In many ways, this was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ biggest win of the season.
It was a game where they showed determination to play the right way, where they decided to defend (only for a half, but hey, it’s a start), where they weren’t going to allow themselves to beat themselves.
If the Charlotte Hornets wanted this one, they would have to take it.
They couldn’t, and didn’t, and make it three wins in a row for the Cavs after Wednesday’s 115-107 road victory. They have won four of five, and at 8-7, are back in the playoff race.
Yes, that’s silly to say, as the playoffs are still five months away — and the Cavs aren’t actually concerned about possibly missing out. Then again, just getting there is never the goal when you have LeBron James. This is a team that still wants and expects to contend for a title.
But it’s one step at a time, as the Cavs appear to be coming together, and as they often say in the NBA, the road can occasionally act as a basketball elixir.
“Anytime you’re on the road for two or three days — and this has been a week for us — you come together a little more,” James told reporters after scoring a game-high 31 points.
This has been anything but an easy ride, as the Cavs trailed at the intermission for the 11th time in their 15 games. This time, though, they decided to take it upon themselves to challenge shots, chase down lose balls, step in passing lanes and simply swarm the Hornets — who managed a measly 17 points in the third quarter.
In fact, the Cavs allowed just 40 points total in the second half.
“Our defense was phenomenal,” James told the media in Charlotte. “We had a great game plan and we were just in tune. We executed.”
FINDING A WAY
Remember, the Cavs remain without injured point guards Isaiah Thomas (hip) and Derrick Rose (ankle), and starting center Tristan Thompson (calf).
So despite playing without a true point guard (Iman Shumpert has admirably filled the role), and with one less rebounding presence (Channing Frye, however, has come up big), coach Tyronn Lue suddenly has the Cavs showing some grit and some smarts, and a experiencing a fair amount of success.
It’s clearly the result of the men in uniform giving more effort. The Cavs have been making the extra pass, shooting with more confidence and looking like the veteran team they are.
“They showed — you can say whatever you want — they’re the best team in the East, when they want to (be),” Hornets swingman Nic Batum said.
Kevin Love added 22 points and 10 rebounds, Jeff Green scored 13, including a memorable dunk, and Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith had 11 and 10, respectively.
“We can play well and this road trip, we proved it,” Lue told reporters. “Figuring out how to play without a point guard and doing different things, but I think defensively last couple games … we’ve been a lot better.”
Quite honestly, that’s all the Cavs have been aiming for as they wait for their key components to heal. They want to be a lot better.
That’s the way things have been going, and don’t look now, but the real Cavaliers appear to be headed your way.
NOTES: Channing Frye added nine important points off the bench, and Dwyane Wade finished with seven points, seven rebounds and one two-handed slam off a lob from good buddy James. … Michael Kidd-Gilchrist led the Hornets with a season-high 22 points. Kemba Walker scored 20. … Hornets center Dwight Howard fouled out with eight points and five rebounds, arguably his worst overall showing of the season. … The Hornets (5-8) have lost five straight. … The Cavs return home to face the reeling Los Angeles Clippers on Friday.