LeBron James didn't bother playing it cool when talk of revenge came up following the Cleveland Cavaliers' 121-115 win over the Washington Wizards Wednesday night. The Wizards thumped his side last month in Cleveland. There would be a reckoning in the rematch.
"It was in the front of our mind," James said shortly after scoring a game-high 34 points. "We know what they did to us. We just wanted to try to get some give back."
The 97-85 loss on Dec. 1 wasn't filled with offensive flair by anyone other than Wizards guard John Wall. Seemingly every player found a rhythm at times during the high-scoring meeting at Verizon Center. James certainly did in the third quarter with four 3-pointers in the opening three minutes. That barrage helped turn a 62-50 halftime lead into a 73-55 blowout in the making.
Except the blowout never happened. The small-ball Wizards ripped one 3-pointer after another, finishing 8 of 11 in the quarter and 14 of 24 overall. When Ramon Sessions' dunk ties the game 95-95 with 10:53 remaining, all the momentum was with Washington.
Except nobody told the Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving hit consecutive highlight worthy layups en route to scoring the game's next 10 points and 32 overall. Washington went scoreless for the next 4:07. This time, the Eastern Conference leading Cavaliers stayed firm.
“We had to get some timely stops," said James, who also had 10 rebounds and four assists. "They were shooting the heck out of the ball tonight. They had it moving all over the floor tonight. They’ve been playing small-ball a lot and they put us in a lot of tough situations defensively. But it was just our composure, we’re a team that’s finally getting into our groove, where we have guys on the floor who have been together for long periods of time.”
Having their primary players back helped against Wall, who scored 35 points in the win at Cleveland against the Irving-less Cavaliers. That version didn't show in the first half. Wall went 1 of 9 from the field with six of his seven turnovers. Though he scored 18 points - 20 overall - and made all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half, the Cavaliers kept the speedster from dominating the game in the open court.
"You’ve got to get back in transition. You have to build a wall against Wall," James said. "You let him play in an open court, one-on-one, he’s too fast and too strong, and he’s gonna put your defense at bay and he did that all night long and our first game up in Cleveland. He was hitting his outside shots tonight, but we just had to try and keep him out of transition, and we were able to do that to John just enough.”
Except with James, Irving and J.R. Smith each scoring at least 25 points, the Cavaliers also had plenty of offense. In this game, revenge wasn't served cold, but instead with a hot shooting touch.
"LeBron got on a little three-point tear," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "You kinda like to see him standing out there instead of doing what he can do going to the basket and posting up, but he goes 4-for-9."
Cleveland ran its winning streak to five games. Washington has dropped four of five. We'll see who is hot or cold when the teams meet next Feb. 28 in Chinatown.