This is not a Game Five preview. At least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, this is a more broad look into what exactly Game Five means in the more big picture sense of this series. This has been a tough week for Cavs fans. For many, this was not your shining moment in sports fandom. There’s been a lot of distress, panic, anger, frustration, and general malaise within this fanbase. I’m not here to tell you it’s not warranted. Some of it is. Maybe a lot of it is. Perhaps most of it is warranted. Whatever the case may be, I’m not here to play moral authority. What I am here to do, though, is to try to explain to you why it isn’t needed.
Most importantly, and this is the point that is overlooked most often, the Cleveland Cavaliers are ok. They have yet to trail in this series. The Cavs are dealing with injuries (LeBron, Shaq, Varejao, Jamison?) while the Celtics are pretty much as healthy as can be. The Cavaliers have played apathetic basketball for 2 months now, and yet they’ve really only been out of one game in this series. As easily as the Celtics feel they’re a Mo Williams hot streak away from being up 3-1 in the series, so too can the Cavaliers argue that they are one off 4th quarter away from being up 3-1.
So lets put away any and all excuses. The series is what it is. The series is tied up at 2-2, with the Cavaliers getting to play 2 of the last 3 at home. These two teams are heated rivals who have played one another more times over the last 3 seasons than any other 2 teams in the NBA. They know each other well, and they know how to attack and adjust to one another. It was foolish for anyone to think the Cavaliers would breeze through the Celtics, and we tried to warn everyone that the Cavaliers could be in for a dogfight. We tried to warn everyone that Rajon Rondo was going to be an absolute nightmare in this series.
You’ll have to excuse me if this is taking a scolding tone, or a holier than thou feel. I’m not here to say I told you so, but rather just to point out that it’s ok for everyone to relax and Just Breathe:
Stay with me. Let’s just breathe. I’ve been thinking a lot about this series contextually. On the one hand, I’ve been thinking about the words. Practiced are my sins, never gonna let me win. Under everything, just another human being. Yeah, I don’t wanna hurt, there’s so much in this world to make me bleed.
Taking it one sentence at a time, first up is Practiced are my sins, never gonna let me win. As the Cavaliers continue to repeat the same mistakes, they continue to struggle with their game. There’s a blueprint for this Cavaliers team on how to be an almost unbeatable team, and it begins with LeBron James, and it ends with players like Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Anderson Varejao. All 4 of these guys need to step it up tonight to avoid an unthinkable fate.
The 2nd sentence says Under everything, just another human being. We like to think of our sports stars as heroes and superhuman. However, they are really just like us and susceptible to the same pitfalls as anyone else. Pressure, stress, etc affect different people in different ways, but somewhere along the way, Mo Williams must take it upon himself to drown out the distraction and the pressure. Just let it all go. Dig deep inside, and find the player that we all know is inside there somewhere. Similarly, LeBron James needs to find that killer instinct that Champions have. Enough waiting around for teammates. If they don’t want to run to greatness with LeBron, then LeBron is going to have to drag them there himself. We’ve seen LeBron single handedly win playoff series against superior opponents in the past, and now it’s time for him to do the same against possibly inferior opponents.
Finally, we have Yeah, I don’t wanna hurt, there’s so much in this world to make me bleed. This one is more personal, but I suspect most can relate. Life is tough. I’m talking about real world issues. Every day stresses and pressures that we all have to deal with. Earning money, providing for family, making ends meet, buying a house, making car payments, staying healthy, and on and on. There’s plenty of real issues that can scar us and make us bleed. There’s real pain, misery, and sorrow out there. We don’t need our sports teams to provide us with any more. None of us want the Cavaliers to make us hurt.
Going back to the context of this series, I can also still relate to something I wrote before Game 4 of the Celtics series 2 years ago, and in many ways, it can still apply:
So whatâ€™s it going to be, Cleveland? Will the dream stay alive, or will the nightmare come true? Will this be a team that we look back on with pride, or a team we look back on with frustration? Will I get to keep writing hyperbole into the late Spring days, or will it come crashing to halt in mid-May? If you’re not excited for this game, then either you’re not a fan of either of these teams or you just don’t get playoff basketball in the NBA. This is what it’s all about. That one game, that one moment when everything can change on a dime. A season seemingly headed for ruin can be redeemed for instant joy and instant satisfaction. Thoughts of championships are both created and destroyed in games like these.
So here we are again, looking at yet another pivotal moment for a team that once seemed destined to win a Championship in Cleveland with LeBron James at the helm. For once in my life, though, I’m not all that distressed by this series. I still think the Cavaliers are going to win tonight and I think they will eventually win this series. In my heart I believe the Cavaliers are the better team overall. It’s just up to the Cavaliers.
We’ve been discussing Mike Brown a lot on this site lately, and that’s only natural, but when you look at the team’s performance and you see LeBron leading the NBA in postseason efficiency once again, but the next Cavalier being Jamario Moon in 40th place, that’s not coaching. That’s a bunch of key players coming up small in big moments, and that’s a collective, team effort. Only LeBron, Moon, and Jamison are even in the Top 50 on this list. Mo Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, and Delonte West are quite noticeably absent.
If I felt coaching was a problem, I would be concerned. You’re stuck with the coach you have at this point. I’m glad the issue has just been players not stepping up, because that can all change. In baseball, we saw Alex Rodriguez struggle all his career in the playoffs until the switch finally flipped on for him last year. In football, Peyton Manning struggled in the playoffs for years until he led the Colts on an improbable comeback against the Patriots before winning the Super Bowl. So things change. Mo can still come back from this. So can Delonte. And Shaq. And Andy.
Just remember, teams are tested in the 2nd round for a reason. But teams who survive, historically go on to do great things. Remember the words once more of John Hollinger, who wrote:
Relax, Cleveland. You’re in great company.
I mentioned this a year ago when the Lakers were getting embarrassed by the Rockets in Games 4 and 6 of their West semifinal series, and I’ll mention it again: For some reason, eventual champions seem to hit major adversity in the second round of the playoffs (aka the East and West semifinals).
I’ll call it the Law of Second-Round Strife. Each of the past eight champions has hit a major bump in Round 2. The last one to skip through this minefield cleanly was the Lakers’ juggernaut in 2001. Of course, that team hardly hit a bump in any road at any time that spring, rolling through the postseason with a 15-1 mark.
It’s easy to forget now, but a year ago the Lakers lost Game 2 at home to Houston and went on to submit a pair of truly pathetic performances against an undermanned Rockets team in Games 4 and 6. Following those games, folks couldn’t get off the L.A. bandwagon fast enough.
I’ll leave with those words and this final thought: no matter what happens tonight, this series is not over. A win does ensure a Conference Finals berth, and a loss does not ensure a long vacation. But that doesn’t mean this one isn’t important. It’s going to be a step in either the right or the wrong direction.