounds tie the record previously set by Rick Roberson on March 4, 1972, at Houston.
“He’s a rebounding machine,” Waiters said. “No matter what, he goes after every rebound.”
On a night the Cavs shot 34 percent and the Magic shot 38, there were plenty to gather.
“It’s hard to explain his importance,” Brown said. “He’s like a right guard on the offensive line. He does grunt work, grunt work, grunt work, then the running back busts through the hole and gets a touchdown and does a little dance. Andy goes to the sideline, gets his rest and then goes back in and does it again. His importance to us is huge.”
Without Irving, their leading scorer, the Cavs narrowly missed their worst shooting night of the season (33 percent) and seemed destined to set a new low for points in a game (74) before the flurry in the final minute.
Brown was obviously thrilled with the win, but equally thrilled that the Cavs won the game with their defense after previously trying to win most games by outscoring their opponent.
The Magic shot 1-of-6 and scored two points in overtime.
“Any team in the NBA you hold to two points in overtime you’re doing something right,” Brown said. “They might have missed some shots, but you have to give your guys some credit for doing something right during that five-minute stretch.”
Varejao had 18 points, Waiters had 17 points off the bench and Jarrett Jack had 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists while starting in place of Irving. Tristan Thompson also had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavs, who won for just the second time in their last nine games.
The Cavs are the first team in NBA history to play four home overtime games in a five-game stretch.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.