About an hour west of Cleveland, Ohio exists the Millennium Force. Comprised of steal and dreams, it was the first roller coaster to exceed 300 feet in maximum height. Given it’s lakefront abode, it’s the kind of coaster that plasters bugs to the back of your throat if you choose to enjoy the thrills with your mouth agape; tears streaming across your temples is almost unavoidable. Adding to the excitement is the cable lift system that propels the train of cars up the hill at a speed exponential to that of standard chain lifts — the ascent is actually quicker than the descent of some of the older coasters in the park.
The first hill takes you up 310 feet before it drops you, at an 80-degree angle, all of 300 feet before rapidly taking you back up 182 more. The speed of the first drop is so sudden that you find yourself at the top of the second hill, your body catching up to your innards which are still attempting to catch up from the first drop. Typically, having your body shaken and stirred with such ferocity is not recommended. But when fastened to a seemingly frictionless pile of steel, getting a jaw-dropping view that allegedly stretches to Canada on a clear day – even if only for a second — adds aesthetic joy to the novelty attached to speed and thrill.
On opening night of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, it was Kyrie Irving, the reigning Rookie of the Year, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a victory with the help of his should-be All-Star center and this year’s freshman of focus, Dion Waiters. Morale was high, smiles were shared. Cavs head coach Byron Scott, notoriously a tough guy to please, stated that while his team still needed to improve a bit defensively, he was indeed happy with the overall performance of two young guards and a big man whom he couldn’t possibly appreciate at a higher level.
The city of Cleveland was walking on the clouds supplied by Hurricane Sandy. A 29-point effort from Irving was undoubtedly embraced, but it was the 17-point night from Dion Waiters, complete with clutch fourth-quarter shots, that started to turn a few heads. It was also this very night that forced some to throw some caution in to the wind, hoping to not place too high of expectations on a kid who had not started since his high school days.
Forty-eight hours later, the Wine and Gold rug was pulled out from underneath their collective feet — a 29-point loss to the Chicago Bulls, playing without former MVP Derek Rose, within the confines of their own home. The sudden fall from grace was dubbed a “wake-up call” by the head coach who had just watch his team struggle for an entire 48 minutes of play. Irving and Waiters combined to go 9-of-22. Though they fought hard one night later, combining for 40 points, complete with more heroics by Irving who had a spectacular fourth quarter and a game-tying lay-in with 0.7 seconds remaining, it was a buzzer-beating shot1 from the hand of Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings that sent the Cavaliers to a record of 1-2 before they could even bat an eye.
Fast forward to Monday night with the Cavaliers traveling across the country to take on the Los Angeles Clippers, and the young-gun backcourt is back on top of the world. Irving was not on his game from an efficiency standpoint, needing 23 shots to tally his 24 points, but it was a night of no-look passes, beating Chris Paul off of the dribble, and a step-back clutch three-pointer with time running out that sealed the Cavaliers’ seven-point stunner over the Clip Show. Following the three-ball, Irving had his arms outstretched, sought his backcourt mate in Waiters and the two met mid-air with a chest bump. After all, it was Waiters who had seemingly carried the Cavaliers, in only his fourth contest as a professional, draining sven of his 11 three-point attempts, finishing with a career-high 28 points.
The big men in the post, specifically Anderson Varejao and rookie Tyler Zeller, did the dirty work that allowed the backcourt – which continues to grow towards superstar status — chipped in the majority of the Cavalier points. It was this collective effort which continues to remind Cleveland fans that, regardless of how low the lows get (as seen against the Bulls), the highs are that much better; this backcourt duo of 20-year-olds continues to flash such brilliance that can only leave fans yearning for what could be during their respective peak athletic years.
ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz compared Irving and Waiters to Houston’s Jeremy Lin and James Harden stating that “what some might regard as a redundancy — two guys who both need the ball to be effective — is actually a luxury if the workload is divvied up strategically.” No longer can teams just focus on Irving as they did toward the end of his rookie season, double-teaming and trapping at the top of the key, forcing him to pass the ball to his supporting cast. As it stands today, this passing led to a season-high 10 assists and the defeat of a team that is expected to contend for an NBA championship come this summer.
On a six-game road trip, there are bound to be endless ups and downs, a microcosm of what the entire 2012-13 season will be in Cleveland. A team, expected to do little, still showing what it’s capable of on the right night — that clear-sky day at the top of the hill where you can seemingly see forever. That moment where your stomach has to catch up to your body as you spring out of your seat with each additional three-point field goal; the way you’re forced to pick your jaw up off of the floor with each no-look pass that results in two more.
Only time will tell how long Cleveland fans will get to enjoy this moment of zen as the Cavs head to Oakland to face the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. But even if the free fall is as sudden as the one experienced on Friday night, this Millennium Force will spring right back to the top, even if it has to take a few barrel rolls in the interim.