CLEVELAND (Ohio) • It was not long ago when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ripped the Cleveland Cavaliers for making a coaching change on a first-place team.
On Saturday, the Cavs showed him and the rest of the National Basketball Association just how devastating they can be in their new up-tempo system.
Forward LeBron James scored 29 points and forward Kevin Love and guard Kyrie Irving each had 21 in the Cavs' 117-103 victory over the Spurs for their signature win of the season.
For the second straight game, all three Cavs stars scored at least 20 points. They controlled the pace from the start and took advantage of a Spurs team (39-8) playing without forward Tim Duncan on a night when forward LaMarcus Aldridge sat out the entire second quarter because of foul trouble.
"It was a good win for us, just for us going forward," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who replaced the sacked David Blatt, said. "Knowing that we have a chance to beat a great team like the San Antonio Spurs just gives us confidence going forward.
"We can always look back at this game and say, 'Listen, we beat the Spurs.' Now we've got to continue to keep getting better and keep moving on."
The Cavs (34-12) began the night winless against the two best teams in the West. They lost at San Antonio earlier this month and lost twice to the Golden State Warriors, including an embarrassing 34-point loss here less than two weeks ago.
The entire dynamic changed with the Spurs missing Duncan and Aldridge- two of their best post players. The Cavs shot 64 per cent from the field in the second quarter and led 66-49 at the half.
The 66 points matched their most points in a half this season. They also scored 66 in the first half of Friday's win at the Detroit Pistons.
Popovich blamed his defence for most of the Spurs' problems. "When you're on the road, you can't turn it over and we turned it over a couple of times and got them going," he said.
His men have been beaten badly by two elite teams during Duncan's absence: The Warriors beat them by 30 just five days ago.
Popovich took a shot at Cavs general manager David Griffin after that loss by saying he might have been fired if his GM was in the locker room - echoing the remarks that Griffin made in announcing the decision to fire Blatt.
That set off a turbulent week for the Cavs, who have been the target of sharp criticism by plenty of coaches besides Popovich.
This win automatically becomes the Cavs' best of the season. They were 1-6 against the Warriors, Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls before Saturday.