CLEVELAND -- The box score from the Cleveland Cavaliers' 108-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday shows that James Jones had a ho-hum three points on 1-for-6 shooting, four rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes.
But if you listen to his teammates, the man the Cavs call “Champ” may have had a bigger impact on the game than any other Cleveland player who suited up.
With the Cavs trailing 50-49 at the half after squandering an early 10-point lead against a winless Sixers team, Jones spoke up at halftime about Cleveland’s lackadaisical play.
“Obviously, we were just in the motions in the first half and ended up playing inspired basketball,”LeBron James said. “J.J. got on all of us, and we responded in the third quarter.”
Kevin Love detailed the message.
“What Champ said at halftime: ‘If we want to be a great team, we have to do things a different way,’” Love said. “That hit home for us. Not much needed to be said (after that). We just went out there in the third quarter and had a lot better effort.”
Cleveland started the third on a 16-2 run and ended up winning the quarter 32-23, finally separating itself from Philly for good. James was instrumental in the surge, scoring 18 of his game-high 31 points in the quarter.
“I respect J.J. probably more than anybody (on this team) just because of my relationship with him and how long we’ve been together,” said James, who has played with Jones the past five seasons in Miami and in Cleveland, making five consecutive trips to the Finals together. “So, it’s my job to respond.”
Jones’ importance is often overlooked when it comes to the Cavs’ makeup. So much attention is paid to James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Timofey Mozgov is the monster in the middle. J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert are the wild cards from New York. Tristan Thompson is the sixth man. Richard Jefferson is the veteran chasing a ring. Matthew Dellavedova is the rags to riches success story. Anderson Varejao is the hometown favorite. Jones? He is the team’s wisdom and compass, a role that became even more important this season when another locker room luminary, Mike Miller, was traded in the offseason.
“He’s been there, done that before,” Love said. “When he speaks, we tend to listen. Champ is a guy that has a voice in the locker room.”
A voice so sage, he’s a go-to resource for reporters on game night. Even before Love revealed to the scrum that Jones’ words are what ultimately turned things around, Jones was the first person I spoke to after the game, trying to glean some perspective on James playing above the rim so much this season.
Coming into Friday, James was tied for fourth in the league with 10 dunks on the season (the leader, Golden State’s Festus Ezeli, had 15). Four of the players ranked above James are centers, the other is Anthony Davis, and Blake Griffin is tied with James, according to CBSSports.com. James added two dunks to that total against the Sixers.
Was James trying to make a statement to all of those pundits focusing on his bad back in the preseason by flying above the rim?
“He’s definitely not motivated to show anybody anything,” Jones told me. “He just plays. That’s the one thing I know about him. He’s feeling good. He’s been taking care of himself tremendously through the last few years and when he wants to, he brings it out. So he’s just been bringing it out a lot earlier this year.”
Funny, the same could be said about Jones’ motivational messages.