Cavs hold on as Orlando find magic touch

Elfrid Payton (left) of the Orlando Magic fouling Isaiah Thomas of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. The Cavs' 23-point lead evaporated and Orlando led by a point with 31 seconds remaining before Thomas sealed the win with two free throws.
Elfrid Payton (left) of the Orlando Magic fouling Isaiah Thomas of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. The Cavs' 23-point lead evaporated and Orlando led by a point with 31 seconds remaining before Thomas sealed the win with two free throws.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CLEVELAND (Ohio) • Just when it seemed like Cleveland would enjoy a convincing win against the worst National Basketball Association (NBA) team, the Magic made their 23-point lead disappear.

The Cavaliers needed Isaiah Thomas to hit the go-ahead free throws with 11 seconds left as they held off Orlando for a 104-103 victory on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

It was just Cleveland's fourth win in 13 games - and their first in five.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," said Cavaliers star LeBron James. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Orlando took a 103-102 lead with 31 seconds left after Shelvin Mack rebounded a missed three-pointer by Aaron Gordon and converted a short jumper in the lane.

On the next possession, Kevin Love missed a contested dunk, but Thomas grabbed the rebound with 15 seconds left and was fouled by Mack four seconds later. After Thomas restored Cleveland's lead, Elfrid Payton missed a layup.

Payton finished with 19 points for Orlando (13-32), who have lost 28 of their last 33 games.

After watching his side crumble in the second half, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue made his expectations known.

"Post the basketball," he said, suggesting Cleveland go through their All-Star big man Love when they needed to get their offence going.

Love took just four shots in the second half when Cleveland (27-17) collectively managed 37 points on 13-for-40 shooting.

He had 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Thomas scored 21 points.

James added 16 on a day when he was announced as the top vote-getter for next month's All-Star Game.

The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry will serve as captains for their respective teams in the Feb 18 contest at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles.

The new format will see them choose players from among starters and the reserves as the game moves away for the first time from its East versus West format.

James (2,638,294) will have first pick due to receiving more votes than Curry (2,379,494). The backups (seven from each conference) will be selected by NBA coaches, with full team rosters set to be announced on Thursday.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2018, with the headline 'Cavs hold on as Orlando find magic touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe