CLEVELAND — LeBron James has mostly gotten over the stinging loss to Golden State earlier this week.
His coach can’t quite let it go.
James scored 22 points with 12 assists, J.R. Smith made six 3-pointers, Kevin Love played like an All-Star and the Cleveland Cavaliers took care of one of the Western Conference’s top teams, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 115-102 on Thursday night.
Love added 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Cavs, who were playing their first home game since being humiliated in a 34-point loss to the defending champion Warriors on Monday in a rematch of last year’s NBA Finals. They bounced back with a win at Brooklyn on Wednesday, but the Nets aren’t the Clippers, who came in 11-1 in their past 12.
And although they’ve played better the past two games, James said the Warriors’ debacle hasn’t been forgotten.
"Who’s to say we shook it off," James said. "We won two games. We took two or three steps backward on Monday and we took a couple steps forward these last couple games, and that’s all that matters to me."
Kyrie Irving scored 21 for Cleveland, which has won 13 of 14 against Los Angeles.
Before Thursday’s game, Cavs coach David Blatt went on a long rant, complaining about the criticism his team has received since Monday’s loss.
"I hear a lot of far-reaching conclusions and, personally, I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do about it because I’m not the one that’s saying or doing those things," Blatt said.
Following the win over the Clippers, Blatt remained defensive.
"It’s about my team," he said. "It’s about my guys and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. My guys are out there fighting for the Cavaliers and doing the best job they can in a tough NBA — very tough — especially because this is a team that night after night has a target on its back. They go out there and they fight and they play and they deal with adversity like we’ve had to deal with all year. We are far from perfect and we are still not at our best, but it’s not for lack of effort."
Chris Paul scored 30 and J.J. Redick 17 for the Clippers. Los Angeles made only six 3-pointers after knocking down 22 on Monday against Houston. The Clippers were again without star forward Blake Griffin (torn quadriceps).
"We didn’t play well, but we had chances," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I guess that’s the silver lining."
In the second half, Cleveland employed a "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy and intentionally fouled Los Angeles centre DeAndre Jordan, who went just 6 of 15 from the line.
The Clippers trimmed a 16-point deficit to six in the fourth, but Love and Smith made two 3-pointers apiece in a span of 2:08 to put the Cavs back in control.
With Cleveland leading 79-70 in the third and in a good rhythm offensively, Blatt ordered James Jones to foul Jordan, who entered the game shooting only 42 per cent from the free throw line.
Earlier, Blatt had said he didn’t particularly care for the "hacking" strategy, but he implemented it — and it worked.
Jones committed four fouls on Jordan in a span of 1:21. The Clippers’ big man made just 3 of 8 free throws and the Cavs stretched their lead to 88-72 when Jordan was called for goaltending on a short shot by James.
"I still don’t like it," Blatt said. "I liked it tonight, but I still don’t like it."
Irving (580,651) finished third in All-Star voting among East guards, trailing Miami’s Dwyane Wade (941,466) and Toronto’s Kyle Lowry (646,441), who overcame a 32,000-vote deficit to pass Irving in the final days of balloting.
"He deserves it," Irving said of Lowry. "I didn’t play in 26 games. Personally, I don’t feel I deserve it. There are guys who have played all season."
FEELING THE LOVE
Since scoring just 3 points against Golden State, Love has been a different player, scoring 35 points with 34 rebounds in the past two games.
"He’s been aggressive," James said. "When he rebounds at a high clip, I think offence comes easy for him."
Clippers: Griffin will also sit out Friday’s game in New York and Sunday’s against Toronto. His workouts have increased in their intensity of late and it’s possible he will return on Tuesday when the Clippers visit Indiana. … Redick came in shooting 50 per cent (103 of 206) on 3-pointers. "That’s crazy," Rivers said. "I had a 53 per cent year from the free-throw line."
Cavaliers: Cleveland is in a stretch where it will play 10 of 13 games at home, where it is 16-2 this season. … Smith (1,564) passed Glen Rice (1,559) for 19th place on the career 3-point list. … The Cavs are 24-6 in their last 30 games against teams from the West.
Clippers: at New York on Friday.
Cavaliers: host Chicago on Saturday.