Atlanta – that’s what they call grinding and grinding.
In the midst of its most strenuous road trip this season and two-game losing streak, the Cleveland Cavaliers climbed from 15 second-half points to stun rookie Atlanta Hawks Saturday night, 96-91.
For several months, trainer JB Bickerstaff has been preaching about a particular identity of the Cavaliers. I brought it up on Saturday.
Not Kevin Love. Not Isaac Okoro. No, Dylan Windler. Another slow start, led to a 15-point gap on the road ahead of a superior team that had won four of their first five matches and had been achieving a massive win the night before in Brooklyn. Three-point shots weren’t dropped early. There was a size mismatch across the field. But none of that matters. Bakerstaff’s message echoed after Thursday’s loss to Indiana, the message about dealing with in-game adversity.
The determined Cavs didn’t let the frustration overpower them. Instead, they keep pushing. Suddenly, it was a two-way possession match early in the fourth quarter. Then, Cleveland finally crossed the hump, pushing forward at the 9:47 mark.
Even as the Hawks drew in the match with Bogdan Bogdanovic’s hat-trick in the last minute, the Cleveland squads held together, calmly turning their attack and turning the ball over to their most productive scorer, Colin Sexton, who broke the tie-in cold blood 3 with 27.2 seconds remaining.
Sexton scored the highest for the team with 27 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, half of Cleveland’s total production. Sexton is the first player to score at least 20 points in each of CAF’s first six matches of the season since LeBron James in 2004-05. He is the fourth player to accomplish the feat in the history of the franchise, joining James, Austin Carr and Bingo Smith.
JaVale McGee gave a boost from the bench, scoring 14 points to go with nine rebounds, four assists and two robberies. André Drummond scored another double, with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
With The Hawks playing the second night of a game in a row, Bickerstaff spoke of the importance of getting off to a quick start, hoping to take advantage of Atlanta’s tired legs. Although that didn’t happen, the Cavs maintained the pressure throughout the night – and increased the pressure over the last 24 minutes – until the league’s most prolific offensive subsided uncharacteristically, scoring just 35 points.
It is the first time throughout the season that the Falcons have been held below the 100-point threshold.
Sunday’s win over Philadelphia marked a surprise opening week. But the Cleveland team looked completely different since then. Partly, because they are. Even if they’re staplers, missing some key spinning bits, they have the same DNA, which Bickerstaff tries to instill in his talented set: perseverance and grind.
This is how you start to change the culture.
The Cavs will head to Orlando for two consecutive games. The first is on Monday, with an appointment scheduled for 7 pm
New CAVS face masks for sale: Here you can buy Cleveland Cavaliers-inspired face covers to protect against coronavirus, including 1 mask ($ 14.99) and 3-pack ($ 24.99). All NBA proceeds have been donated to charity.
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