The Cleveland Cavaliers maintained playoff shape on Monday by beating the Indiana Pacers, 117-109 which assures the Cavs will finish the season with the NBA's best record.
The Pacers made LeBron and company work for the W, but the Cavs showed their championship-caliber chops by making plays all night, beginning with a 17-4 run to close the first half and give themselves a little breathing room.
The Pacers were able to trade blows with the Cavs in the second half, but whenever the lead dwindled to four or five points, the Cavs would come up with a steal, an offensive rebound or loose ball up for grabs.
While the Cavs were a step quicker to the ball all night, the Pacers hurt themselves by sprinkling in too many turnovers in the fourth quarter when buckets were desperately needed. The Cavs feasted on the Pacers' empty possessions making for quick four to five points swings which had the Pacers playing uphill throughout the fourth quarter.
All of those little things the Cavs did to save possessions would make the difference and also make it possible for the Pacers to have plenty of positives hidden in the negative loss.
Here are some thoughts on those positives and other observations:
- The Cavs were just too tough with LeBron James leading the way and plenty of support from Mo Williams, Delonte West and Ziggy Ilgauskas. You could tell the Cavs are playing on a different plane right now with a deep playoff run in their sights.
- Best play of the night was when Mo Williams drove baseline drawing a couple of defenders and then dropped a bounce pass through traffic which LeBron scooped up and finished by destroying the rim.
- The Pacers lost despite some big nights from their big players which is another sign that there is no margin for error against the Cavs because every little mistake the Pacers made would haunt them tonight.
- Danny Granger led the way for the Pacers with another huge scoring night. Granger finished with 38 points and 5 rebounds, although he was 12-28 from the floor.
- Brandon Rush had a real aggressive game, finishing with 27 points and making 11 of 17 shots. Rush scored ten fourth quarter points and twice surprised me when he dunked on drives in traffic that he would've tried to flip into the hoop earlier in the year. The strong finishes paid off when later in the game he actually drew a foul on a drive to the hoop when the Cavs' Anderson Varejao barely touched him.
- Troy Murphy broke Clark Kellogg's team record for double-doubles in a season thanks to his 17 and 13.
- T.J. Ford's string of solid play came to an end tonight as Ford struggled to get anything going. Jarrett Jack also struggled making only 2 of 9 shots. The two guards combined for 8 turnovers which fueled the Cavs going the other way.
- As usual, Anderson Varejao was a menace for the Cavs. Each of his seven offensive rebounds seemed like back-breakers since there's nothing more disheartening when a team is trying to get a stop and cut into the opponents lead.