CLEVELAND — It was Mike Brown’s kind of ugly, and the result was beautiful for the Cavaliers and their coach.
With LeBron James guarding Kobe Bryant down the stretch, Cleveland held the Los Angeles Lakers to 12 points in the final quarter and emerged with a 94-90 victory Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We gave effort,” Brown said after his team’s third win in its last 12 games. “If we give effort like that for close to 48 minutes, we’ll have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
James led the Cavaliers with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, but he was just 12-of-29 from the field. Daniel Gibson added 15 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 12, while Anderson Varejao was huge off the bench with 11 points and 15 boards, both season highs.
Bryant led the Lakers with 22 points but was 8-of-22 from the field, including 1-of-6 in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers were 5-of-22 as a team. The 12 points were the fewest given up in a quarter by the Cavaliers this season.
Lamar Odom added 19 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles, while Derek Fisher had 18 points and Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 11 boards.
James spent most of the night guarding Luke Walton, while Bryant was defended by Sasha Pavlovic and Larry Hughes. That changed down the stretch, when the NBA’s two leading scorers — James began the night averaging 29.6 points, while Bryant was at 26.8 – went head-to-head.
“If you want to win ballgames, you’ve got to be able to take on the best player,” James said. “We both wanted the challenge. We were just able to make more plays than they were.”
The Lakers (15-10) led 90-88 after a Walton put-back with 3:57 to play, but did not score again.
The Cavaliers (12-15) weren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, but they tied the game on James’ 15-footer with 2:52 to play, then went up two on a pair of James free throws with 1:44 left. That’s the way it stayed until Gibson made a pair of free throws with 3.3 ticks on the clock to give Cleveland an insurmountable 94-90 lead.
“We know how to win ballgames,” James said. “We just have got to play hard.”
The Lakers had numerous chances to tie the game at 92, but Bryant, Fisher and Odom all missed jumpers before Bynum clanked two free throws with 11.2 seconds left.
Bryant, however, went from above the 3-point arc on the second miss, tore the rebound away from Pavlovic and called time, only to miss a long 3-pointer when play resumed.
“I knew he was going for the win,” James said. “I turned around and it looked like it was going in.”
The rebound bounced long and Fisher and Gibson collided. Fisher ended up with the ball, but was called for a questionable loose ball foul and Gibson made both free throws to ice the game.
Fittingly, it was Cleveland’s defense, especially its ability to contain Bryant, that made the difference.
“I don’t even ask,” James said of defending the opposing team’s best player down the stretch. “I just told Sasha, ‘Go take Walton.’ I don’t need to ask any more.”
The Cavaliers appeared to be in trouble when they fell behind 78-67 late in the third quarter, but they scored the last six points of the period to pull within five.
With James and Bryant on the bench, it was Devin Brown’s time to shine as Cleveland’s run grew to 16-0 at the start of the fourth quarter, giving the Cavaliers an 83-78 lead. Cleveland’s defense also picked up in the final period, when the Lakers missed their first nine shots, Devin Brown made a key steal and Varejao drew a charge.
“Our bench was really big for us,” Mike Brown said after watching his reserves outscore the Lakers’ 23-7. “They gave us a big boost.”
The Lakers led 53-51 at intermission behind the balanced scoring of Odom (14), Bryant (13) and Fisher (12), who combined for 39 points. James had 19 for the Cavaliers, who took advantage of numerous second-chance opportunities at the offensive end but gave up way too many layups and dunks at the other.
The latter was most apparent to start the second period. With guys like Trevor Ariza, Ronny Turiaf, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic on the floor, the Lakers started the quarter with three dunks and a layup.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they held an 11-2 edge in second-chance points, which is why they were only down two at halftime. For the night, Cleveland held a 25-11 edge in that category while also holding the Lakers to 2-of-15 shooting from behind the arc.
It started out better than that. With James dunking a Pavlovic miss and then throwing a no-look pass to Drew Gooden for a dunk, the Cavaliers raced to a 14-5 lead at the outset. A Fisher three, Odom layup and Bryant drive later, however, and the Lakers were off on what would become a 12-2 run.
Los Angeles went on to hit .647 from the field in the first period (11-of-17), but the game was tied at 28 because the Lakers missed four of their nine free throw attempts. Three of the misses were by Bryant, who intentionally line-drived one in off the backboard after starting the game 1-of-4 at the stripe.
Contact Rick Noland t (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.