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On Christmas Day, J.B. Bickerstaff signed a contract extension to remain the Cavaliers coach for the foreseeable future, in part because every button he’s pushed this season has worked.
The buttons all worked again on Sunday.
After having their six-game win streak snapped on Wednesday night in Boston, the Wine & Gold returned to their winning ways – erupting over the final three quarters to blow out the Raptors, 144-99, in a battle between shorthanded squads at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Cruising to their 20th win of the season, Cleveland has now won 11 of its 14, all of those victories by double-figures and by an overall average of 22.3 points per.
The Cavaliers were still without three starters and several reserves, still under the league’s health and safety protocol, but Bickerstaff inserted Kevin Love into the starting lineup – his first of the season and first alongside Ricky Rubio since April 2014 – and the move paid off to perfection.
Love finished with 22 points in just 18 minutes of work, going 7-for-12 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from long-range, leading the starters with nine boards to go with two assists and a steal.
It took Cleveland about a quarter to shake off some holiday rust. The Cavs allowed a Raptors squad, equally decimated by the COVID resurgence, to score 34 points in the opening period – and led by just one after one. But the Wine & Gold would proceed to outscore Toronto, 83-44, over the next two quarters and cruised to the finish line in the fourth.
Darius Garland also finished with 22 points – his fourth straight game topping the 20-point plateau – going 9-for-17 from the floor, leading both teams with eight assists to go with a pair of steals in the win.
Garland was one of three Cavaliers with at least six assists – as the Wine & Gold handed out a season-high 39 helpers on 56 made field goals on Sunday night. Cleveland also drilled a season-best 22 three-pointers, going 22-of-52 from long-range in the victory.
Lauri Markkanen added 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, adding seven boards and a blocked shot.
Dean Wade chipped in with a season-high 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and Ricky Rubio finished with 16 points, six dimes and a game-high three steals.
Denzel Valentine poured in a season-high 17 points in 26 inspired minutes off the bench, going 5-of-9 from deep to go with a season-best nine boards. He led a group of Cavalier reserves that combined for 47 points – with every player who dressed getting into the scoring column.
Yuta Watanabe led both teams, finishing with career-bests in both points (26) and rebounds (13) in the loss.
Miss any of the action? Find all the highlights and photos in the Game Tracker.
Darius Garland waited for the right time on the fast break to lob a pass upstairs to Dean Wade, who caught the ally-oop pass and dunked it on his defender's head.
The Cavaliers weren’t bad offensively in the first quarter – scoring 35 points on 55 percent shooting with seven three-pointers. But they only led by a point.
Over the next two quarters, Cleveland hit the afterburners on both ends. The Cavs made 15 field goals in the second quarter, taking a 17-point edge into the locker room, and drilled nine three-pointers in the third to blow things completely open – outscoring Toronto by three touchdowns in the period, opening up a 40-point lead and putting an essential end to the wire-to-wire win.
The 46 points Cleveland scored in the third quarter matched a franchise high and their 118 points through three quarters was the most through three periods in franchise history.
By the Numbers - 23.3, .587 … Darius Garland’s scoring average and shooting percentage over his last four games, averaging 5.8 assists over that stretch and 2.5 steals over his last two.
Sunday was the 12th time Garland’s topped the 20-point mark, with a pair of games with 30-plus. The Cavaliers as a team are one of just three teams – along with Golden State and Brooklyn – to have a 20-point scorer in every game this season.
"If you trace back where J.B. had come from and what he had stepped into in other places, in some cases (he was) unlucky. And they weren’t necessarily building something to his favor. But it’s a different thing here. He understands who he is, he’s more comfortable in his own skin, he’s more comfortable as a coach. And I think he’s learned so much – whether it be what to do or what not to do. He knows what he wants. He knows what he wants to get from our team. And he understands how to get the best of us – and we follow that lead."
Enjoy the best broadcast calls of the night from Cavaliers Radio Network's Tim Alcorn and Rafa Hernandez-Brito from Power 89.1.
After getting back in the win column with some home cookin’ on Sunday, the Wine & Gold hit the road for a busy week to wrap up the calendar year – traveling to face the surging Pelicans on Tuesday night in the Big Easy followed by a Thursday night meeting with the Wizards in D.C. The following night, Cleveland welcomes the Hawks for a New Year’s Eve matchup at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Next Sunday, the Cavs welcome the Pacers followed by a visit from the Grizzlies on Tuesday. From there, it’s the second West Coast trip of the season – with stops in Portland, Golden State, Sacramento, Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City on the docket.