July 23, 2014

Cavaliers and Their Fans Show a Winning Spirit in Season Debut

Ok, lets get the excuses out of the way first. The Boston Celtics were tired from playing such an emotionally charged game the night before. The Celtics age is going to hurt them in road ends of back-to-backs all year. They overlooked the Cavaliers and didn’t give the same focus and effort they gave at home against Miami. There was no intensity in a meaningless game like this to the Boston Celtics. Does that about cover it? Ok, good, now lets move on.

Perhaps this game didn’t really matter on a macro-sociological level in the NBA, but then again, not all outcomes matter equally. For one night, Cleveland had it’s redemption when the final buzzer sounded and the Cavaliers had secured their 95-87 win over the Boston Celtics. Disregard all the excuses and the self-righteous indignation of pundits who would berate this organization for daring to have belief in the talent on this roster and not just immediately giving up and selling off parts for pennies on the dollar. None of that matters today. What matters is what this win meant to this region which was so let down and humiliated by the events of this offseason.

I’m not sure we’ll ever experience a game with these kind of circumstances again. Here the Cavs were, playing the Boston Celtics, the team who eliminated them from the playoffs last year and who consequently slammed the book shut on the LeBron James era in Cleveland. This was the first game in 7 years that LeBron James wasn’t on the roster. It was the first game in 13 years in which Zydrunas Ilgauskas wasn’t a part of the organization. Legendary radio announcer Joe Tait was in hospital awaiting heart surgery. An uneasy crowd, desperate to support the players left behind, but also unsure what to expect of the results. Arguably the best remaining player on the roster, Mo Williams, was sidelined for the game. And yes, the players were waiting to redeem themselves after listening to an offseason of nothing but doubters telling them that they weren’t good enough for LeBron James and that they were the reason he left. It was a perfect storm for everyone associated with this organization in any way, from fans to players, all the way up to the front office and ownership.

The Cavaliers were given an opportunity to deliver a very special gift to supporters of this franchise, and they answered the call in a major way. There were plenty of opportunities for this team to roll over and succumb to the Celtics. The team had built a 4 point lead late in the first half only to see the Celtics come storming back to close out the half, and eventually the Celtics took a one point lead into halftime. The Celtics came out much more focused to start the 2nd half, and their shots began to fall. Eventually they built an 11 point lead with 4:37 left in the 3rd quarter, and you could feel the air being sucked out of the arena at that point.

But the Cavaliers wouldn’t quit, and they fought and scrapped their way back into the game. The Cavaliers kept closing the gap to 1 point, but the Celtics would then come back and make a dagger shot to keep the Cavs at bay. Finally, with 8:30 left in the game and the Cavaliers trailing by 1, the Celtics’ Nate Robinson was called for a travel, and Robinson proceeded to go up for a layup anyway and in the process kicked Ryan Hollins in the groin. Robinson was called for the technical foul. Shaq had some words for the refs and was promptly T’d up himself. Gibson knocked in both free throws and on the resulting possession for the Cavaliers, Antawn Jamison hit one of his famous runners for his first points of the game to put the Cavaliers up 3. They would never give the lead back and they hung on to take home the win.

Again, we should be cautious to overstate what this win means in the big picture. This is not validation of this team as a legit playoff team, this doesn’t mean the Cavs are better off without LeBron James, this doesn’t mean the Cavaliers are better than the Heat (as much as I do enjoy the Cavs > Celtics > Heat equation), and this doesn’t mean the Cavaliers are in the same company as the Celtics. But none of that should matter for now. For today, we can all sit back, relax, keep a comfortable smile on our collective faces, and just enjoy the satisfaction of proving that life will go on in Cleveland with LeBron. The healing process has begun.

For those who may wonder what this does mean, big picture, it shows that this team is going to compete. As I’ve been saying all summer, there is still a culture of winning that persists throughout this franchise. These players are used to playing in big, meaningful games and they’re used to pulling out these kind of games in the 4th quarter. Sure, it used to be LeBron who carried the load, but last night the Cavaliers showed that they are unafraid to pick up that load as a team. The Celtics gave them everything they had in that 4th quarter and the Cavaliers simply dominated that game in the final minutes.

