“All In” Is Easy. True Belief Is Not. A #Cavs Perspective

I really liked the Cavs slogan last year as we moved into the playoffs. “All In” signified that the Cavs management, the players, the coaching staff and the fans were all focused on and driven towards a common goal. The beaten and bloodied Cavs fought as hard as any team could fight down to the bitter and painful end. The truth is that they had just come within 2 games of an NBA title. The reality is that they “lost” to the Golden State Warriors, a team with the most charmed path to an NBA finals victory I have ever witnessed. With virtually no injuries and the remarkable good fortune of missing any confrontation with San Antonio, they won.

Cleveland and Golden State each added a few marginal pieces but their basic rotations have not changed substantially since last year. I really doubt that you could make a strong case that the additions have moved the needle strongly in either direction for these teams. They are, in essence, unchanged. But the perception has certainly changed because of the teams current fortunes. Golden State is running roughshod over the NBA. No one is close. Cleveland has just fired their coach because the team and management didn’t believe in him. They weren’t having enough “joy” after wins. The Warriors have also been together longer and the perception is that they must be hitting their stride. Well …… maybe they are or maybe they are just ridiculously hot. Either way, what the Warriors do or don’t do or what the Warriors believe and don’t believe or what the perception of the Warriors is or isn’t doesn’t matter. So, by my way of looking at this, the Warriors don’t matter. And neither do the Spurs.

What matters is LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. When I refer to the Cavaliers I am referring to the players, management, coaches and even the fans. Because, after all, we are “All In”. When I place LeBron James in front of the Cleveland Cavaliers I am referring to the true order of things. Because, with all the talk of Kyrie being the “head of the snake” or someone else, it has been and will always be LeBron. Like it or not, he is the true “head of the snake”. Everyone knows that, if you can cut him off, you will ALWAYS beat the Cavaliers.

Last year I told everyone who would listen that they just needed to stay cool and the team would come around. No need to panic at 20-21 (or whenever it was that everyone started to panic). I would love to tell you the same thing this year, but I can’t. The Cavs have just made a dramatic move to change the coach who led them to within a whisker of an NBA title. They are now beginning to falter under the rejuvenated Tyrone Lue philosophy of “up tempo” offense and “having fun” after wins. David Griffin, regardless of whether the move was the correct one or not, has taken a huge gamble. He has just told the team, “if you don’t like the coach and if you are not happy, I will just change the coach and all will be well.” Now I am not here to ramble on about whether that move was the right one or wrong one. Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know one thing ……………. If the team falters and begins to doubt this coach, the Cavaliers are lost and the season is lost and David Griffin’s monster bet is a losing one.

Maybe that is why Griffin is reported to be desperately trying to add a piece to this puzzle. His magic worked last year. Maybe he can do it again. Only problem is that the Cavalier assets in a trade are nearly nonexistent and the team is approaching or has reached an NBA record for player salaries. The flexibility has been all “cashed in” for this team. So ……….. We can all wait for another miracle from Griffin ………….. Or ………….. We can all do the one thing that will win an NBA title …………….. BELIEVE !!

And by believing, I am mainly referring to one person, LeBron James. Because you see that is the person that we all need to hope sees the light. It is LeBron James that didn’t believe after two 60+ win NBA seasons that he could win a championship with that Cleveland team. And he was almost certainly correct. It is LeBron James that needed an existing champion, Dwayne Wade, to keep him believing that the Miami Heat could win championships. And they did. But now it is LeBron James that needs to be the proven champion that convinces the rest of his team and his All Star partners they can win a championship. But to do that he needs to be convinced, and he isn’t. That is what concerns me. Not the recent lackluster play or the coaching change or least of all, the Golden State Warriors.

This is not an essay knocking LeBron James. I am convinced that he truly cares about winning a championship in Cleveland. I fervently believe that he would do anything in his power to make that happen. For his own legacy and for the people of Northeast Ohio. He REALLY cares. And I mean REALLY cares. His actions and words are completely aligned with that caring. I do not see the slightest shred of evidence to the contrary. But sadly that could be the problem ……… he cares so much that he cannot believe. Sound familiar?? You see LeBron James is simply the reflection of us. He came from us and is us.

I hear so many fans who can’t believe now. It is like a battered and beaten team which came within two games of a championship didn’t even exist.
All of this can be changed by one man. It is a ton of pressure on one person but that is what a leader must do. I have been a leader enough in my life to know that if I don’t believe in my team, no one else will.

So it is time for LeBron to let go of his doubt and his fear. Strive for greatness as he says but BELIEVE he can get there with THIS team. And let them know that he believes. And show by his actions that he believes. No more need for “Hero” ball. If they lose as a team, than they lose. At least they did it as a team. If LeBron can do that and simply believe in this team, they will elevate themselves even above their talent toward an NBA title. The pieces are there. The belief is not. From any of us.

The #Indians Clearly Need A Reminder That Inaction Is NOT An Option

I have been throwing out on twitter lately some reminders about what I said in the off-season “to the Dolans” about what would happen if they sat on their hands last off-season and did not fill the number 4 hole in our lineup. I produced a series of articles that explained why I felt that, while the Indians were close to something special, they needed to go after a legitimate middle of the order hitter or fans would shut them out unless the team outperformed their talent. We now know that certainly has not been the case and, if anything, they have underperformed their talent level which is much worse. The Cleveland Indians are simply very tough to watch. And the terrible affliction of 2014, scoring less than 3 runs per game for innumerable games has continued.

So my thoughts were not “hindsight” as some have recently suggested. I clearly saw this possibility and spoke passionately about why I hoped the Dolans would severely deficit spend for two years while they washed out the Swisher and Bourne contracts. They needed to extend to get the one piece everyone could see they were missing … A dangerous hitter to put in the middle of the order. Now that they are past mid-season and the results can be seen with attendance and lower TV ratings, I am not sure that trying to “buy” any players is a wise idea. The mistake was made in the off-season and the trading deadline is not likely to be kind to the Tribe. So here are the last two installments revisited and I will expand on how I recommend they approach this now that the inaction has led to what looks like another lost season in a later post.

“I will take one final stab at my critics who still cling to the view that the Indians attendance problem is caused by the people of Cleveland and not a failed business plan. My latest debate was with a good blogger who felt the attendance shortfalls reflected the population decline in the greater Cleveland area.

While I admit that Detroit and Cleveland have not increased population in their greater metropolitan areas over the past 13 years, it has not been like there is a mass exodus out of either metro area. Based on the US Census Bureau actual count and estimates over the past three years, the Cleveland Metro area started at about 2,148,143 and ended the span from 2000 to 2014 at about 2,064,295. This translates to an 83,848 population loss or 3.9% over 14 years. Detroit has lost 157,574 or 3.54%. It is certainly hard to fathom that a loss of about 84,000 people over 14 years is accounting for a 24% attendance drop over the past 4 years. So yet another belief or “excuse” is debunked by facts.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, baseball and all sports are part of the entertainment industry. The customers will respond to perceptions and reality. The customers definitely respond to talent. Any entertainment company will do whatever it takes to get talent. It is that talent that drives revenue and profit. To blame the customers for not showing up to your entertainment product seems rather counterproductive to me. Plus, it stops you from improving the product in order to turn around your business.

So could we please dispense once and for all with the continual excuses for the Dolans. They knew what they were buying when they put up the money. Now they are in a favorable position to make it work but it will take a considerable additional investment not matched by revenue to make this happen. All owners of entertainment companies need to do this from time to time unless they are extremely fortunate. Almost every MLB team needs to do this and can’t wait for matching fan attendance to do it. The Kansas City Royals have increased their salaries over the past 4 years from about 35 million to about 89 million and had virtually no increase in attendance until this year and it will be about 160,000 greater.

My point is that the Dolans need to look in the mirror and recognize that the current Indians team is pretty darn good but NOT good enough. They tried to really spend when they sold their TV station but swung and missed with Swisher. They need to bury that mistake and do it again. It is almost certain they will not do it, but I am hopeful that they will see the need and jump in again. There is no homegrown substitute for what the Indians need to really compete. That is a power, high average middle of the order stick.

