WASHINGTON — The positive attitude and poise the Cleveland Cavaliers exhibited down the stretch on Friday night is what the new head coach of the team is hoping will become the storyline for the rest of a campaign that has seen the absence of those traits result in an embarrassing crescendo that resulted in a head coach resignation and the amidst revelations of instability and acrimony.
Collin Sexton scored 14 fourth-quarter points and helped to spark a 20-4 game-deciding run in the Cavaliers’ 113-108 victory over the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on Friday night. Along with Sexton’s 25 points to lead the Cavs, Cedi Osman scored 16 points and both Andre Drummond (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Tristan Thompson (10p/11r) recorded double-doubles as Cleveland won back-to-back games for the first time in over a month.
“The toughness, guys diving on the floor, the multiple effort plays at the rim to finish the game down the stretch,” said interim Cavaliers head coach J.B.Bickerstaff, taking over for erstwhile coach John Beilein. “That’s who we want to be and the reputation we’re trying to build.”
After the Cavaliers defeated the Pistons on Jan. 9 and won in Denver two days later, they proceeded to lose seven straight and 13 of 15, and dissension between the young core of players and Beilein, stemming from the latter’s coaching style to a “thug” comment alleged to have been made by the coach that rankled the players, led to Beilein’s resignation earlier in the week.
It was looking like another defeat was in the cards for Cleveland after it allowed 41 first-quarter points and did not have the lead at any point in the game’s first 36 minutes. The Cavaliers’ defense tightened up in the fourth, leading to the game’s decisive run, where Cleveland erased an eight-point deficit in the game’s final nine minutes.
Larry Nance Jr. and Darius Garland hit three-pointers during an 8-0 run, and Thompson’s alley-oop dunk tied the game at 95 with 6:55 remaining. Garland’s three on Cleveland’s next possession gave the Cavs their first lead at 98-97, and Sexton’s three gave Cleveland its largest lead at 107-99 with 4:07 left.
“It was tough at first,” Sexton said, “Just coming off the [All-Star] Break I needed my legs so I had to change up a little bit, my shots and stuff. I just took what the defense gave me. I didn’t try to force anything.”
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 26 points, but made only nine of his 28 shots from the field. Rui Hachimura had 17 points while Troy Brown (11 points) and Davis Bertans (10) had double-digit points while coming off the bench.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Friday evening’s game, with all photos taken by DC-area photographer Rodney Pierce. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 28 pictures in total.