Posted on March 8, 2018, by Travis Pulver
The Cleveland Cavalier have been better since they revamped the roster at the trade deadline. They are playing better (but still not good) defense. The offense is much more efficient as well; likely because it is revolving around LeBron James more than ever.
It certainly did Wednesday night in Denver when the Cav took on the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets didn’t do themselves any favors by getting off to a slow start against a good Cavs team. After one, they were done by 15 points, 38-23. Cleveland stretched the lead out to 16 early in the second before Denver narrowed it down to five points, 57-52, late in the quarter.
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But a 7-point spurt at the end of the half by James stretched the lead back out to 12-points, 70-58, at the half.
At this point, it was still anyone’s game. Denver had gotten off to a horrible start. But the Nuggets cleaned up their game in the second quarter. If they could keep pushing on offense and play a little better on defense, they could pull off a comeback in the second half.
It looked like they might do it in the third quarter. Cleveland managed to hold on to a double-digit lead for much of the quarter. But an 11-0 run by the Nuggets to close out the quarter reduced the Cavaliers’ lead to two points, 89-87, going into the fourth.
Denver kept it interesting by taking the lead a couple of times early in the fourth, but in the end, LeBron James took over the game and secured the win for the Cavalier. He scored the Cavs final nine points including the last shot of the game that made the final 113-108, Cleveland.
Afterward, he was quick to compliment his own game (ESPN):
“I just tried to implement my imprint on the game by just closing it out for us,” James said.
He certainly deserves whatever credit he or anyone else wants to give him. For the night, he had 39 points, ten assists, and eight rebounds. The night was emblematic of the type of play he’s had since the Cavaliers revamped the roster. In the ten games since, in which the team has gone 6-4, he is averaging 30 points, 9.8 assists, and 9.7 rebounds.
“That’s why he’s the best in the league right now,” Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, said after the game (ESPN). Jokic led the Nuggets with 36 points and 13 rebounds followed by Gary Harris with 18 points
To be fair, James did get some help from the rest of the team. Rodney Hood chipped in 15 points, Larry Nance Jr. had 13, and Jeff Green chipped in ten off the bench.
Cleveland will have another challenge on its hands when they face the Clippers Friday night in Los Angeles. Denver will try to get back on the right side of the scoreboard when the Los Angeles Lakers pay them a visit Friday night.
Cleveland needed to do something prior to the trade deadline, so they did. While the changes may appear to be working for the Cavs, nothing has actually changed. Yes, the Cavaliers are winning games but not as a team. It is still just LeBron James and a bunch of other guys.
The team was always going to go a far as he could carry them. But to win it all, there needs to be a team effort. That’s what worked when they beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals. But James isn’t even trying to pretend it is about the team anymore. It’s all about him.
“Listen, it doesn’t matter to me if I’m a 6-seed or a 3-seed or a 2-seed, 8-seed,” James said after the game (ESPN). “If I come into your building for a Game 1, I can be very challenging.”
He is not the 6-seed or anything else; the Cavaliers are. It doesn’t matter how challenging he is if the rest of the team can’t get the job done. From 2006-2010 he was very challenging in every playoff series but only took the Cavaliers to the Finals once (where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs).
Individual performances can win games, and they certainly sell tickets. But they don’t win what matters most.