I suggested Victor Martinez because he will be a free agent, plays for our primary competitor, has expressed interest in coming back to Cleveland, and fits our need perfectly. He also is a tremendous competitor and clutch hitter. Finally, he is an ex-Indian who was loved while here. The Indian fans have shown great interest in and have come out to see great ex-Indians return. It would be excellent from a PR standpoint and completely dispel the rumor that the Dolans won’t spend when the time is right.

However, this move would be very risky with high reward. Victor will be 36 years old by the beginning of next season. He has had some injury problems through the years. He would best be used as a DH but still plays first base fairly well. He virtually negates any benefit of Swisher unless Swisher can play right field. Finally, he will cost us a ton over several years and the latter years of the contract might be a poor investment. So, if we were sure Victor would have 4 years like this year, it is really a no brainer despite the cost. But that, of course, is not possible to know.

Knowing the Indians, they would prefer to find a one year player with warts like Nelsen Cruz. Baltimore’s investment in Cruz is definitely paying off. But that is also risky because you can end up with a Mark Reynolds instead. Those players are hard to find. Even with his age, Victor would be a far better risk.

Trades to accomplish the same result are also possible but we would have to give up a ton to get a younger player with Victor’s punch and average. So I am open to any and all possibilities to get the job done but I am not compromising on what I feel the Indians need. It is their only legitimate chance to really contend and get the fans revved up and interested again. The Indians pitching has the potential to be special, but the team must find a way to have fewer games where they score 3 runs or less.

I feel a substantially increased investment is necessary for the next two years to provide a true window to succeed and improve attendance. As Swisher’s and Borne’s contracts expire, they should not be replaced. We should have enough young players to fill those gaps by then. So, in two years, about 25 million will come off the payroll. Dolan should set up a business plan to severely deficit spend for two years and then get the payroll down in 2017.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on the Indians. It was the product of a lot of research and thought. I understand the final recommendation is kind of simple, but I think a major addition is needed. The team is set up overall to win with that addition. Whether this would succeed to peak the interest of the Cleveland fans, only time would tell. But I can assure you that doing nothing or very little will NOT result in a significant increase in attendance. The deficits created in that scenario might be deadly to the Dolan ownership and the Cleveland Indians franchise.

The final Epilogue Post follows:

“Just a brief final note on my series on the Indians and their attendance and how it relates to the near term future of the team. I was honored by WFNY with a reference to my blog series in the While We’re Waiting (WWW) section today. I appreciate Kirk Lammers reference to the series even though he honestly stated that he didn’t agree with all my points. That is the reason I am adding this brief seventh and final installment in the series.

The beauty of that reference in WFNY is that it not only helped expose many people to something I spent considerable time creating. But it also allows me to say this tonight. I am completely cool with people not agreeing with me because I am not 100% convinced I believe myself in all of the points I made in that series. That is what makes blogging one of the most rapidly growing communication tools today. It allows an expression of thought from someone other than a professional to be heard and then be followed by debate and dialogue.

The main reason for the series was to challenge widely held views about the Cleveland Indians failure at the gate (Brown’s town, bad economy, baseball disinterest, etc.) At the same time I wanted to emphasize the business principle that you shouldn’t blame your customers for a failing business. You should look in the mirror and find out what you can do to change your customer’s behavior. ALL good businesses reinvent themselves to adjust to the customer. Bad businesses cry about how the customer just “doesn’t understand their greatness” and are doomed to failure.

I personally don’t want the Dolans or the Indians to fail. So, I simply said that they need to improve the talent on the field (especially the hitting) and the fans will likely follow. Now I may be wrong but what other viable business plan can you think of that will increase attendance? The only other option is essentially giving up and calling the baseball fans of Cleveland a lost cause. For a lifelong fan, that is simply unacceptable.

So I appreciate that many will disagree and I respect that completely. I hope I have made some of you think and question a few of the widely held “theories” about shrinking Indians attendance. GO TRIBE !!!! Thanks for listening.”

#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.

