(The Sports Xchange) - With their season-long, six-game road trip coming to an end, Cleveland recognized the need for one determined push across the finish line and rebounded from their first loss this month to beat the Houston Rockets 91-77.
Kyrie Irving and LeBron James carried a sporadic offense but the Cavaliers relied on their defensive might to beat the Rockets at Toyota Center.
Cleveland (28-10) limited the Rockets to a season-low points total while Houston (21-20) shot just 35.1 percent (26 for 74) from the floor, including 6-for-25 shooting from behind the three-point arc.
James (19 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Irving (23 points) were efficient while Kevin Love chipped in 11 points and 13 rebounds, but Cleveland closed the trip 5-1 by digging in defensively, especially against Rockets guard James Harden.
“We came in with the mindset that we had to defend, we had to cut the head off the snake, and that’s Harden, and then just try to defend everyone else at the same time,” James said. “And we did that.”
Harden scored just 11 points on two-of-10 shooting. He missed all five of his three-point attempts and committed eight of the Rockets’ 19 turnovers.
He seemed resigned to his fate, taking just three shots in 18 second-half minutes as Cleveland sent multiple bodies his direction defensively.
Harden was not alone in his struggles. Excluding Patrick Beverley, who shot five of eight, every member of the Rockets’ starting lineup missed more shots than they took.
“We stuck to the game plan,” Irving said. “We didn’t want a talented guy like James Harden to beat us. We wanted their other guys to beat us and we forced him to pass off to other guys and we trusted our weakside rotation.”
The Rockets, whose five-game winning streak came to a halt, fashioned a hopeful start, opening the game with 5-of-6 shooting while darting to a 13-4 lead.
But the Cavaliers answered with a trio of three’s to whittle the deficit to 16-13 before turning up the intensity defensively and getting a boost from little-used veteran Anderson Varejao.
Varejao finished a plus-15 in just seven minutes and his energy proved infectious.
The Rockets, meanwhile, closed the period missing 15 of their final 17 shots and surrendered the lead for good when Matthew Dellavedova beat the buzzer with a floating jump shot off a Harden turnover for a 23-21 lead entering the second.
The Cavaliers did not relinquish that advantage.
Following a quiet six-minute stretch in the first quarter, Irving came alive with nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second.
He opened with a pull-up jumper before adding seven consecutive points to extend the Cleveland lead to 36-28 with 6:35 remaining in the half.
“Their defense was active, it was tight, it was together,” Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the Cavaliers.
“We got opportunities I thought; we didn’t make shots. Shots that I thought were open and good shots for us. We didn’t knock them down, and I think if we make some of those shots, it changes the way they have to defend you.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford