CLEVELAND -- For 12 glorious minutes of playing time Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers recaptured the magic that made them world champions 10 months ago.
After being picked apart by pundits and opposing offenses alike for the past five weeks, the Cavs found the eureka moment they'd been hoping to find, as they outscored the Orlando Magic 43-20 in the third quarter en route to a 122-102 win.
The 23-point differential was the most successful quarter the Cavs played in the nearly three full seasons since LeBron James returned to Cleveland, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The stats were surreal, from 16 assists on the 17 baskets they scored in the period, to a 9-for-13 mark from 3-point range (69.2 percent), to out-rebounding Orlando 14-5 and limiting the Magic to just 35 percent shooting.
"After that I looked at Champ [James Jones] and said, 'That's us,' " Kevin Love said. " 'That's our basketball. That's the way we're meant to play, how we're supposed to play.' So it felt good to get that great quarter, but now we need to do it for three other quarters."
This wasn't just flipping the switch. This was Clark Griswold plugging in his Christmas lights to see his house shine like the burning sun.
The spurt led Cleveland to its third straight win -- its first win streak that long since late February -- and it was a reminder of what the Cavs look like when they are engaged at both ends.
"I liked the way we played defensively," said James, who logged his 12th triple-double of the season (18 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists). "We got stops. And when we get stops and get out and run and the ball is moving and everybody feels in great rhythm, that's who we've grown accustomed to being the last three years. We didn't need it, but it's great to see."
J.R. Smith resembled his pre-holdout, pre-thumb injury self as he hit 4-of-5 from long range in the quarter on his way to 19 points. Kyle Korver mirrored the guy who couldn't seem to miss until his left foot slowed him down, as he hit three of the four shots he took in the period. Love, James and Kyrie Irving combined to shoot 9-for-14, with James dishing out seven assists and Irving claiming six.
It was a sight for sore eyes, quite frankly. While Jones, who recently issued a challenge to the Cavs in a players-only meeting as first reported by Cleveland.com, maintained that he was OK with the tenuous times his team has been in -- "I like us having this edginess, it's the only way we're going to get better," he told ESPN -- it was about time there were some tangible results to attach to that improvement.
While the Cavs came into the night with two wins in a row against Philadelphia and Indiana, even Richard Jefferson discounted their meaning ("Well, they're better than losses") because they didn't include Cleveland reaching its potential.
Tuesday, even though the opponent was an Orlando squad they've now beaten 17 straight times, that third quarter showed a glimpse of the team the Cavs can be at their best.
"We were getting stops," Love said. "We were talking. We had such a good bounce and energy to us, and when we make a great effort like that, we're such a better team. That's when it's fun. That's when we're playing downhill and getting other guys involved and at the end of the day we're making shots. I think that made us feel good and we were able to get up and down and just be really assertive."
And it allowed the Cavs to talk like champions again, too.
"We're good, we're in a good place," Irving said. "We can get out of it and look each other in the face and still be honest with one another. We're in a very great place."
Added Cavs coach Tyronn Lue: "I feel good about this team all the time. It's like a soap opera, but I love this team. We know what we're capable of doing."
The question, ahead of a pivotal matchup with Boston on Wednesday with first place in the East on the line, is whether the Cavs can replicate that third quarter more often, or whether they keep searching for that consistency with just five games remaining before their repeat attempt starts in earnest in the playoffs.
"As long as our heart is still beating," Jones said, "we still have enough time."