#Cavs Determination and Fight Should Be Celebrated

In a season filled with lows and highs, the final take on the 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers basketball season should be a celebration of their determination and fight. Many story lines dotted the Cleveland landscape before, during, and after the season. The media stuffed them with negativity, innuendo, speculation, unnamed “sources”, and sensationalism. The majority involved the head coach and his star player but these primarily negative narratives slowly bled the life out of the most successful season in the 44+ year history of the Cavaliers. Whether the fans and media are willing to admit it or not, there was a constant din of noise that detracted from what was going on right before their eyes. Neither group was totally focused on the magic of a severely undermanned, tired but determined group of men trying to write their own history instead of succumbing to the downdraft of unnamed sources and a now superior fully healthy team in the midst of a nearly unblemished season.
As annoying as it was, objectively there is no reason to bemoan the press or the distracted fans. The media has a job to do and, as Cavs GM David Griffin recently said, “sensational sells”.Gilbert and Eastern Conference champs

A picture of this Cavalier season could be painted on many canvases with many colors. If the story is told from the end of last season, it was all started by another stunning NBA draft lottery pilfering of the first overall pick. Cleveland had a nearly perfect off season that witnessed the return of LeBron James, the signing of Kyrie Irving, and the trade for Kevin Love. Telling it from the first game of the season, it was a spectacle of hype followed by the drama of a disappointing loss to one of the NBA’s worst teams. The storybook off season was marred by early failure, weaknesses exposed, and the growing pains of a team trying to understand each other and their first year coach. The unforgiving reality of the NBA was thrust in front of all of us and the team. That reality was shrouded in dark grey and sometimes black. Purple hew emerged with the cranky backs of Kevin Love and LeBron James and LeBron’s angry knee. Wins were difficult to come by, especially when LeBron went down, and the resulting 19-20 record was hard to stomach.

Retrospectively, that dark period during this Cavs season is best characterized by unyielding impatience when unyielding patience was required. LeBron James is frequently quoted that having patience is very difficult for him. As with the end of the season, the early season reflected LeBron James leadership. His teammates mirrored his lack of patience. Kyrie Irving trying to find a way to be a “side kick” instead of a solo blossoming superstar. Kevin Love trying to carve his initials in a LeBron/Kyrie dominated offense where he was asked to catch and shoot threes more than dominate the paint. The media was struggling to explain the deficiencies and looked to the strain between the star and his coach instead of the lack of roster “fit”, the team impatience, and the injuries to LeBron and Andy Varejao that led to the unexpected losses. Was there any factual reason to believe that LeBron’s impatience was all directed at a “deficient” coach rather than the greatest challenge he had ever faced in the NBA, his own health? It is doubtful that Blatt was ever his most pressing concern. The resistance or inability of Dion Waiters to fill the needed three point threat. The inability of Love and Kyrie to define their play by what was best for the team. LeBron’s inability to play effectively through his injuries. And LeBron’s most trusted teammate being lost for the season probably were the key reasons why LeBron was sulking and dissatisfied. As it is with many parents, Coach Blatt was simply at the receiving end of that impatience and fleeting fear that James may have made a mistake “Coming Home.”

It is captivating that LeBron foretold all of this in his letter but, when faced with the reality he predicted, he showed signs of lack of trust in his team and his coach. The most clear reasons he could have been taken aback and reacted poorly in a situation he himself predicted were his physical inability to play at a high level and the loss of Andy. Once LeBron returned to the court with near full ability and had faced the sad reality of Andy being lost, both he and the Cavaliers took off at a dizzying trajectory. Of course, everyone knows that the reason for that upward dizzying trajectory was only partly based on LeBron’s return to health and improved patience. The explosion of the Cavs needed a dollop of dark blue, light blue, yellow and white. It seemed that the blue from the Knicks and Nuggets represented blue skies ahead for Cleveland. In two rapid fire stunning trades, David Griffin shot nearly all the bullets he had to create a fit on the Cavs roster they sorely needed. His ability to use Dion Waiters (who couldn’t or wouldn’t fit), a second round draft choice and two first round draft choices to capture Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and Timofey Mozgov saved the Cavs season.

Once all became healthy, Cleveland went on a run that showed no signs of stopping. They won 14 out of 15 games against the vaunted Western Conference and it didn’t matter where the games were played. At home the Cavaliers were virtually unbeatable and on the road nearly so. Everyone who wished the team success was praying that Cleveland would enter the playoffs healthy. And they did. Maybe the Cleveland “Curse” would finally end. In my view, despite the almost unblemished season of the Golden State Warriors, it appeared the Cleveland Cavaliers entered the playoffs with the best team. I think the results going forward in the playoffs clearly verified that view to be correct. If healthy, Cleveland was the best team with the best player. And, only basing their opinions objectively, Las Vegas agreed sans their stubborn clinging to the Warriors as the favorites. As it turned out, Las Vegas was correct again because the magical health that had followed the Warriors all year continued through the entire playoffs. In fact, they were getting minor injured players back by the time the Finals began.

After the playoffs started, new colors were added to the Cavalier canvas, black and blue. By game number two in Boston, the Cavs second best player would be hobbled by a foot injury. Irving continued playing but was clearly not himself. He tried to compensate and the knee on the other leg began to fail him. The tendonitis would vex him until his final game, game one in the Finals, and culminated in a freak fracture to the same kneecap covered by that balky tendon. Remarkably, the injuries were unrelated but the results just as devastating, rapid surgery and gone until next season. Kevin Love had already preceded Kyrie to the operating room with an almost unheard of ripping out of his left shoulder from it’s socket by a wide eyed Kelly Olynyk responding to the admonishment of his coach to do “whatever necessary” to not allow another offensive rebound by Cleveland. He certainly didn’t try to dislocate a shoulder, but this picture says all you need to know about him not performing a basketball play. Kevin Love getting arm ripped out

So there it was…………. Kevin Love out for the season because of a freak play that no one has ever seen previously and, I would bet, will never be seen again. And Kyrie Irving suffering a fractured kneecap after weeks of tortured play from two other separate injuries. The Cavaliers, despite losing their second and third best players, found a way to do what no other team had ever done when that has happened. Make it to the NBA Finals. They did it because of the historic play of the best player in the game and the determination and toughness of the team that reflected his championship drive. So, in the end, the team still was a reflection of LeBron James. Only this time it wasn’t duplicating his lack of patience. This time it was honoring his unquenchable desire to bring a championship to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Whether that desire is grounded in the honest emotion of bringing joy to a sports starved community void of a championship in over 50 years or a desire to put a stamp on his legacy that can never be exceeded is irrelevant. What mattered was what was on display for all to see. A team that wouldn’t be stopped despite the odds historically stacked against them. Whether James called his own number on an out of bounds play to win a critical game in Chicago or shook his head at Blatt to change another play Blatt had designed is monumentally miniscule compared to the drive and focus needed for the Cavs to take the NBA Finals to a game 6.

It took two more colors to finish off the painting of Cleveland’s season. One was purple that represented all the players that earned purple hearts by playing through and with painful injuries during most of the playoffs. The other was red signifying all of the courage necessary to face those historically bad odds and NBA’s most fortunate and best team in the Finals. Then making them sweat to the last basket. You can package the negative narratives and send them all to Siberia for the winter. The performance of this Cavalier team should allow Cleveland fans to stick out their chests and strut. Be proud if you were “ALL IN”. The Cleveland Cavaliers have a bright future.

#Cavs Can Conquer Challenges – Win NBA Title

The Cleveland Cavaliers are back in their original position before this series began. They have no chance. Despite basically controlling the first three games completely with Golden State rarely having the lead and the fact that the Warriors were ¾ inch short of being behind 3-0, the Cavs can’t possibly have an answer for the Warriors brilliant move of going small in game 4.

