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Sunday, December 18, 2005

LeBron Cools off the Heat at the Q

LeBron James scored 41 points--including 16 in the fourth quarter--as the Cleveland Cavaliers led by as many as 23 points en route to a 115-107 win over the Miami Heat at Quicken Loans Arena. James tied a season-high with 10 assists while shooting 12-19 from the field and 15-16 from the free throw line.

Cavaliers' Coach Mike Brown cooked up the perfect recipe to fry the Heat: (1) involve Shaquille O'Neal in pick and roll defense, which forces O'Neal away from the basket and leads to easy scoring opportunities; (2) play with tremendous energy at the defensive end of the court and push the ball up the court on offense, taking full advantage of the fact that Miami was playing its fourth game in five days. These two ingredients, sprinkled with a liberal dose of highlight reel plays supplied primarily by James and Larry Hughes, enabled the Cavs to jump out to a seven point lead in the first quarter and then, after the Heat tied the game at 29, to close the first half on a 32-15 run. Four first half plays stood out: James' Stocktonesque one hand bounce pass to a cutting Hughes, center Zydrunas Ilgauskas' one hand bounce pass around O'Neal to James for a soaring dunk, Hughes' crossover move followed by a left handed dunk and Hughes' drive on the left baseline past Wade for a dunk. Hughes had 19 of his 20 points in the first half.

Miami made a valiant run in the second half, with Wade scoring 17 of his 33 points and Alonzo Mourning contributing 10 of his 14 points and four of his six rebounds. Antoine Walker chipped in with five rebounds and five assists in the second half, finishing with 10 points, a team-high seven rebounds and a team-high (tied with Wade) seven assists. Walker also blocked Ilgauskas' layup attempt with 1:41 left in the game and the Cavs clinging to a 108-103 lead.

This was the first loss for the Heat since Pat Riley took over as head coach. In his postgame standup, Riley identified the reason for the defeat: "Obviously, we didn't play the game with a lot of focused energy in the first half. I thought we were a little slow, we looked tired and they (Cavaliers) looked sharp and they were good...We made a run at them, we had an opportunity, but we were one or two possessions away...we had to get that thing tied or two or three (points) away...We could never get there." Riley knows about great players, having coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy--and now O'Neal and Wade--and he was impressed by James: "At times, you're helpless. When he's raising on you and freezing you with the dribble, and making four or five in a row, it's sort of a helpless feeling. This is really the first time I've coached against him, the first time we've coached against Cleveland this year, and I'm sure the next time we'll be a lot more prepared."

O'Neal had a quiet night--10 points, six rebounds and no blocked shots in only 27 minutes of action--and after the game he offered this assessment of the Heat's 3-1 road trip: "We would have liked to come away 4-0, but they had more energy than we did and they hit a lot of shots. But, we had a lot of fight in us and if we could just keep it going and develop some type of consistency we're going to be fine."

Brown praised James' extraordinary stat line: "I do not know how you score 41 points on 12 of 19 shooting and get 10 assists. His rebound total was not high, but he was a man when he got that last one. That was a big rebound for us between two big bodies."

The Cavaliers also have to be encouraged by the performance of Donyell Marshall, who grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds and set a season-high with 25 points, including 5-11 shooting on three pointers. The only down notes for Cleveland were two injuries: near the end of the first half, starting power forward Drew Gooden reinjured the ankle that he hurt recently against Minnesota and in the last minute of the game Ilgauskas banged his head against Wade while going after a loose ball. Neither player returned to action.

posted by David Friedman @ 1:00 AM

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