No Mo, no prob- ok, there were some problems. The Cavs did not start off well and the Lakers jumped out to a 9-0 lead; the defensive effort was lacking (poor rotations), they gave up offensive boards and the offense definitely suffered without Williams (Cavs scored just 18 points in the first period). The Cavs clawed back to get to 13-12 but L.A. finished the quarter on 14-6 run. James scored 12 points in the second quarter and the Cavs had no business going into halftime trailing just 46-44.
Things were much better after halftime. Kobe torched the Cavs for 20 points in the first half (reaching the 25,000 point mark in the process) but was held to just 11 in the second half. Bryant made only four baskets in the second half and finished just 12-31 from the field (the Cavs gave Bryant a variety of looks, including doubling him with their bigs). LeBron was great in the fourth; in one stretch he made three straight jumpers (followed by a few of his dumb heat checks) but he put the Cavs up for good by going inside for a layup (at Shaq's urging) with 40 seconds left. In a nice change of pace, the Cavs executed down the stretch while the Lakers didn't (Pau Gasol missed a couple of layups and two free throws in the last minute).
Ron Artest doesn't seem to bother LeBron very much, eh? James finished with 37 points, 9 assists, 5 boards, 2 steals and a block. LeBron went 13-25 from the floor and made 10 out of his 13 free throws. That 13-25 is even more impressive when you see that LeBron was a disgusting 1-9 from behind the arc, meaning Bron-Bron went 12-16 on two-pointers. James had 12 of his 37 in the final quarter but his biggest play may have been his block on Gasol with 53 seconds left. That's the stuff that LeBron can do that Kobe no longer does; James ended with 37-5-9 while Kobe put up 31-2-4. LeBron needed 'only' 25 shots to get 37 points while Bryant took 31 to get 31. Kobe may have better fundamentals and footwork (and he does) but LeBron does so much more.
In a surprise to just about everyone, J.J. Hickson had a big night. J.J. played exactly the way you'd like; he hustled, he got himself open and he didn't try to do too much. Hickson finished with 13 points and a career high 14 boards. He got himself open for dunks and his effort led to some easy baskets and free throws. Hickson's 11 first half points (only Cavalier besides James in double figures) helped keep the game close while Cleveland fought through their early, Mo-less, struggles. The issue for Hickson is keeping up this level of effort. The Cavs need this kind of energy every night from him.
The guards were OK. Not great, not awful. Delonte West had a rough night, scoring just 3 points on 1-4 shooting, but I really like what he gives the Cavs. Delonte played 43 minutes in his first start (mostly being guarded by the bigger Bryant) and stuffed the stat sheet with 4 boards, 3 assists and 2 blocks. I go back and forth on Anthony Parker (missing point blank layups david Wesley style doesn't help him much). On one hand, he knocks down that corner three as well anyone in the LeBron era (Parker's trey late in the third got them over the hump and gave them their first lead) but he doesn't seem to do much else. Parker was guarded by Derek Fisher (so Kobe could harass Delonte) and never really took advantage of his height. In their first game without Mo Williams, the three Cavalier guards (Boobie made a cameo, hitting the only three he took) scored a combined 14 points.
Meanwhile, the Cavalier bigs did their jobs. Shaq finished with 13 points, 6 boards and 3 assists. He abused the Lakers in the second half, going right at Bynum and Gasol for easy buckets (both were in foul trouble). Off the bench, Z gave them a 5-5-1 in just 18 minutes (he hit another trey) while Varejao was awesome per usual, scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 boards (plus, he forced a loose ball foul off of missed freebie from LeBron with 20 seconds left). Paul Gasol was just 5-14 from the floor and all three of Andrew Bynum's baskets came in the first five minutes of the game. Solid, solid night from the Cleveland big men.
Last year, the Magic won both regular season meetings with the Lakers. Obviously, the Cavs winning both games against the Lakers is a Good Thing. The Cavs have been beating the good teams all season and it's nice to see continue that trend Thursday night. They matchup fairly well with the Lakers and Cleveland's physical style seems to frustrate Los Angeles. But this doesn't mean jack when it comes to the playoffs. Hell, in 2007 the Cavs swept the season series from the Spurs and look how that turned out (not that the 2007 squad was anywhere near as good as this team, but still). The Cavs are 33-11 have put themselves in a good position to get home court throughout the playoffs, now owning the tiebreaker against the 32-10 Lakers (enjoy that road trip, fellas!). The Cavs next game is Saturday against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com