When you parse all of this out, it simply means that the major media and pundits now can return to the narrative that was written before the Finals began. LeBron James was being replaced by Steph Curry as the face of the league. The already crowned Warriors would take their rightful place as NBA champs. The scrappy and outmanned Cleveland team were just that, inferior mosquitos simply making GS uncomfortable before they were inevitably squashed. And anyway, the opponent was from Cleveland who has a curse and can’t possibly beat a team from the vaunted Bay Area.

The reality is that the Cleveland Cavaliers were the better team through the majority of the three games preceding game 4 even without their All Star point guard and power forward. They controlled the tempo. They controlled the score. They were barely an inch short on Shumpert’s put back that would have turned the narrative around. The interesting thing is that this narrative might have been written similarly even if the Cavaliers still had their two injured All Stars playing. Amazingly, the Warriors would still be considered the better team and prohibitive favorites. So, for all of those people drinking the elixir of the magical narrative that is the Golden State Warriors, reality might creep into your dream so be prepared.

I saw nothing in the first four games to change my belief that the Cavaliers are the better team at handling adversity and overcoming challenges. Golden State did win a desperate game that they had to have, so I give them props for that. They finally manned up and came out swinging. They made an adjustment that did cause some difficulty temporarily and enough to finally get a lead. Big leads allow the Warrior role players to play free and gives Curry (who didn’t have a particularly good game) and Thompson the freedom to let the game come to them. When that occurs, the advantage shifts to the Warrior game of up tempo, pass and shoot basketball and they look “cute and pretty” as LeBron indirectly and mockingly called them.

With the way the Cavaliers came storming back in the third quarter after just a halftime to adjust only to “burn out” in the fourth, does anyone honestly think that the Cavs have no answer to that strategy? I think the reality is that the Cavalier coaching staff and players already have an answer but didn’t have the energy to pull off the comeback playing their third game in 5 nights. That scenario will not play out again in these Finals. If this goes to a game 7, it will be the third game in 6 nights. That is a major difference and a game 7 is always unpredictable anyway. Of course, the Cavs plan is to finish this off in 6 games and that plan just might have some legs.

It was very clear before game 4 that the Warriors might be a desperate team. They kept saying over and over that they had to play harder. They knew their backs were against the wall. At NO TIME before that game did the Warriors play like or act like they had to play hard to win the NBA Finals. They clearly believed in their press clippings and allowed the Cavaliers to basically control three games, almost to lose them all.

Now that the “brilliant” move of going small has made them prohibitive favorites again, I doubt you see a desperate Warriors team tonight. They now view this as simply the Memphis series and will discount the fact that Tony Allen did happen to get injured in that series, creating a huge gap in the Memphis defense. Tonight the Cavs will be the desperate team not wanting the series to go seven games. The only way to make that happen is to win tonight.

This NBA Finals will not be won or lost simply on strategy or whether Curry and Thompson might “go off” together, or whether JR Smith might find his stroke just in time to torpedo the Warriors in one game, or whether LeBron will score 50. It will be won by the team with the most heart and determination to win. The Cavaliers proved that their strategy was good enough to virtually control 3 games. The Warriors proved that, if desperate, they could finish one off with a strong fourth quarter. How game 5 will go is anyone’s guess. But I think the least likely scenario is a repeat of game 4. I don’t think that being on the road has any effect on the Cavaliers. They were one 10 foot put back away from winning in regulation in game one. Without a furious fourth quarter comeback, game 2 would have been put away easily by the Cavs. It wasn’t, and that might be the only pause for Cleveland fans about that game and the series.

The Cavaliers must find a way to control the game and the tempo as they did in the first three games. They have a player called LeBron James that has a proven capability to do just that. It seems that the Cavaliers would have a problem coming back from way down to win, even though it is possible if they have the energy. So the Warrior role players need to be contested “slightly” to make the game less likely to get out of control. They shot for an uncharacteristically high percentage and did so on some completely uncontested shots. The Cavs have revealed their strategy pretty clearly as they are absolutely happy to have Green and Iguodala crank up shots and threes keeping the ball out of Curry’s and Thompson’s hands. However, they need to contest them slightly and not let them shoot like they are in warmups. So, if the Warriors rely on the exact same strategy as last game, the result could be quite different as long as the Cavs adjust.

