The Heat fans were classy, welcoming LeBron James back to Miami with a standing ovation.
Luol Deng wasn’t as kind — the long-armed defender was in LeBron’s jersey all night, plus he scored 25 points on the evening on 11-of-16 shooting. Dwyane Wade reminded LeBron how impressive he could be… for a half anyway, Wade scored 24 points in the first half but was ice cold in the second (and we should give Dion Waiters a little credit for some good defense here).
Miami played with passion, with energy, with some professionalism and pride. The Heat coasted for a half and tried to flip the switch, but when they needed stops late their shaky defense was exposed again — Miami closed the game on an 11-4 run to seal it.
The result was a 101-91 Miami win.
As much as the crowd was kind to LeBron, they ate up this little slice of revenge.
Miami did it without Chris Bosh, who still is sidelined with a calf injury.
Cleveland, it’s its first game without Anderson Varejao — out for the season with a torn Achilles — went small, starting Kevin Love at center along with LeBron, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and Kyrie Irving. That lineup worked offensively, shooting 11-of-15 in the 11 minutes it was on the court in this game, but it was still -1 because that group couldn’t get stops. After the game coach David Blatt hinted in his remarks that Tristan Thompson will start the next game for Cleveland.
The supporting cast is an issue. LeBron had 30 with and eight assists, Kyrie Irving had 25 points, and Kevin Love finished with 14 points (although he struggled with the physical nature of this game, something he will see a lot in the playoffs). However, the rest of the team was 8-for-24 shooting. That will not get it done.
But in the end it was Cleveland’s defense that was the biggest issue, Again.
With the game tight late Danny Granger scored seven of his nine points. Chris Andersen had a dozen points making Cleveland pay for the going small. Miami’s role players stepped up.
Cleveland is still finding its way. Which is somewhat understandable, but of late they have taken more steps back than forward. After the game LeBron said the Cavaliers are not a very good team right now. That may be putting it kindly. If they are not lighting it up from three or finding another way for the offense to cover for the defense, they are downright average. Which is not what anyone expected from this team at this stage.