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Wrap-Up – Friday night’s meeting with the Magic didn’t have the glitz and glamour of Cleveland’s Christmas Day matchup in Miami, but the victory was just as sweet. The shorthanded Cavaliers, playing without a pair of starters – Anderson Varejao, lost for the season with a torn Achilles’ and Kyrie Irving, out with a sore left knee – went back and forth for three-and-a-half quarters before pulling away late to take the 98-89 win at the Amway Center in Orlando.
An amped-up LeBron James took over the affair in the fourth quarter – notching 15 of his game-high 29 points in the final period. One day after an emotional return to South Beach, the four-time MVP finished 10-of-20 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the stripe to go with a team-high eight assists, five boards, two steals and a pair of blocked shots.
Kevin Love bounced back after a pair of rough outings and did his damage early – scoring 13 of his 22 points in the first quarter. Love went 7-for-17 from the floor, adding seven boards and a pair of assists despite not playing in the fourth quarter. Dion Waiters was the only other Cavalier in double-figures, coming off the bench to tally 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting while suffocating Orlando’s Evan Fournier in the second half on the other end.
Tristan Thompson, getting the start in place of the injured Varejao, led both teams with 13 boards in the win – simultaneously holding Nikola Vucevic to just 12 points and eight boards.
Playing in the second game of a back-to-back, the Cavs allowed Orlando to shoot 72 percent in the first quarter and 60 percent at half. But Cleveland turned up the defensive intensity in the second stanza – holding the Magic to just 38 percent from the floor and 14 points in the final period.
Turning Point – Friday’s turning point was clearly delineated – and it was initiated by Orlando’s promising young forward, Tobias Harris. With 5:27 remaining in the third quarter and the Magic leading by a deuce, Harris swung his elbow at LeBron hitting him in the chest. It was a fairly innocuous play in the heat of battle – although both players received technical fouls – but Harris said something to James that set him off. LeBron immediately scored on a demonstrative and-1 on the other end and the sleeping giant was awakened.
The Magic extended their lead to nine in the third, but the fourth period belonged to LeBron and the Cavaliers – who completely shut down Harris (holding him to two points on 1-for-4 shooting) and the Magic down the stretch.
By the Numbers – 1,548 … three-pointers that Mike Miller has drained over the course of his 14-year career, moving him into 18th on the NBA’s all-time list – passing Eddie Jones in Friday’s contest in Orlando. Miller – who canned three treys in the win – can now set his sights on Glen Rice at 1559.
Quotable – LeBron James, on the third-quarter incident with Tobias Harris …
”It wasn’t the shoulder or the elbow, it was the words that he said. That got me going. I was actually in chill mode tonight, but chill mode was deactivated after that.”
Up Next – After the Sunshine State back-to-back, the Wine and Gold return home where they’ll meet the Pistons for the first time this season on Sunday afternoon at The Q. On Tuesday night, the Cavs travel to Atlanta where they’ll face the red-hot Hawks for the third time this season. They return home for a New Year’s Eve matchup against Milwaukee and start the 2015 calendar year one night later when they travel to Charlotte for a rematch with the Hornets – who the Cavs beat by nine two weeks earlier at The Q.