CLEVELAND: The message of new General Manager David Griffin is simple: He wants this team to get back to having fun. For at least one day, it seems to be working.
Kyrie Irving had 28 points, Anderson Varejao had 14 rebounds and one big defensive play at the end of regulation and Dion Waiters had a rim-thumping dunk late in overtime to spark the Cavs to a 91-83 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies. It was the first time this team has won consecutive games in a month. It has been at least that long to see so many guys smiling and laughing afterward.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a game,” Irving said. “Everybody was putting too much pressure on themselves. We just need to go out there and just play basketball.”
Mike Brown wasn’t interested in the hypothetical of how much better this team’s record would be if they played this hard every night, but it’s clear the Cavs’ focus has been sharpened since Chris Grant was fired.
Players were diving on the floor Sunday, contesting shots defensively and moving the ball on offense. It was everything Brown has been pleading to see for 50 games, but the message was typically going unanswered.
Griffin addressed the team during Sunday’s morning shootaround, then owner Dan Gilbert addressed the players prior to the game. Apparently they were finally ready to listen.
“I think [Grant’s firing] woke up a lot of people,” Waiters said. “I felt half of that was my fault, how we played, how we came out during games. We just didn’t come out right as a unit. I think it cost the man his job. If we had been playing the way we have the last two games, he’d probably still be here.”
The Cavs led by 14 midway through the second quarter and by nine at the half, but the Grizzlies had the lead within the first four minutes of the third quarter. That’s the point when the Cavs have crumbled multiple times this season, but Sunday they kept fighting and kept responding.
They trailed 78-74 with 2:10 left, but the Grizzlies missed their final three shots and Irving tied the game with an acrobatic lay-up while falling down. The Grizzlies had a chance to win it in regulation, but Dion Waiters poked the ball away from Zach Randolph and Varejao came up with the steal.
Varejao is a mess physically. His knee is still bothering him, he seemed to injure his hand Sunday and he spent the few minutes he wasn’t actually in the game on a bicycle to keep loose.
Varejao played a season-high 43 minutes, and Brown called him the difference in the game.
“His whole body’s hurting,” Brown said. “The only thing that may not be hurting are his curls.”
Varejao was so beaten up he was unavailable to reporters because he was still in the trainer’s room getting treatment an hour after the game.
The Cavs held the Grizzlies to just two baskets in the overtime. Waiters clinched it with a dunk down the lane to stretch the lead to 87-81 in the final minute.
“Going out there for the last two games has just been fun,” Irving said. “Whether the game is tight or it gets away from you, competing – it should be fun. I feel like everybody’s hearing the same message and going out there playing for one another.”
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.