CLEVELAND – With all the attention focused on Dwyane Wade and LeBron James before the Heat faced the Cavaliers for the first time this season, it was Kevin Love who stole the show.
Love, often the forgotten man during the Cavs runs to the Finals the last three seasons, was unstoppable Tuesday as Cleveland rolled to a 108-97 victory at Quickens Loan Arena, a game in which Cleveland led by 34 in the third quarter.
The 10-year veteran set the tone with 19 points in the first 6:49. By then the Cavs’ lead had started building, reaching 26 at the end of the first half.
Love finished with 38 points in 25:28 minutes.
Wade, facing the Heat for the first time in a Cavaliers uniform, had 17 points, five rebounds, four assists as he continues to get more comfortable in his role off the bench. But the night was historic for James, who was ejected for the first time in his career. James closed with 21 points and 12 rebounds but was tossed late in the third quarter after picking up two quick technical fouls. James felt he was fouled on a play in which he drove to the basket.
“They were going for the kill, as well they should,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we were trying to find some way. We were grinding for a while. We kept it between 10, 12. But everything we got to that point they would take it to 20.
“So however he left the arena is pretty much how I felt inside that ballgame. It’s just the way it goes.”
The victory was Cleveland’s (14-7) ninth straight and snaps a Heat (10-10) three-game winning streak.
Spoelstra used his bench early and often with the game in garbage time for about 2½ quarters.
Dion Waiters led the Heat with 21 points. Rookie Bam Adebayo came off the bench to score 19 points.
Here are our five takeaways from a game that never really was competitive:
Love Machine: Hassan Whiteside started covering Love and it took Spoelstra just 4:21 get him out of the game. But it didn’t matter as Love then abused Kelly Olynyk, who picked up three quick fouls. By the end of the first quarter, Love had 22, which equaled a Heat opponent high for the quarter set by Brooklyn’s Joe Johnson in January 2014. Love scored 10 more in the second quarter, tying an opponent record with 32 first half points held by Orlando’s Tracy McGrady in March 2003. But Love, who shot 10-of-16, did not play long enough (26 minutes) to catch Philadelphia’s Willie Burton, who holds the record for the most point scored against the Heat with 53 in December 1994.
“He hit some tough shots in the first quarter,” Whiteside said. “He was on. He hit some threes. … he got a couple of free throws early and they try to bait you to go help on LeBron. That’s how they got you.”
Streaking: With its victory over the Heat, the Cavaliers have won nine straight games after starting 5-7. Entering the game, the Cavs were averaging 112.0 points per game and outscoring their opponents by an average of 10.5 points during the streak. The biggest margin of victory during the streak is a 116-88 victory over the Pistons. Cleveland led by 27 points in the second quarter against Miami and cruised the rest of the way. Miami never cut the deficit to single digits after the 9:29 mark of the second quarter and trailed by 34 in the third quarter.
“It started right from the beginning,” Spoelstra said. “We were playing on our heels and they felt like a level different than us. … tonight. It’s tonight they’re a better basketball team than us. That’s where we want to get to, but you can see the level that they can go to, just in execution and cohesiveness.”
Bam sighting: After Olynyk picked up his third foul in just 4:26, Spoelstra turned to Bam Adebayo. The rookie had played just two of the last nine games for a total of 11:50. Adebayo was solid making all seven of his shots and finishing with six rebounds to go along with his career high. He even showed flashes defensively by not backing down against James and forcing him into a tough shot.
“Not a lot of positives coming out of this game, but Bam was one of them, on both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “And most of the guys said something about it right after the game in our huddle. He’s been putting in a lot of work to prepare himself. He never knows exactly when he’s going to play. It’s not easy to come into a game like this. But that’s a great compliment when your peers are mentioning it after the game. And the way you played and the way you competed leaves an imprint on their minds. So that’s something he’ll definitely be able to build on.”
Milestones for Dragic: The day after he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Dragic reached a milestone. With his fifth point against the Cavaliers, Dragic scored the 9,000th of his career and now is up to 9002, of which 2,404 have come with the Heat. Dragic, had just six points, missing all but one of his five shots. It was the third time all season he was held to single digits. On Sunday, Dragic surpassed Glen Rice’s Heat assist total of 1,067 to move into sole of ninth place in team history.
Wrapping up the road trip: The Heat get their first look at the surprising Knicks on Wednesday in the finale of this four-game road trip and the second back-to-back of the season. The Knicks started strong but are fading, having lost three in a row to drop to 10-10. Miami owes New York after a crucial 98-94 home loss in late March that was as big a reason as any as to why the Heat missed out on a playoff spot last season.
“This is a team that’s been playing very well,” Spoelstra said. “They’ve caught everybody’s attention and how well they’re playing and not just in general, but particularly at home. So we’ll brush our scratches off and get ready for tomorrow.”