As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last three years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from 10 to one. Just missing this year’s cut were the Dan Gilbert/Chris Paul trade reaction, the Ohio State Basketball Seniors getting their diplomas on the same day they thrashed George Mason in round two of the NCAA tournament, and the Browns actually winning on a goal-line stand against Jacksonville.
No. 9 – The Cleveland Cavaliers top several opponents against whom they were given little chance
If the overriding narrative of the 2010-11 season didn’t involve one LeBron James as the antagonist, the arch enemy of the Wine and Gold was indeed tally marks in the win column. Dropping a professional sports record 26-game losing streak, it’s easy to see how a team could become national news rooted in futility.
Found in the muck and misery, however, were a few diamonds. These shining moments were not exactly bright in the context of the entire season – one which would result in the second-worst record in all the land – but their timing coupled with their opponents certainly provided Clevelanders with fuel for euphoria, regardless of how ephemeral it all may have been.
It all began with opening night: a nationally-televised contest where the downtrodden and left-for-dead Cavaliers would be forced to commence their season against the Goliath Boston Celtics. It followed months of mourning and countless questions surrounding a player who was not a part of the contest, but huge nights from JJ Hickson’s, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions would be enough to cast the shadow aside for one night.
Our own Rock put it best, perhaps in a theme that could carry on throughout this entire rehash of what last season’s Cavaliers team provided the city of Cleveland.
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.
This was about us. Us as a city, us as a team. I’m never one to refer to cleveland teams as “mine,” but last season, one couldn’t help but feel as if they were a part of this ride, regardless of how vicarious it all may have been. And yes, this win wasn’t exactly in 2011, but it did set the stage for several more unsuspecting wins, as few and far between as they may have been.
In what was mid-to-late November, the wheels slowly began to crumble off of the axle. Once the calendar tuned to December, the entire bus moved into combustion mode, crowned by the infamous loss to the Miami Heat which would be followed up by an encore performance, a 30-plus point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves – the lone team to finish the season worse off than the Cavaliers.
And while there would be an epic losing streak waiting on the other side, the Wine and Gold welcomed the New York Knicks – one of the other recipients of a high-priced free agent n Amar’e Stoudemire – to Cleveland where they would be handed a loss vis a vis overtime and a huge night from point guard Mo Williams, a man not exactly known for his play in larger-scale contests. The Cavaliers would not again call themselves victors through the duration of December. Or all of January.
But in mid-February, the Los Angeles Clippers game to town on a Friday evening, boasting one of the most exciting big men in the game, once again leading to play beyond four quarters of regulation. Following a relatively large effort from an injured Williams and a all-around beastly effort from Hickson (including the block heard ’round the world), this young Cavs fan got do do this.
The streak, at long last, was over.
This win would start a trend of considerable confusion. This Cavaliers team, which arguably wasn’t as bad as this losing streak and subsequent record would indicate, started winning games. More games, most of which were against teams which they had no chance in beating.
The Los Angeles Lakers came to town and the embarrassing loss which they handed to Cleveland in the Staples Center was still fresh in many of minds. Plus, the two most recent wins that the Cavs had managed to muster to this point were in overtime. Regardless, this team took a closer’s mentality to the hardwood and stifled the World Champions in front of a sold out crowd, taking the team’s win total (finally) to double figures.
Long after the game was over and the bulk of the local media had cleared out of the locker room – they have deadlines, you know – Antawn Jamison sat in the ergonomic chair immediately outside of his locker, leaned back, stretched his legs out, put his hands behind his head and smiled. […]
Time and time again, Jamison was forced to address the media to discuss the happenings of the most recent 48 minutes of basketball. And time and time again, Jamison stressed the importance of playing for a full game, giving 100 percent effort, eliminating stupid mistakes and being consistent. On this night, the Cavs easily checked “all of the above” as they outworked the traveling Lakers from opening tip to the final whistle, avenging the notorious 55-point loss which had occurred just one month prior.
Ramon Sessions poured in 32 points to go with his eight dimes, Jamison came one point shy of a 20 and 10 night. Oh, and Christian Eyenga provided the highlight dunk on Pau Gasol, one that is still replayed to this day and can be found in the 2011-12 team pre-game introductory video.
Thankfully, on this night, Cleveland could carry their contentment through the All-Star break as this would be the on-paper end to a tumultuous first half.
The Knicks would soon return to Cleveland, this time with their shiny new toy in Carmelo Anthony who would join up with the free agent acquisition Stoudemire to provide an East Coast version of what had taken place near Biscayne Bay.
Once again led by Sessions, Hickson and Jamison, the Wine and Gold shocked the NBA world by winning their third contest in five games, yet another victory against a team expected to contend for the Larry O’Brien come season’s end.
This evening, if anything, was the trope of all things regarding JJ Hickson and his suitcase full of frustration; though the power forward would provide 24 points, 15 rebounds and five (5!!) blocked shots against the vaunted apostrophied one, he would be coming off of a contest that saw him amass just four points and three rebounds against the Rockets. He would ultimately sandwich this win over the Knicks with a 7-of-18 night against the equally woeful Washington Wizards.
That said, if one thing was evident in 2010-11, the Cavaliers had the Knicks’ number, regardless of who they wanted to add to their roster in the leading days. It would be just two weeks later that the Cavs, with Baron Davis, would travel to Madison Square Garden to take yet another game from the ever-entitled ones.
And finally, the game. The retribution, if only for one night. The win of all (or few) wins. The one where the final score glowed loud and proud: Cleveland 102, Miami 90.
Almost as a stark contrast to the wins described above, this one game from a few unsuspecting heroes: Baron Davis, Ryan Hollins and Anthony Parker.
Instead of former teammates Jawad Williams and Anderson Varejao giving way to an embarrassment of riches, Cleveland needed half-court alley-oops from Baron Davis to Alonzo Gee; blocked shots and two-hand finishes from Ryan Hollins.
Maybe the environment within The Q needed to be a bit different. With considerably less negative energy permeating from the wine-colored seats, the overall reception was not as raucous as it was on December 2 when the Cavaliers were dealt one of their more crushing, effortless defeats of the season.
Rather than providing Williams, Joey Graham and Jamario Moon with 47 combined minutes at the wing, Byron Scott needed to go with the undersized yet (somehow) effective Anthony Parker, who would surprise even the most delusional of Cavalier fans by finishing with 20 points (on 1.000 eFG%) and seven rebounds in 29 minutes of hard-nosed, determined play. Compared to settling for mid-range jump shots, the Cavs were apparently better off attacking the rim and getting 22 combined free throw attempts from their starting frontcourt alone.
Piling on, Ryan Hollins has never taken more than 10 free throws in a single game in his entire career. He had also never played 36 minutes in a contest. On this night, he made it to the line 12 times and led the team in playing time with 36 minutes and 24 seconds; he also exchanged words with Dwyane Wade, drawing a technical foul and a “get out of jail free” card from all in attendance.
Miraculously, Hollins finished the night +33 in terms of point differential. Chris Bosh was -24.
It would only be the team’s 14th win of the season, one that occurred in late-March. Typically, this would be a development dripping with depression. But not this time, not this night. Surely, winning the first game against the Heat – on national television with the world on Cleveland’s side -would have been the ultimate storybook game, but this one would not be a terrible consolation.
It would set the stage for a 4-and-5 finish to the season, spearheading excitement as the team would head into the NBA Draft, landing two players who will ultimately set the stage for the future of this team. As we look back at 2011 and turn the page into the New Era, we will gladly look back at the transition season, sigh when we hear of the losing streak, but opt for ear-to-ear when thinking about these wins.