MIAMI: Mike Brown lost his cool. The Cavaliers lost the game. But they may have found so much more this weekend.
The Cavs return home from this Florida trip 1-1 following a 114-107 loss Saturday to the Miami Heat, but they’re learning how to play together, how to play on the road and they’re even starting to see when they play the right way, they can take the league’s best team to the final minutes.
They trailed the Orlando Magic by 14 on Friday and rallied to win. The trailed the two-time defending champs by 19 early in the third quarter Saturday, but less than five minutes into the fourth quarter they held a 95-91 lead.
“We showed life. We showed that we had fight and we had some warriors on our team that are not just going to sit down or lay down and get beat up,” Tristan Thompson said. “We’re going to fight. We got the lead, unfortunately we weren’t able to close it out.”
Kyrie Irving had 19 points, three assists and four steals, Thompson had 16 points and seven rebounds and Dion Waiters had 16 points, but the Heat still won their ninth consecutive decision over the Cavs.
From the time Waiters’ drive and basket gave the Cavs the four-point lead and forced the Heat to call a timeout with 7:24 left, the Heat outscored the Cavs 14-6, capped by a 3-pointer from Mario Chalmers with 1:36 left to give the Heat a 109-101 lead.
Until then, the Cavs’ defense in the second half was terrific. They held the Heat’s Big Three to a total of five points in the third quarter and limited one of the league’s most potent offenses to 33 percent shooting in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Cavs cut down on their own turnovers, stopped firing cross-court passes that were ultimately intercepted by LeBron James and stopped giving the Heat easy baskets in transition.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh crushed the Cavs in the first half, but the defense turned the Heat into jump shooters for most of the third quarter and half of the fourth before the Heat finally started attacking late.
Brown was ejected with 3:14 left in the first half after Shane Battier caught Thompson on a chase down block. Brown clearly thought it was a foul and walked one-third of the way onto the court pointing and hollering at official Sean Wright.
Wright quickly gave Brown two technical fouls and sent him on his way, but not before an irate Brown got in a few more words before Irving wrapped him up and settled him down. Lead assistant Jim Boylan took over the coaching duties the rest of the night.
“I put them in a hole,” Brown said. “You appreciate the fact that your guys competed, you appreciate that guys didn’t just lay down when they could have, especially when the coach goes and does what he tells them not to do.”
Brown was incensed because he saw the 6-foot-10 Thompson’s back arch backwards under the rim, but no foul was called.
“It’s evident because he’s 6-10 and he’s all the way underneath the rim on the baseline with his back bent backwards,” Brown said. “It was tough to watch and not see a call happen when it’s already tough enough winning in this building.”
Thompson said it all happened so fast, he wasn’t sure what the officials would call.
“At that point in the game we were down and emotions were flaring,” he said. “Coach was frustrated and we were frustrated. Coach showed his emotions and the refs tossed him out. That got us going. I think that made us pick it up a little bit. We wanted to fight back and do it for Coach.”
The Cavs trailed 55-45 when Brown was ejected, but the Heat closed the half by outscoring the Cavs 13-7 to take a 68-52 lead into the half. More importantly, the Heat had 18 free throws at the half compared to just eight for the Cavs. By the end of the game, the free throws were much tighter (30-25).
James had 25 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, Wade had 24 points and Bosh had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Heat.
James’ mother, Gloria, attended the dedication at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s LeBron James Arena on Saturday since James couldn’t be there.
“She said it was unbelievable,” James said. “It is special for me to be able to give back to my high school and give back to those kids. For the rest of my life that court is dedicated to me. I can always call that place home. I heard tonight was pretty special.”
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.