Obviously game 5 is a key game and could be the turning point in the series. For the Warriors, they feel that they have already had their “turning point” game. For the Cavaliers, they see game 5 that way. As I said, the Finals will be won by the team with the most heart and determination to win. For tonight, I give that advantage to the Cavs and I think the Cavs “break them” in game 6 as they did every other team in these playoffs. No one other than Cleveland’s fantastic fans expect them to win. A few stragglers in the media persist but they are the vast minority.

I absolutely believe that not one Warrior player has any fleeting thought that they can lose this series. I also fervently hope that every Cleveland player knows they will lose if they don’t play every second to win. That is the Cleveland Cavalier’s unquestioned edge in a tight series. I think I am right. I still have Cavs in six.

#Cavs Coming Together As A Team Just In Time

With all the media focus on manufacturing fissures in the team between Blatt and LeBron, the real story has been lost in the sandstorm of silliness. The story is one of a team, combining experienced veterans with young playoff neophytes, that has grown through adversity and trial by fire. The growth of the team is manifest in their ability to oust a far more experienced team in six games despite many injuries and even a two game suspension for one of the starters. That growth was further evident in their ability to dominate the Bulls in a clinching game on their home court while Kyrie Irving sat out with an injury for most of the game. The post game interview room where Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellevadova flanked LeBron James was a visual image of the transformation of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The transformation was started when David Griffin had the vision to spend every chip he inherited from Chris Grant and created on his own to retool this Cleveland team with pieces that “fit” and that balanced the team. It has progressed with this difficult playoff run where the team has been reduced to a MASH unit starting with game 2 against Boston and continuing to worsen until game 6 against Chicago.

Every single thread of that “fit” is needed as the injuries mount and the competition stiffens. Kyrie Irving declared to all of us on multiple occasions that this team is the closest team he has ever played with. I kind of shrugged that off because I knew an irritant to Kyrie (Dion) was gone and that this team was winning and his other pro teams did not. Often that translates to a closer team that develops chemistry. Whether or not I was right to shrug it off earlier in the year is uncertain, but for me to ignore that now would be a sign of blindness. The Cavs are a team growing closer by the minute and their belief in each other is clear for all to see. The most obvious evidence was the way they embraced Dellavedova when he entered the locker room after the game 6 dismantling of Chicago. But to me the most telling sign is the way LeBron has changed his tune when he talks about the team. The passion in his voice as he explained the importance to the team of both Thompson and Dellavedova spoke volumes about where the team had been and where it was headed.

Even though LeBron has stopped a bit short of saying it with conviction thus far, clearly he now believes in this team and believes in their growth. He feels that the young players who had not been playoff tested are responding well and showing no signs of “wilting” in the moment. LeBron is not that hard to read in this regard. It was clear in the 2 final years during his first run with Cleveland that he did not have that confidence in the team or his teammates. He believed, and said as much later, that they HAD wilted in the playoff light. Without question they were a great regular season team, but not a great playoff team. For that matter, LeBron himself had a great deal of growing to do in that regard even though he had some spectacular playoff games in those earlier years.

This team is clearly different as the lights have turned on. Shumpert is playing some of the best basketball of his career despite a groin pull that has certainly not fully healed. Kyrie Irving is pretty severely hampered by a multitude of injuries and yet has contributed to the wins, sometimes in a big way. JR Smith, despite a suspension, has come up huge with three point shooting during quarters 3 and 4 of the final two games against Chicago. Without his shooting, the final spectacular shot that LeBron made in game 4 would never have happened. That game would have been over long before.

