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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond stuffed Cheap Ben Simmons Jersey, collected the loose ball and started dribbling up the court, right in front of the team’s executive row. Drummond then snapped a pass to a streaking Darius Garland, who bounced it behind his back to Larry Nance Jr. for a reverberating two-handed dunk.
As Nance swung back and forth on the rim, Drummond gleefully skipped to center court while general manager Koby Altman, the architect of this hard-playing and selfless bunch, looked up at the scoreboard in anticipation of a replay.
This fast break is EVERYTHING. 😍 pic.twitter.com/bk9PBI2gMI
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) December 28, 2020
That moment encapsulates the Cavs’ remarkable start to 2020-21. They are having fun.
On the second of a back-to-back, following a double-overtime thriller in Detroit the night before, the Cavs outclassed — and toyed with — the Philadelphia 76ers, winning their third straight game to open the season, 118-94. It’s their first time starting 3-0 since 2016-17.
The Nance slam early in the second quarter had everything head coach J.B. Bickerstaff ingrained this offseason. Defense. Team ball. Fast-paced offense. Joy.
It also gave the Cavs a 19-point lead — their biggest at the time. But Cleveland kept adding on, boosting its advantage to 26 in the third quarter, and then to 28, and then 30 and finally 32 early in the fourth, before emptying the bench and cruising to the victory.
“It’s fun to watch. Credit to these guys for buying in,” Bickerstaff said. “But when we put this together, we just feel like it’s the right way to play the game. It’s not something that’s unique or special by any means. It’s the way the game should be played and trying to play the game as purely as you can. And that’s what the guys have bought into, playing agenda-less basketball. And that’s when you see the results of the chemistry, the camaraderie and all of those things.”
The Cavs had every excuse not to bring it Sunday night. Weary after a lengthy and emotional game in Detroit. Playing without rookie Isaac Okoro, who is dealing with a sprained foot. Using their third different starting lineup in as many games. Kevin Love limping to the locker room early in the second quarter. The undefeated Sixers — even without All-Star center Cheap Joel Embiid Jersey — in town.
But that’s not these Cavs. They don’t make excuses. They don’t pout. They don’t give in. They push back against adversity, take a next-man-up mentality and fight.
Prior to the game, Bickerstaff called Sunday night a test, the latest in a season dotted with them. The Cavs passed. Again.
“Our guys found a way to compete, they found a way to play hard and play together,” Bickerstaff said. “That’s the goal every single night.”
Drummond scored a team-high 24 points to go with 14 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and three steals.
“It’s necessary,” JaVale McGee said of Drummond’s contributions. “We don’t get 3-0 if Dre isn’t playing the way he’s playing.”
Collin Sexton, the team’s leading scorer, added 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He also had three assists and three rebounds. Garland continued his second-year transformation with 14 points and seven assists. Cedi Osman matched that point total off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 from the field.
With the offense humming all night, the Cavs had five players score in double figures, 31 assists on 48 made shots, a 52.7% shooting night from the field and all 13 players that entered tallied at least two points. They also had 13 steals, six blocks and held the Sixers to 41.8% shooting, continuing their stunning defensive rise.
“A lot of the things that we’re doing now have been very surprising for me,” Drummond said. “Especially our defense and changing our entire scheme from what it was last year and with the addition of me and JaVale McGee, just making our jobs a lot easier and making the guard’s jobs a lot easier. Holding everyone accountable. Our defense is incredible. We are all on one string defensively and offensively we find great ways for guys to score and everybody is sharing the ball. It’s a lot of fun being out there.”
Over the last two years, the Cavs have been on the other side of these laughers, with the opponent having fun at their expense.
If the first three games are any indication, those days are finally over.
Love, who was questionable going into the game because of a nagging calf injury, signaled for a sub early in the second quarter. Love was trying to make a post move before limping to the bench. While being examined by two members of the team’s training staff, Altman walked over for a chat. Eventually, Love limped gingerly to the locker room. He was ruled out for the rest of the game with what the Cavs are calling a calf injury.
The 76ers were without leading scorer Embiid because of tightness in his back. Embiid is averaging 28.0 points, 12.0 rebounds in the first two games.
The Cavs will host the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.