Leads are increasingly unsafe in the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Just three days after blowing a 20-point advantage to lose to the Houston Rockets, the Cavs nearly fell victim to the same fate against the Atlanta Hawks, letting a 21-point edge evaporate in a game that ultimately went to overtime. The difference was, this time they had LeBron James in uniform.
It was an adventure of a game for James, who was all over the map. He passed Oscar Robertson on the all-time scoring list, nearly killed Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore, looked like he wanted to do the same to teammate Kyrie Irving, and badly missed a stepback (on which he also got away with a blatant travel) that would’ve won the game for Cleveland in regulation.
And yet, when the extra frame rolled around, all that mattered is that the Cavs had by far the best player on the floor, and said player refused to let his team lose.
James scored just one point in overtime, but did every other thing one can possibly do to help one’s team win. He whizzed around on defense, crashed the heck out of the boards, and set up teammates out of double-teams. He dished three assists and hauled in four rebounds in OT – including two on the offensive glass, and the game-sealing defensive board after Al Horford missed a potential game-winning three.
It was a microcosm of the entire game; James going to great lengths to bail out Irving.
The struggling point guard couldn’t buy a bucket, but kept chucking anyway, eating up possessions with isolations on his way to a 5-of-23 shooting night. Meanwhile, his charge, Jeff Teague, seemed to get to the basket at will, and finished with 28 points and nine assists. Irving’s play was a big reason the Hawks were able to get back in the game.
In the end, though, James was simply too much for the Hawks. He finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists, three steals, and that one monstrous block, in a game-high 44 minutes.
With the playoffs fast approaching, one can look at this game as the continuation of a disconcerting Cavs trend – of relaxing when they have a big lead. Or one can use it as proof that it doesn’t matter, so long as James is locked in, with chill mode deactivated, when it matters most.