Timofey Mozgov has been a bit spotty in his play but made a huge contribution in game 4 as well to give us a chance to win and is blocking shots at a near record pace. Tristan Thompson has been nothing short of amazing after taking over the starting power forward position from the injured Kevin Love. His energy and offensive rebounds have made him a dominant force in these playoffs and no one can question his immense value to the team. Delly has shown that, under pressure, he can perform even better than he did during the regular season. His 3 point shooting has been solid, he is protecting the ball well, and continues to be an enormous pest on defense to anyone he guards. Aaron Brooks was basically made a nonfactor in the Chicago series, primarily a tribute to Delly’s tenacity. And who can deny the importance of the 3 point shooting of James Jones? Although his points have not been overwhelming, his timing of those points has been critical for the Cavs success. And Kevin Love, before his untimely departure, had just delivered a dagger 3 point shot to put away Boston in a game.

Finally, the team has battled defensively to produce the best field goal percentage against statistic of any team left in the playoffs. That is partly a reflection of the teams they have played, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the Cavalier defense has been solid throughout. Mozgov’s rim protection has been second to none in the playoffs, and the Cavs are swatting shots away like flies on a hot summer day. Cleveland has some elite defenders (LeBron/Shumpert) on the floor much of the time and other competent and pesky defenders (Thompson/Dellavedova/Smith) to complement.

The team’s toughness has been tested and Cleveland has passed the test at every turn. Thompson jumping up after a fall on his shoulder that would have sidelined most players and Shumpert playing like a monster after a cheap close line attempt by Mirotic. Kyrie playing basically on one leg since early in the Boston series and “playing on one leg” is now even an exaggeration of his health given the current state of his formerly “uninjured” leg. Shumpert has continued to be an elite or near elite defender despite a groin pull that primarily saps a player’s ability to laterally move and defend. Cleveland’s depleted bench basically outplayed the vaunted “depth” of the Chicago Bulls that so many pointed to as the difference in that series.

When the roster and each player in the rotation is judged thus far, there is not one who isn’t stepping up in these playoffs. One could point to Perkins, Miller, and Marion but they have played so little as a group that it is hard to even count them as a part of these playoffs. Their time may yet come but it is unfair to judge them at this point. It should be quite obvious to anyone who objectively measures these playoffs that the Cleveland Cavalier players AND coaches have stepped up big time when it has counted most leading to an 8-2 record in these playoffs. Yet, despite this record and despite the grit and determination shown by this team, they will be discounted by the pundits and picked to lose against the Hawks. Las Vegas will have no such bias and may look at the series differently, but that is what you will hear from the “experts” on TV and radio.

Disregarding the naysayers is very difficult for Cleveland fans. They have been kicked around so much it is kind of like the horrific “battered wife” syndrome that sadly occurs in society. But it is important for Cavs fans to look at the facts that their team is VERY hard to beat. They have the best player in every series (and would have the second best player in most except for injury) and a team that is stepping up to the challenge and not wilting under the playoff pressure. This team is NOW vastly better than the sum of it’s parts. It is developing the togetherness and toughness needed for a champion. Again, there is no guarantee that they win the Eastern Conference or the NBA Championship. But make no mistake about it, they are developing the identity of champions! Cleveland should celebrate that during this next series and hopefully beyond. In case you forget how Ohio teams can be so easily disregarded, think of the 2014/15 Ohio State Buckeye football team. They had repeated injuries to the most important position on the field and came out National Champions. They were discounted at every turn as inferior to the competition. They won. It can happen again. Hold on!!

The Weird World of Cleveland Sports


From my many years of following Cleveland professional sports I could probably write a book about the strangeness of being a fan. Well this is a blog and not a publishing site so I have no intention of writing that book. But with the Browns owner Jimmy Haslam currently scrambling for cover, I found my mind wandering to some of the stranger things. Don’t worry. This is not going to be a replay of the “Drive” or “Fumble” or any other tale of woe for championships lost.

