INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — For all their talent and celebrity, the Cavaliers’ “Big 3” can’t win an NBA title by themselves.
Not without help from Cleveland’s reserves — those other guys.
Although they may not have the catchy nickname of their three famous teammates, Cleveland’s two other starters — J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov — and the team’s supporting cast of bench players have had a huge impact on the Cavaliers’ season and are off to a strong start in the playoffs.
While LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love did their usual damage, combining for 69 points in Sunday’s 113-100 win over the Boston Celtics, it was Cleveland’s backups who came through in Game 1.
James Jones made two huge shots in the third quarter to stop Boston’s comeback; Tristan Thompson scored 12 points and crashed the boards; Iman Shumpert played his usual stifling defense; Matthew Dellavedova brought energy; Shawn Marion made the most of his 56 seconds and Kendrick Perkins gave an impassioned pregame speech to his new teammates.
“It’s what we need. Those guys did a heckuva job,” James said Monday as the Cavs prepared for Game 2 in the best-of-7 series on Tuesday night.
Cleveland’s “Little 9” have been doing it all season, helping the Cavs overcome a sluggish start to finish with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. But doing it during the regular season is totally different than in the playoffs when every possession is magnified. The Cavs showcased the depth they’ll need in order to win a championship.
And just as James, Irving and Love had to make personal sacrifices, Cleveland’s second-stringers have forgone individual accolades for team success.
“It’s like a company. You have your janitor, your CEO. You have your secretaries,” said Thompson, who said his job is to bring energy as a reserve. “I don’t mind being the cleanup guy, punching the clock. I’ll do all the little things.”
Jones came up big in Game 1.
After the Celtics scored 14 consecutive points to trim Cleveland’s lead to six, Jones, forced to play more than usual because J.R. Smith was in foul trouble, hit a back-down, turnaround jumper — just his 12th two-point basket of the season — and then drained a 3-pointer at the horn to give the Cavaliers a 15-point lead.
Once his long-range jumper splashed through the hoop, Jones, who won two titles while getting little playing time with James in Miami, raised his arms and soaked in the screams and applause of 20,000 fans.
James said Jones has been waiting for the playoffs.
“I know what he’s capable of doing,” James said. “For him to have a moment like that last night, I was extremely happy for him.”
Jones understands the Cavs will only go as far as the “Big 3” take them. But the trades that brought Smith, Shumpert and Mozgov made Cleveland a more complete team.
“They added another dynamic: youth, speed, athleticism, shooting, all the things we needed to interject into this mix,” Jones said. “They are a very big reason for why we’ve been playing well.”
James laughed when asked if he taught Jones the post-up move that led to his clutch basket.
“No, man,” James said with a laugh. “J.J was actually a post-up player in college. He said he got to Indiana and Rick Carlisle told him, ‘If you want to be on the floor, you need to go over there and shoot with Reggie (Miller).’ So that’s when he became a shooter.”
Thompson has gladly accepted his reserve role, and he finished fifth in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award. Thompson doesn’t need the glory. He’s than happy to roll up his sleeves and do whatever’s necessary.
“I’ll be a janitor forever,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has their place in the factory. I don’t mind doing the little things. That’s what it takes to win and be great.”
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