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Wrap-Up – After eight games rehabbing a strained lower back and sore left knee, LeBron James returned the Cavaliers lineup – and naturally his presence made a major difference. But, despite a valiant second-half effort, it wasn’t quite enough to snap the Wine and Gold’s recent skein, which reached a season-high six games after Tuesday night’s 107-100 loss to the Suns in Phoenix.
The four-time MVP looked every bit the part on Tuesday night – exploding for a team-high 33 points, going 11-for-18 from the floor to go with seven boards, five assist and a steal. He warmed up with a massive first-quarter dunk over Alex Len on the baseline and closed the first half with an authoritative two-handed slam off a Shawn Marion miss. Still, the Cavaliers found themselves down 19 points late in the third quarter.
But James and J.R. Smith – in their first game together since last week’s three-way deal – began chipping away at the Suns’ lead. In that third period, a scorching Smith was almost unstoppable – going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc and notching 15 of his season-high 29 points. On the night, the 11-year vet went 10-of-19 from the floor, including 8-of-14 from long-distance, adding a game-high four steals before fouling out late in the contest.
Tristan Thompson came off Cleveland’s bench to round out the Cavaliers in double-figures with 10 points on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting. Shawn Marion, who missed the previous two games with a hip ailment, returned the lineup to lead both squads with 11 boards to go with six points and a pair of assists.
Markieff Morris led all scorers with a career-high 35 points, going 15-of-21 from the floor. The Suns shot 53 percent on the night and forced 19 Cavalier turnovers that led to 27 points.
Turning Point – The Suns were running away with Tuesday’s affair late in the third quarter – extending their lead to 19 with 3:29 remaining in the period. But J.R. Smith drilled three threes in less than a minute-and-a-half and closed the quarter with one more to get Cleveland to within six by the end of the third. At the 7:11 mark of the fourth quarter, Tristan Thompson’s dunk gave the Cavaliers their first lead since the midway point of the first quarter.
The two squads went back-and-forth throughout the final period before Eric Bledsoe’s free throws gave Phoenix the 98-97 lead with 3:31 to play. LeBron scored on an and-1 with 51 seconds remaining. But that would be their only field goal in the final three minutes as Phoenix pulled away for the win.
By the Numbers – 11 … games in the 22 that LeBron James has played against the Suns that he has topped the 30-point plateau – including his last three meetings in which he’s averaged 35.0 points per.
Quotable – J.R. Smith, on the Cavaliers recent woes out West …
”If anything, we just have to realize we have to play like that from the start of the game; scrambling and playing scrappy. We just can’t let teams get up and build a lead and then try to come back. That can’t be the way it happens, especially against Western Conference teams.”
Up Next – The Cavaliers are going back to Cali after Tuesday night’s loss where they’ll close out the five-game roadie with a back-to-back at Staples Center. On Thursday night, it’s a marquee matchup with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The following evening, they take on Blake Griffin, CP3 and the Clippers to close out the trip. The Wine and Gold return home and have the weekend off before tipping off four straight home contests with a big Monday night matchup with the Bulls at The Q.