This team is going to go through a lot of growing pains and inconsistency problems. They are going to experience long stretches of bad basketball. JJ Hickson will give us some incredible games like he played last night, but he will have let down games as well. The Cavs are going to lose more basketball games than we’re used to in recent years. But this team is going to fight and they are going to give maximum effort. The fans are going to love much about this team. The fans who packed The Q last night were outstanding down the stretch. They may have been quiet and reserved a little early in the game, but that’s to be expected. Once they saw the effort this team plays with, they woke up and helped will this team to a win. As long as the fans in Cleveland stick with this team and continue to show up and support them, the Cavaliers are still going to have a strong home court advantage and they are capable of winning a lot of games at home.

I don’t know how this season will turn out. All I do know is that the effort we saw last night was exactly what I expected to see, and it validates the optimism we felt watching this team in the preseason. We haven’t even seen Mo Williams yet and Antawn Jamison looks completely detached from this team. Once those players come back to their expected norm, this team will be capable of playing even better. There is legitimate reason to have hope and to be optimistic about this team. There is reason for the fans to continue showing their support for this franchise. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves, though. For fans, we can just sit back and enjoy watching this season play out in front of us, no matter what the end result is. For today, a win without LeBron over a title contender like Boston is all we need to smile and feel good about our basketball team once again.

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(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

  • Biff

    Did Ryan Hollins just play out of his head last night or is he that good? Without his 16 minutes last night, the Cavs aren’t even in that game, let alone winning it.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    Hollins is a really nice fit for this offense. He’s not always going to play as solidly as he did last night, but he’s great at filling the lane and catching the ball on the move. His size and athleticism allow him to be a disruption. He’s never going to be a great player, but I absolutely believe he will have a solid role on this team.

  • ben

    A+ game for the Cavs. I don’t know if I want to read too much into it, but I will anyway b/c I love the hype:

    The Cavs will be better than anticipated this year. I’m giving the nod to Byron Scott for this.

  • stin4u

    “Sure, it used to be LeBron who carried the load, but last night the Cavaliers showed that they are unafraid to pick up that load as a team.”

    Exactly my thought, and ultimately I think this is something that held them back while Lebron was here.

  • http://www.cavstheblog.com Tsunami

    All the young players had huge games. That is very good for the future.

  • dr. cleveland

    As the game started last night, I was thinking to myself how ‘fun’ will this team be to watch?

    Answer, A LOT. I like the style of play and seeing guys like Boobie play hard. It’s going to be fun being the team with a chip on its shoulder and see guys play 110% to prove the MSM wrong.

    Win or lose. The Cavs are going to be a blast to watch.

    Now back to thinking about what sign I am taking to the game here in Philly next week.

  • Roosevelt

    There are a lot of mitigating factors. Boston was tired, the Cavs were pumped up. If I believed the NBA was fixed, I would think that last night was an example. Parker’s 3 was ridiculous, especially after review, and the double T was a little too perfect.

    That said, there was NO time when the Cavs were utterly dominated by the Celtics. If they can beat a tired Celtic team, they can beat any of the lesser teams in the NBA. They played one game. They won the game they played. And there are positive factors to consider, too. Mo sat. JJ looked good, but still only in spurts. There were still times when the offense stagnated. The Cavs showed that they still know how to slog out the last few minutes of a win. They showed that they can still play solid D. They showed that Andy isn’t only good next to Lebron. (They also showed that he can shoot the three… Although he can’t hit it yet. WTF?)

  • http://mrrklaw.com tsm

    I was very impressed with the response of the fans. We all seemed to enjoy the performance, rather than simply expect to win because we have the best player in the league. It was more joyful to watch the guys compete knowing that none of them are bigger than the team. Gilbert has learned his lesson, and I am sure we will never again see a player catered to,as was #6. In retrospect, this was his and the organization’s biggest mistake, enabling #6 and letting his ego grow ever larger.
    Regardless of record, it will be fun again to root for the guys.

