For all of the pre-game routines that NBA players plod through, it is the post-game rewind that keeps CJ Miles up at night. Following games, the Cavaliers swingman often stays awake until 4- or 5-o’clock in the morning, watching a replay of the recent game and then re-watching it in his mind, conjuring up the things he did right, but mostly criticizing himself for the things he could have done better. It’s something Miles has done since he was 14 or 15 years old, playing basketball inside the gym of his Dallas-area middle school. It flies smack in the face of most “how to” books regarding taking care of one’s body, but Miles has made it work — he finds other ways to compensate for the energy exerted in a given night and is willing to bend his routine in the event of back-to-back games.
For a player who maintains this level of headiness, Wednesday night’s loss to the Miami Heat was going to be that much worse. Where many of his teammates would throw on various levels of apparel that insinuated they would be going out for a bit before heading home, Miles sauntered from the shower and put on a simple pair of sweatpants and a crewneck Cavs sweatshirt — he was going to be thinking long and hard, why not be comfortable while doing it? It was, after all, Miles who took the final shot in would be a three-point loss; his team had been up by 27 at one point in the second half and his range was a main ingredient.
“It went exactly as planned,” said Miles of his failed buzzer-beating three-pointer. “I envisioned it four times before it happened. The exact spot I’d catch the ball, one or two dribbles, the spot I was going to shoot it. It felt good. I thought I hit it. Inside back rim…”
Miles drifting off was nothing short of requisite. Every player in the Cavaliers’ locker room following the loss spoke in tones which reflected how defeated they were internally. Luke Walton spoke of how important this win would have been — not just being a win over the Goliath Miami Heat, but one which could have provided a true “David” moment what with the injury-ridden Cavaliers toppling the giant in the throws of their juggernaut run through the rest of the National Basketball Association. Daniel Gibson spoke solemnly, saying that there were no excuses; the Cavaliers played the game the right way for the bulk of the action so to have no reward for their hard work “hurt.”
But where the Cavaliers have found themselves in this place many times this season1, Miles said that there was no common denominator with this game. It was different, if not bordering on bizzare.
From the opening tip, which was delayed over half an hour due to a carbon dioxide-leaking Q Tube, to the way Miami’s LeBron James stood alone, statuesque at midcourt while the Cavaliers were being introduced. From the way the Cavaliers — a motley crue of a starting five — built a roof-raising lead against the NBA’s best to the way they let it slip away with a barrage of turnovers, sloppy shot attempts and on-heel defense. The missed late-game three-pointer from Wayne Ellington that led to a questionable-at-best out-of-bounds call that was reviewed and given to the Heat with only one point separating the two teams. From the way that there was a hard-lined dichotomy of fans; some booing James the second he touched the ball, others giving mini standing ovations each time he scored. Near the Heat bench, as James removed his warm-ups and tightened his shoes2, countless fans attempted to get James’ attention by claiming their affinity to Akron.
Then there was the fan, the man named James Blair who is now known as the guy who ran onto the floor during the middle of play, promptly ushered out by Heat and Quicken Loans Arena security, but not before his message rang loud and clear — a hand-made t-shirt with the words “We Miss You” draped across the front. Though he would go on to spend the evening in jail, Blair’s actions have blown up the NBA world, adding fire to the narrative-fueled speculation surrounding James’ 2014 free agency. Typically, when fans enter the field of play, they’re ignored by the league and media partners. Blair, however, appears to be the exception especially since he was greeted by James with a pat on the head prior to his dismissal.
And where James was quickly ushered off of the court two years ago, taken out of the arena through the back hallway of The Q, he greeted waiting fans following Wednesday night’ game, signing autographs for dozens of children, leaving plenty of goodwill in his wake.
Capping things off, Dan Gilbert used James’ name in a tweet, the first such a move since July of 2010.
Wednesday night’s festivities undoubtedly leave plenty to ponder. Should Byron Scott have used timeouts more effectively? Should he have played center Tyler Zeller more even when the Heat had decided to utilize a small lineup in their comeback attempt? Should Chris Quinn have gotten any run at all with Shaun Livingston being forced to play 37 minutes? Does the Q Tube need additional repairs? Are Dan Gilbert and James mending fences?
Miles stated that the team’s collapse was not due to a lack of effort as some previous defeats have been. The fact that Scott entrusted in him to take the final shot, something previously earmarked for Kyrie Irving and Kyrie Irving alone, bodes well for the coach’s confidence in the recently-turned 26-year old. But just as Miles had run that last-second three-point attempt through his head four or five times before he let it fly, he too will be left wondering what he could do better to help his team achieve that ultimate goal. Lost sleep, be damned.
For now, the Cavs and Cavalier fans are left wondering what-if, but with all of the olive branches and bizzaro world occurances on this very evening, what, exactly, will be?
(Photos by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images; Tony Dejak Associated Press)