Let’s go back to the earliest days of free agency in baseball. The Indians made one of the biggest splashes, if not the biggest splash, as they signed the young 26 year old Ace pitcher of the Baltimore Orioles, Wayne Garland. In 1976 he was 20-7 with a brilliant 2.67 ERA. The Indians signed him and he pitched all year in 1977 ending up with a 13-19 record and a respectable 3.60 ERA. But he didn’t look right and he wasn’t. The Indians signed him to the richest contract in the history of baseball and he was injured from that point forward. Pitching until 1981 for the Tribe, he never won more than 6 games and never had an ERA under 4.61. Most ERAs were way over 5 and in the year he was diagnosed with the injury it was 7.89. He NEVER had a winning record for the Indians. That contract stifled the finances of the team for years and probably stopped the team from signing any other worthy top free agents from then on for fear of history repeating itself. I remember how excited I was when the team announced the signing. I remember how mad I was for the next 5 years. Question: Would that have ever happened to the Yankees?

The Cavaliers had the tremendous luck of winning the lottery when LeBron James came out. Sounds great right? Well it was in a way. We had winning teams and went once to the NBA finals. But we still never won a championship. That is not what I find odd. I do find it odd that we hired a coach, Byron Scott, to finally give LeBron the direction he needed. Make no mistake about it, the team never really planned for what happened. From the very start they were convinced James would be back. Scott, like a good soldier, said all the right things. He told all of us he wanted to be here and he did not take the job because of the prospect of coaching James. After the decision, it was clear that the team would have to cave to the bottom in order to have a chance to rise back to the top. And it was clear that they would have to lose for multiple seasons. Well, they accomplished that masterfully and then Scott is fired because of the pathetic team play and poor defense. So he is gone and now the team has to hire another coach. So who is the current top candidate to replace Scott? The very coach they fired to hire Scott and who was fired by another team in between. Wow. Who could have written that story? Now this is not to argue the merits of Mike Brown as a “return” coach. I will do that later. But it is just so strange to contemplate and I doubt there is any similar precedent in the history of the NBA. Question: Do you think the Celtics would follow a similar path?

No one can question the historic importance of the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. They are one of the most iconic franchises and have one of the most widespread and largest fan bases in the league. And yet, they were wrenched from Cleveland with disregard by an owner who couldn’t handle his finances and a league that was happy to oblige in their quest to extort cities into building new stadiums. Cleveland became the example that any team can leave if the city does not comply with the NFL’s need to modernize their stadiums. So we get a new team and the league makes the franchise suffer through a poor franchise deal because some previous new teams had “too much success” early in their existence. They get a new owner who wanted, in some sense, to make amends for his part in the departure of the Browns. He had the means and the determination to bring the Browns back to prominence. Then he died. Then his son inherits the team and doesn’t really want the team and goes through multiple management “groups”, none of which work. He hires a respected football man who was known for his ability to find and develop quarterbacks. He never found a quarterback (not even close) and was fired because the owner decided to sell the team without him having a clue it was happening. The new owner had a squeaky clean history with a successful family business over 50 years old. He comes in. Says all the right things (except for candidly). He is enthusiastic, energetic, and promises to do things the right way. He hires a curmudgeon (check the dictionary) and rehires one of the most distasteful front office types from our past. He leaves the Browns. Goes back to the parent company because he “forgot how much he loved it”. We find out later that the real reason might have been the hint of the coming Armageddon from the FBI. We suspected all along that the reasons were kind of weird when he returned abruptly. And now, instead of focusing as we should on the upcoming draft, we are hearing a Jimmy Haslam press conference every other day. He discusses the trials and tribulations of Pilot Flying J, a company we all could have cared less about 10 months ago and never mentions the Browns. WOW WOW !! Who could have written that script? Oh, and I almost forgot, the team who he LEFT as a part owner was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Question: Would this story have even a ghost of a chance of happening in Pittsburgh?

So, maybe Cleveland isn’t jinxed. Maybe Cleveland isn’t unlucky. But it sure is STRANGE how things happen in Cleveland Sports. As all of you know, there are many more stories I could have covered tonight. At times like this I kind of feel like I am in the Twilight Zone and hope the show will eventually end. It never does. Maybe Cleveland Sports is a combination of Groundhog Day in the Twilight Zone? Can I change the channel?