  • Hamsterdam

    Dr. Cleveland, love the avatar.

    Jamison is garbage but what a NICE win. And yeah, I’d be really happy with 39 wins and an 8-seed. This win will help us get there.

  • swig

    82-0 !!!!

  • Biff

    Everyone on that team last night looked thrilled to be getting an opportunity to play serious minutes in front of 20,000 passionate fans, with two exceptions: 1) Jawad Williams looks like he doesn’t want to be here. His body language and his play were aweful. If that’s really the case, trade him or cut him and let him sign with Miami. This team is going to rely too much on chemistry and effort to allow a turd in the punchbowl: 2) Jamison is lethargic. I can’t decide if it’s because he’s washed up, because the Celtics are his kryptonite, or because he doensn’t want to be here. Either way, if he doesn’t elevate his game, he’s going to be stuck here. I also envision Leon Powe getting mighty tired of sitting for an also-ran. I expect at least two of those three guys to be gone by February.

  • stin4u

    BTW I don’t buy that Boston was tired at all….maybe if this was game 65 but these guys are conditioned professional athletes so in game two of the NBA season I’m not buying that we got a cheap win because they played the night before.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-6513-Cleveland-Sports-Examiner clevexaminer

    Anyone know why Steven Tyler was courtside last night? I know he’s from Boston, but didn’t think he traveled to see the Celtics. Dude is showing his age, just like the Celtics

  • MattC

    At the risk of sounding cliche, it was magical there last night. I’ve been to some great playoff games during the LeBron era, some of the famous Tribe playoff games, some big Browns games… never once have I felt an atmosphere like that.

    Everything was subdued at the start… the intro pyro/announcer, Scott’s “intro speech,” the lineups, etc. The fans were indeed cautiously engaged in the game during most of the first half… it was not disinterest, but pins and needles. No one knew what to expect. But man, did it come alive… the players and the fans just fed off each other like nothing I’ve seen, young guys stepped up, and Byron Scott striaght up outcoached Doc Rivers. For once, it seemed poetic sports justice was doled out with Cleveland on the winning side, beating the Celtics the night after they beat LeBron. It may not be the equivalent of fulfilling Gilbert’s Cavs ‘ship before LeBron’s ‘ship promise, but it really couldn’t have been any better.

    With all the usual caveats pointed out in the article in mind (this does not shoo them in for playoffs, doesn’t even necessarily mean they’re good, Celtics tired etc), I truly believe this game set the tone for the rest of the season… we start off getting blown out and I can only imagine the field day the pundits would be having. The team has something to believe in right off the bat, and I think that’s huge.

  • mike

    @7 (roosevelt) – if it was fixed, maybe the refs were on different “fixing” orders? how else to explain the phantom foul called against Sessions on Rondo’s drive at the end?!

  • mike

    tsm – definitely agree that the cavs organization contributed to lebron’s culture of enablement and fed his ego. but make no mistake that this has been going on since high school. (remember the toy hummer on the court incident?) at the end of the day, lebron’s departure was inevitable. regardless of whether or not the cavs had taken a firmer approach with him, i believe he was leaving.

  • 5KMD

    Consistency will be the key. Winning on opening night at home against boston is one thing, now win that game on the road in December against a lesser team. Young guys don’t already do that but as it’s been said above, this team has been through a lot the last several years and know how to win games.

  • The Other Tim

    I read one preview that predicted that we’d win 8 games.

  • St. McDuck

    Between this and Sunday’s win by our Brownies, it’s been a decent week for sports in Cleveland.
    Nobody deserves it more.

  • http://www.zfcomics.com dgriff13

    @Dr.cleveland hey, great to see another Philly-dwelling (transplanted?) Cleveland fan. Wish I could go to the Sixers-cavs game, but I’m sorta kinda… getting married the next day, LOL

    I do have tickets for the next game in Philly tho! 7th row, half court!

