On Saturday night, the Cavs showed Popovich and the rest of the NBA just how devastating they can be in their new up-tempo system.
It's the second time in as many nights all three Cavs stars scored at least 20 points in a game. They controlled the pace from the start and took advantage of a Spurs team playing without forward Tim Duncan on the same night that forward LaMarcus Aldridge was fighting foul trouble.
"It was a good win for us, just for us going forward," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue 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 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.
Duncan missed Saturday's game with a sore right knee and Aldridge sat the entire second quarter because of foul trouble.
Aldridge picked up his second foul while trying to keep center Tristan Thompson off the glass in the first quarter, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich stuck with him. Ninety seconds later, Aldridge fouled Thompson again fighting for a rebound and had to sit the remainder of the half.
The entire dynamic changed with the Spurs missing two of their best post players. The Cavs shot 64 percent from the field in the second quarter and led 66-49 at the half.
The 66 points matched their season high for points in a half. They also scored 66 in the first half of Friday's victory at the Detroit Pistons.
Popovich blamed his defense 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," Popovich said. "Combine that with some really poor communication defensively and they jumped out on us in the first half. The defense really let us down in that regard."
Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard scored 24 points and Aldridge added 15. The Spurs have been beaten badly now 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 the 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 David 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 their best of the season. They were 1-6 against the Warriors, Spurs, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls before Saturday.
"This was a very good win against a very great team, we know that," James said. "But it doesn't stop the season. ... I think we took a step forward today. So that's most important."
Irving and backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova combined for the first 18 points of the fourth quarter and the Cavs maintained a double-digit lead most of the night. A three-point play from James late in the fourth pushed the lead to 113-93, Cleveland's first 20-point lead of the night.
Guard Tony Parker scored 13 points for the Spurs and forward Kyle Anderson had 10 off the bench. The Spurs shot 49 percent from the field but made just six 3-pointers.
"They pushed the ball," Parker said. "They were still a very good team before. It's one of those games where our defense just wasn't there. We made too many mistakes and against a good team you can't do that."
NOTES: F Tim Duncan has missed the Spurs' last three games with a sore right knee. The Spurs were 8-1 without him this season. ... The Spurs entered with the league's best scoring defense (90.6 points per game) and ranked second in defensive field-goal percentage (42.7). ... The Cavs are 24-2 when they score at least 100 points and 10-10 when they don't. ... F LeBron James began the game in the wrong shorts. One of thd equipment guys asked him to change during the first quarter.