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    Cleveland Cavaliers building confidence with every win: ‘There’s something special brewing in that locker roo – cleveland.com

    TORONTO — Who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

    A few weeks ago, one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ assistant coaches quipped about the team’s diabolical early-season schedule.

    “At least, they gave us some easy ones out of the gate,” he said with a sarcastic look.

    Friday was the first time they played against an opponent that didn’t make last year’s Play-In Tournament or Playoffs. And the Toronto Raptors are hardly a gimme, entering the night with a 6-3 record while riding a five-game winning streak. According to oddsmakers, the Cavs were 5.5-point underdogs, making it in the 10th straight game the opponent was favored.

    Despite one of the league’s toughest schedules — and an inexperienced starting lineup that isn’t even 22 years old on average — the Cavs are 6-4. They’ve won three in a row.

    These aren’t fluky wins either. Home versus Portland and Atlanta. On the road in Denver, Los Angeles (Clippers), Charlotte and Toronto.

    It’s no wonder the Cavaliers confidently walked out of raucous Scotiabank Arena Friday night.

    “There’s something special brewing in that locker room,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said following the 102-101 come-from-behind win. “Everybody wants to be a part of it.”

    Of their six wins, Friday might have been the most improbable. The Cavs had no business coming out on top. Even Bickerstaff was perplexed.

    “It’s hard to believe,” he said.

    They led for 4.8 seconds. They turned the ball over a whopping 19 times, including 16 in the first three quarters. Gave up 19 offensive rebounds. Players not named Cedi Osman combined for just 1-of-9 3-point shooting in the first half. Veteran Ricky Rubio — the only player over age 28 able to suit up and see the floor while Kevin Love remains in the league’s health and safety protocols — was in foul trouble for most of the night, limiting him to a season-low 22 minutes. Three players missing from the every-night rotation. Collin Sexton with one of his worst individual performances, nearly imploding on a late-game possession. Down by 15 at one point. Behind by six entering the fourth quarter. Down five in the final two minutes. Ugly at times.

    But they found a way, responding to Bickerstaff’s halftime challenge about picking up the intensity and not allowing the Raptors to win the scrap.

    “We could have folded knowing we were down literally the whole game but we stayed in it until the end,” Jarrett Allen said. “It’s a lot of fun to play with these guys. Everybody is super talented; nobody is selfish on this team. We could have gone towards the end of the game and played one-on-one. But we kept sharing the ball, kept hitting the right person and it just makes it fun to play together as a team. It makes it easier to work hard.”

    Everyone had a part in Friday’s win. There’s a teamwide understanding — and acceptance — of roles.

    Garland, who has stepped to the forefront as a leader, scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter. That includes two critical free throws, which gave Cleveland its only lead.

    After a lousy first half, Garland played with force — and aggressiveness — that repeatedly put the Raptors’ smothering, physical, active defense on its heels. Garland got downhill, into the paint and typically made the right reads, dishing out eight assists to support his big scoring night.

    “He had his mind made up that he was gonna help us win this game,” Bickerstaff said of Garland. “He went out and did it.”

    Garland’s impact went beyond the box score — and it started months ago. Recognizing a leadership void following Larry Nance Jr.’s trade, Garland made a concerted effort to be more vocal this season. He wants this to be his team. It’s the next step in his evolution. It can’t just be verbal. It has to be by example. Each time there was a stoppage late Friday night, Garland was offering encouragement or talking through scenarios with teammates. He played the closing minutes with maturity and control.

    “He kept us composed,” Allen said. “Towards the end, you could see that we were getting flustered, they were hitting some tough shots, our defense wasn’t where it needed to be and he got us all grouped together and told us that we need to be on our game. Got us in the right spots, got us our shots that we needed. Leading this team. He was the coach on the floor.”

    Always humble, Garland gave credit to his teammates. According to him, they made the reads and passes easy. They allowed him to pick his spots throughout the game.

    He singled out Evan Mobley, who had 18 points, five rebounds, two assists and one block in 38 minutes. After Garland calmly drilled his two foul shots to put Cleveland up by one, and both teams walked toward their respective benches for a final timeout, he immediately turned to Mobley with a pointed message.

    “You led us tonight. You led us to this win,” Garland told him.

    Mobley had a quizzical look on his face.

    “We’ve got four more seconds,” the rookie said.

    The Cavs got the defensive stop they needed. For the second straight night, Allen delivered, forcing OG Anunoby into a fadeaway six-footer that bounced off the rim.

    That capped another workmanlike performance from Cleveland’s blossoming young center, as Allen scored 16 points to go with 15 rebounds, two steals and a block. He even banked in his first 3-pointer to pull the Cavaliers even with a little more than four minutes remaining — and then lightheartedly picked his afro with three fingers in celebration.

    “It’s the buy-in that he has to his teammates, to the organization and helping this team be as good as it possibly can be,” Bickerstaff said of Allen. “He knows what his strengths are. He doesn’t try to be anybody other than who he is. He’s got the ability to dominate the paint on both ends and when he makes his mind up, we’ve seen it time and time again, he’s in there kicking ass and taking names. That’s just a fierce competitive nature to go get a job done and help this team win by being the best that he can possibly be. That’s what’s brewing in that locker room. Guys are trying to figure out each of them individually: ‘What’s my way to help the team?’ Jarrett has found his way.”

    The others have as well. Friday especially. Dean Wade stepped into the starting lineup for the second straight game. Osman poured in five triples off the bench, keeping the Cavs’ offense afloat while Garland and Sexton were struggling. Osman also had a critical chasedown block that prevented a Fred VanVleet bucket with less than three minutes remaining. Rubio made some timely hoops, one of five players to score in double figures. Lamar Stevens entered the game for nine energetic, tenacious second-half minutes. He finished with the team’s best plus-minus. Even Sexton won the late jump ball against Gary Trent Jr., saving himself from a near-miscue.

    Cleveland Cavaliers basketball: Tough, feisty, fun, team first.

    “It’s just a unique group,” Garland said. “All locked in. We have one goal and we want to achieve that goal. There’s no individual agendas. Everybody is just playing their part, everybody is stepping into their role. Wins like this are giving us a lot of confidence.”

    How long will that last?

    “I don’t know how good we are yet, but there’s no quit in us,” Bickerstaff told cleveland.com. “Still some small things to fix, but we are headed there.”

    Even though the final destination remains to be seen, the Cavs have a plan for how to get there — and a growing belief that big things are possible.

    “I feel like we can go pretty far,” Mobley said. “We’re getting more and more confident every game. The chemistry is building every game.”

    Shortly after the buzzer sounded and the stunned crowd headed toward the exits, the Cavs gathered near center court as group. They barked (a new celebration Stevens started and one the team has adopted) and then brought it in.

    Together on three.

    How appropriate. The Cavs know who they are. They know how they must play. It’s got to be a collective approach.

    “We can’t be dominated by one guy or two guys,” Bickerstaff said. “We can’t be an isolation team, a one-on-one team. We have to be the team that shares the game offensively. We have to be a team that’s tied together.”

    Cavaliers Fanatics Revenue 2021

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