Kevin Love, picking up the offensive slack with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving out, scored 25 points and Dion Waiters added 23, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 106-100 exhibition win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night.
CLEVELAND - This was what Cleveland fans wanted all along.
Hustle. Energy. Hard fouls.
It all showed something that Cavs fans didn’t see during that first game against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Heart.
In a year where little has gone right for Cleveland sports, the Cavs gave their fans something they had wanted desperately since that infamous night in July: a victory over LeBron James and the Heat.
Cleveland held off a late run by Miami, and recorded their first double-digit win of the season, 102-90. For the first time in his career, James walked off the floor of Quicken Loans Arena with the confetti falling and the fans celebrating because he failed to will his team to victory.
It was a sight that seemed like it could take years to see.
The game could not have been more different from the one in December. Instead being all about LeBron, it was about the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was about the city of Cleveland. It was about redemption.
Sure, LeBron was booed every time he touched the ball, but that’s expected. The focus, however, was squarely on the Cavs, and cheering for them rather than screaming at their former star.
The Cavs fed off that energy and knew what the game meant to the city and their fans, and they played with that understanding.
Unlike the first time around, the Cavs never quit. They had chances to roll over—like when the Heat erased Cleveland’s 23-point lead to tie the game in the fourth quarter—but every time Miami made a move, the Cavs came right back with an answer.
Cleveland held Miami scoreless for the final 4:24, and they kept James from beating them.
LeBron got the Heat back into the game in the second half, but when it came time for Miami to pull ahead, he went cold. He passed the ball off to his teammates, missed open shots and missed free throws.
On one wide-open shot from the corner, James caught the pass, dribbled to re-set his feet, then squared up for to shoot. He sent it off the back of the rim.
It looked like the Cleveland crowd was in his head.
“These fans are unbelievable,” LeBron said after the game
In December, it was LeBron who shook the psyche of the Cavs bench and their fans. On Tuesday, it was the opposite.
The Cavs showed no fear of LeBron from the very beginning. In fact, he was the one who stayed in the locker room and waited until the lights went out before coming into the court. Then, it was him who left the court with his head down and the crowd cheering.
In the standings, it only counts as one win, just the 15th of the season. But to the Cavs, their fans and the city, it was much more than a basketball game, as the team proved it can fight back after getting embarrassed. The fans again displayed their unwavering support for their team.
And Cleveland, maybe most importantly, showed that it does not need LeBron James.
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