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Road Warriors Weather the Month of March
So, our last chapter (February) ended with the good guys winning three straight after enduring a 10-game skid – snapping the skein on a late-game dunk by Lamar Stevens against Atlanta, blowing out the Rockets at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse and sinking Joel Embiid and the Sixers on the road in overtime.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers – who came in at 13-21 – the adage about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb applied to their 2020-21 campaign.
The month itself began with an extension of the three-game win streak – with the Wine and Gold taking momentum from the overtime win in Philly to the Lone Star State, where they dropped the Rockets for the second time in a week to take their fourth straight, the longest win streak since March 2018.
Cleveland was on a roll, looking to stay red-hot with just one game remaining before the All-Star Break. Then … T.J. McConnell happened.
Indiana’s reserve point guard simply wrecked the Cavs final game before the Break – registering 10 steals, including seven in the first half alone, recording the rare points-assists-steals triple-double in the process.
Despite McConnell’s effort, the Cavaliers still had a chance for the win – leading by a point with just over two minutes to play. But three straight miscues put an end to Cleveland’s four-game run.
If J.B. Bickerstaff’s squad had momentum going into the Break, it lost it on the way out – beginning the season’s second half on a four-game road trip and dropping all four, including a 34-point wipeout in the Big Easy. Darius Garland joined a list of injured Cavaliers, who tallied just 13 assists on the night, one fewer than Lonzo Ball.
Atlanta avenged its loss from just before the Break, holding Cleveland to just 16 points in the final quarter of a 100-82 decision and the Heat continued the Cavs’ misery in Miami, dropping them for the 19th straight occasion on South Beach.
The Cavs returned home for the first time in the second half for a four-game homestand, tipping off with – appropriately enough – a St. Patrick’s Day showdown with the Celtics.
The luck of the Irish was not with the visitors, however, as the Wine and Gold ran out to a three-touchdown lead before the break and held the Celtics off late – tallying their highest point total since January while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 44 percent from deep. Cleveland’s starting backcourt duo of Garland and Collin Sexton combined for 54 points in the much-needed win.
The visiting Spurs, who the Cavs swept the previous season for the first time in a decade, jumped out to a big early edge and led by as many as 22 in the fourth quarter before weathering a furious late Cleveland rally – scoring 44 points in the period but falling short late.
The following game featured a “don’t-poke-the-Bull” moment, with the Raptors getting under Sexton’s skin just before intermission – and the third-year guard taking it out on Toronto in the second half, scoring 13 of his game-high 36 points in the third as the Cavs got back in the win column.
But the Cavs again couldn’t capitalize on the positive mojo – falling flat in the four-game finale, with J.B. Bickerstaff subbing his entire starting unit midway through the first quarter of a listless loss to the Kings in what was their final game of a six-game roadie.
The Wine and Gold met the Bulls for the first time of the 2020-21 campaign on March 24 – and made their first visit to the Windy City since the global pandemic abruptly ended their previous season.
That visit to Chicago was the first of a four-game West Coast junket, and the Cavaliers passed the opener with flying colors – holding the Bulls to just 39 points after intermission as Darius Garland controlled the grind-out game from the opening tip, finishing with 22 points and a game-high nine assists.
That, however, would be Cleveland’s final win of the month. And the Cavaliers would not return East as the same squad.
At the Trade Deadline, the Cavs sent reserve big man JaVale McGee, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent in the truncated off-season, to Denver in exchange for 22-year-old center Isaiah Hartenstein – along with a pair of picks, the Nuggets protected second-rounder in 2023 and their second-round pick in 2027.
The Wine and Gold also reached an agreement with Andre Drummond, acquired in a deal with Detroit at the previous Deadline, and the veteran big man signed with the Lakers not long after. Drummond hadn’t seen action as a Cavalier since a mid-February loss in Portland.
The Cavs dropped the first of their three-game Western Conference stretch – falling to a Lakers squad without LeBron James and Anthony Davis in L.A., netting just 10 points on a single field goal in the third quarter.
From a game with zero drama came possibly the most drama-filled ending of a game of the year the following night in Sacramento – featuring three lead-changes in the final 6.2 seconds.
After Lamar Stevens gave the Cavs a two-point lead, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox scored on a driving layup and was fouled by Collin Sexton, hitting the free throw to give the Kings a one-point edge at the 6.2 mark.
On Cleveland’s next possession, Sexton took the in-bounds pass and went the length of the floor. His layup attempt was off target, but a review showed that Richaun Holmes swatted it off the backboard. Goaltending was called, giving Cleveland the lead -- but the officials also placed 1.6 back on the clock.
Without a timeout, the Kings went from the opposite baseline. Fox fired a baseball pass to Harrison Barnes, who waiting beyond the three-point arc, made the catch and drilled the game-winning turnaround 26-footer at the buzzer.
Following that heartbreaker, and with not much left in the tank – shorthanded and having played seven of 11 away from home – the month of March came to a merciful end – with the Wine and Gold taking a lopsided shellacking by the Conference-leading Jazz in Salt Lake City to wrap up the roadie.