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The Cavaliers couldn’t quite pull off the upset on Wednesday night, but they did do something that they haven’t in the past two-and-a-half weeks: Have fun playing the game of basketball.
Despite James Harden’s mammoth 55-point performance, the Wine & Gold went toe-to-toe with the Western Conference heavyweights – clawing their way back from a two-touchdown deficit late in the third quarter and turning that into an 11-point advantage in the fourth before collapsing in the closing minutes.
When the smoke cleared, the Rockets had handed Cleveland its eighth straight defeat – a 116-110 nail-biter in a brief stopover at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse – but Harden, Russell Westbrook and Co. knew they were in a fight.
Cavs rookie Kevin Porter Jr. spoke at morning shootaround about his excitement to face Harden, his hoops idol. And in the fourth quarter, the fellow lefty was every bit as good.
In that final period, Harden notched 20 of his 55 points, going 7-of-8 from the floor, including 4-of-4 from long-distance. Porter tallied 16 of his career-high 24 points in the fourth – going 6-of-8 from the field and drilling four triples of his own.
On the night, the rookie from USC was 9-of-15 overall, including 6-of-9 from deep, adding three assists, three steals and a pair of rebounds.
But unlike Harden, Porter is still taking his NBA lumps – and as good as he was through the first 11 minutes of the fourth quarter, his two turnovers in the final 35 seconds put a slight damper on his career night.
Kevin Love had a nice bounce-back effort on Wednesday – doubling-up with 17 points and a team-high 11 boards, going 8-of-14 from the floor to go with two assists, a steal and a block.
After having his double-digit scoring streak snapped on Monday in Beantown, Collin Sexton got right back to work – finishing with 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting.
Jordan Clarkson had his second strong outing off the bench – following up his 19-point effort in Boston with 17 points on Wednesday, adding four boards and four assists in 29 minutes of work.
Darius Garland and Tristan Thompson pitched in with 11 points apiece, while Cedi Osman paced the Wine & Gold with seven assists in the loss.
Only three Rockets notched double-figures – Clint Capela, who doubled-up with 10 points and a game-high 13 boards, Russell Westbrook, who added 24 points, seven boards, six assists and four steals, and Harden, who not only went 20-of-34 from the floor, including 10-of-18 from deep, he also led both squads with eight assists.
This sequence of the Cavaliers had everything from steals, great passes, and three pointers!
When the Rockets took a 13-point edge with 1:38 to play in the third, it looked like they might cruise to the finish line in the fourth. Jordan Clarkson and the Cavaliers had other ideas.
In just over a minute of action, Clarkson proceeded to score the last seven points of the third period, and when John Henson scored his second bucket early in the fourth, the Cavaliers had taken back the lead, 89-88.
From there, Kevin Porter Jr. took over – scoring five quick points after a pair of steals and capping Cleveland’s 24-0 run with a fast break floater that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
But Houston chipped away at the lead from there, Harden stayed hot and the Cavaliers would commit four crucial turnovers in the game’s final 2:47 that essentially sealed the deal.
9 … double-doubles that Kevin Love has tallied this season. Love has now scored in double-figures 15 times this season and led the squad in rebounding for the 10th time.
Over his last 21 games against Houston, Love has 14 double-doubles, averaging 21.5 ppg and 11.8 rpg over that stretch.
Coach John Beilein, on Kevin Porter Jr.’s progress this year …
"We’re putting him on some of the best players in the NBA to guard as well and what I like is he plays with some passion and it really means a lot to him that he plays well defensively. It’s just really tremendous to see how he has evolved since he reported here in September. He’s really become a guy that has embraced coaching at a high-level right now and it is paying off."
Enjoy the best broadcast calls of the night from Cavaliers Radio Network's Tim Alcorn and 87.7 La Mega's Rafa Hernandez-Brito.
The Wine & Gold get right back on the open road – traveling to San Antonio on Thursday night for a battle with the Spurs to tip off a three-game trip.
The roadie then sees the Wine & Gold make their second stop to Milwaukee this season, taking on the Greek Freak and Co. on Saturday before wrapping up against the World Champs north of the border on Monday.
Cleveland returns home for three straight following the trip – welcoming Charlotte, Memphis and Atlanta to town heading into the Christmas holidays.