Cavaliers Hand Suns First Home Loss of the Season
PHOENIX -- Coming into Monday night's game against the Cavaliers, the Suns had gone 284 days without losing at the US Airways center. The team's last home loss came against these same Cavaliers, and history, unfortunately for the home team, repeated itself. Behind a balanced offensive attack and some stifling defense, Cleveland snapped Phoenix's league-best 19-game home winning streak, by a final score of 109-91.
The game was closer than the score would lead you to believe for most of it, but some timely turnovers and an extended late scoring drought from the Suns put this one in the W column for the Cavs.
LeBron James set the tone for his team early, by playing the entire first quarter and scoring 12 points on five-of-seven shooting in the period. James clearly didn't want to see a repeat of Sunday night's performance, where his team played a stagnant brand of basketball that resulted in a loss to a Mavericks' team that was playing without its best player, Dirk Nowitzki. He was able to get his teammates involved, something which continued for most of the night.
The Suns held a 30-29 lead after one, despite committing six turnovers that led to 10 points for the Cavaliers. The turnovers would be a theme as the night went on, as Cleveland was aggressive in defending the passing lanes, while at the same time cutting off dribble penetration and being very active in stopping the Suns' interior passing.
By halftime, Cleveland had grabbed a six-point lead, and was showing signs of excellent ball movement, getting plenty of players going besides James, who led all scorers with 18 at the break.
Things stayed tight through the third, and got interesting in the fourth before the Cavs eventually ran away with it.
Cleveland pushed its lead to 10 points with just over seven and a half minutes remaining, after Delonte West picked the pocket of Grant Hill, and then ran out and finished on the other end while being fouled for the and-1 opportunity. He made the free throw, and even had some fun along the way by appearing to say "I love this game" into the camera while he was laying on the hardwood.
The Suns came right back, though, and made what would end up being their final push of the night when they cut the lead to six over the next couple of possessions. After that, the Cavs called a timeout, regrouped, and calmly went on a 13-0 run over the game's next 4:43, forcing the Suns to call it a night with 2:07 remaining, and their team down by 19 points.
Seldom-used Alando Tucker would score the Suns' only field goal in the game's final six-plus minutes, and that didn't come until there was under a minute to play and the game firmly in the Cavaliers' grasp.
The Cavaliers won this one by playing one of their most complete games of the season, and truly dominated on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they were able to hold Phoenix to under 100 points, which is something that no team had done to the Suns on their home floor in 36 consecutive games before this one.
"Defensively we just stepped up another notch, and that's where we make our mark, on the defensive end," LeBron James said afterwards. "At times it wasn't always text book, but we continued to help each other and run around and contest shots."
James wasn't kidding.
The key to defending this Suns team is to turn Steve Nash into a scorer rather than a distributor, to switch the screens outside to limit the team's motion offense, and to contest the three-point shots. The Cavs did all of these things remarkably well, forcing Nash to lead the team in scoring with 18 points, and the Suns to shoot a dismal 4-of-19 from three-point land, a far cry from their normally reliable (and league-leading) 43 percent that they usually shoot from behind the arc.
Offensively, the Cavs shared the basketball, and had five players in double figures, while getting assists on 21 of the team's 41 made field goals. The Suns are usually the ones playing their game and getting guys wide open looks, but only managed 17 assists as a team on this night.
Clearly, Cleveland is at its best when they run their offense, and don't just rely on isolation plays for LeBron in their half-court sets. But despite what your eyes will tell you on nights where the Cavs struggle, James said that the assertion that his teammates don't always get to contribute is a false one.
"It's not always about me," James said, when asked how much easier it is when his teammates can get involved offensively. "That's not how we win games, and that's not why we're one of the best teams in the league. It's because everybody contributes once they get in the game; guys in the starting lineup and guys off the bench.
"I get a lot of the media talk and the hoopla, but at the end of the day we're a ball club that's very good and we have guys that know how to play the game."
Shaquille O'Neal made his first appearance in Phoenix since being dealt to Cleveland this past summer, but had little impact on the game's outcome. Shaq played just 19 minutes, sat out the entire fourth quarter, and didn't hit his first shot from the field until early in the third quarter. He finished with just three points, five rebounds, three personal fouls, and four turnovers.