  • architrance

    “It was the first game in 13 years in which Zydrunas Ilgauskas wasn’t a part of the organization.”

    WRONG.

    I like how Pat Riley said Tuesday that the cHeat are still a “Work in progress.” Isnt that the main reason Dude left here?

    How strange was the feeling of rooting like hell for Boston Tuesday (after that bitter series this summer) then hoping upon hope we can overcome them on Weds? I gotta say, I don’t really hate the Celts at all anymore!

    Strange times.

  • MattyFos

    I sent this text to my friend last night…

    “This win was the second most exciting win for me as a Cavs fan, right behind #6′s game winning shot in the ECF against the Magic”

    This new team has me pumped and every time they win without #6 will make my day. I’m so proud of our ragtag group of “scorned lovers”.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    @architrance: Hah, fair enough. But it was a pretty safe assumption Z was coming back to Cleveland after the trade. He never wore another uniform, and I never counted him as really gone.

  • MattyFos

    @architrance

    My brother and I were talking about that last night.. I don’t hate the Bulls, Celtics, Lakers, Magic… I don’t hate any team anymore.. I think we (me and my brother) hated these teams because they would talk trash about #6 or having #6 on our roster and always having to defend our “other” players made me angry with EVERY OTHER TEAM IN THE NBA… Strange times indeed.

  • ClevelandSouth

    I was at the toy hummer game. LeBron dropped 50 points on Mentor (go Cards!) in the first half, then sat out the rest of the game. lol

  • Ike

    No slight to our players, they’re the ones who play, after all; but this win has “Byron Scott” written all over it. The guy has a history of getting less talented teams to scrap and play hard. That was exactly what I saw last night.

    Last night was a great night to be a Cavs fan..

  • deep13

    For some reason, this feels a lot like the ending of “We Are Marshall”. Just sayin’.

  • mgbode

    Past 3 seasons we have opened with the Celtics. This is our first win in those 3 games. LeBron is 0-3 in season opening games the past 3 seasons. Just saying.

    I could point out that the old, slow Celtics were playing the 2nd night of a back-to-back where their energy and focus was rightfully put on the first game vs. the hyped up Heat, so a letdown was just part of the process with them. However, the fact that we hung around all night and completely outclassed them in the 4th quarter should at least raise a bunch of eyebrows. It’s the first step towards ‘not’ hearing about LeBron everytime the Cavs are brought up.

    and, that’s the type of game we have to win if we are going to make a run at a division title. great job by the Cavs.

  • Fern

    @21 watching, I found myself thinking “freakin Paul Pierce I hate him!” but then I realized that I don’t actually hate him anymore, haha. It’s going to be weird to re-adjust feelings about rivalries this year. If the only reason other teams were passionate against us before was b/c of that one guy I’m not going to bother to hate them now. However if they made it about something else I will hate them even more. I’m lookin at you, Noah. Other than that though, I wonder what new rivals will emerge?

  • theherd10

    Well done. I could not have summed up my feelings any better than you did in writing this column. Like you said, this does not mean we are prime contenders to come out of the East, or that we are even going to repeat as Central Division champs. It was simply a “we’re going to be alright” game, and the Cavs and their fans needed it sooner rather than later. There was some kind of poetic justice that it came against the team that knocked us out of the playoffs just five months ago. When the final score was announced last night, I just smiled a very satisifed smile.

  • http://www.missionary-insights.blogspot.com tmac

    This regular season will be much more exciting than the last several seasons! The last several regular seasons were boring. We all new the Cavs would finish in first and we just wanted the playoffs to start!

    The fact is the only regular season games we remotely looked forward to was Orlando and Boston and perhaps LA. However, those games did not compare to last nights game. This should a fun regular season with the Cavs making the playoffs, and as a bonus we get to root for every team that plays Miami!

  • JM

    Byron Scott may very well be the face of this franchise now. They clearly buy into his system.

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