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.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)