Cleveland #Cavs Toughness Will Prevail In NBA Finals

The 2014-2015 NBA regular season was a virtual coronation for the Golden State Warriors. They have the reigning NBA MVP in Steph Curry. They won 67 games in the regular season, losing only 15. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Warriors won the regular season. The problem for them is that they don’t give out any trophies for the regular season, only playoff seeds. And now they have their last gift from their magical regular season, home court advantage in the NBA finals. The question for all of us looking on now is “Will that last gift be enough to bring them an NBA Championship?”

The Cleveland Cavaliers won 66 games in the 2008-2009 season. They had the reigning MVP in LeBron James. They also lost in the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2 and couldn’t get out of the “weaker” East to even appear in the Finals. Everyone knew that the Cleveland team in 2009 was mainly “LeBron and a bag of marbles” and yet they dominated the regular season and won those 66 games barely breaking a sweat. In that year, almost every Cleveland Cavalier other than LeBron wilted in the playoffs. No one could hit critical shots, which virtually negated LeBron’s masterful ability to create. Plus, LeBron wasn’t the player than that he is now in terms of knowing what it takes to win playoff games consistently. He admits that himself when asked.

So now those tables are turned. Don’t get me wrong. The Warriors have many very good role players and one, Harrison Barnes, has proven that he can hit tough shots when the game is on the line. They have a very tough “tweener” small forward/power forward in Green who has proven ability on both ends of the court. Bogut is a tough nose player who will not be intimidated in the middle. Everyone knows about the famous “splash brothers” and there is not much to say except that they are very good players. Thompson especially can defend as well as shoot. Curry played like an MVP this year and can hit contested shots with a quick release and deadeye accuracy. So the perception that Golden State is a very good team is deserved. However, they are not playoff tested from a tough minded defensive team that also has great offensive skills. That reality is about to smack them in the face and we will see if they can recover from the blow. I wrote recently before the Atlanta series that the Cleveland Cavs are coming together at the right time. Those words are even more true now than they were before the Eastern Conference Finals.

Once you give the Warrior’s their due that they are a very good team, the reality starts separating from the fantasy. The oft used word is that the Warriors are a “very deep team” and Cleveland is not. Well, the reality is that the Cavalier “roll players” (Shumpert, Smith, Delly, Mozgov, Thompson, and Jones) have all performed far better at the offensive end than the Warriors after Curry and Klay Thompson. The Cavalier roll players have had more games total with 15 points or more than their Warrior counterparts. The Cavs players minus each team’s “big two” have had 15 games with over 15 points and the Warriors have 11 games with over 15 points. If you take away both team’s starters (indicating depth of scoring), the Cavs have 7 games of 15 or more points and the Warriors have 2. The gaps close considerably when you include games by role players over 10 points but the Cavs margin of players with 15 or more points counters that easily.

Defensively, the Warrior role players are talented but not elite. Shumpert, Smith, Delly, Mozgov and Thompson have all been defending at very high levels and contesting shots on the perimeter and at the rim with high efficiency. The Cavaliers and Warriors are eerily similar in terms of rebounds both offensive and defensive. No difference in either area. The Cavs have about .8 blocks per game more than the Warriors but the Warriors have 2.2 more steals per game. To counter the steals, the Cavs have 3 less turnovers per game than the Warriors. The Cavaliers in the playoffs have a field goal percentage against of 41.2% vs 43.1% for the Warriors. In terms of 3 point percentage against, the Cavs have the edge 28.1% vs 31%.

In terms of advanced statistics, I could not do a better job than John Schuhmann did on NBA.com. His article titled: Numbers Preview: The Finals outlines the key advanced statistics. One statement basically confirmed what I am trying to show with standard statistics when he said “And the Cavs have been statistically better, both offensively and defensively, than the Warriors in the playoffs, even when you account for weaker competition. Cleveland has better marks in adjusted efficiency (taking their opponents’ regular season marks) on both ends of the floor.”

Based on the play of both teams in the playoffs, I strongly challenge the oft repeated contention that the Warriors have a “much deeper” team. They do play more players in their rotation (generally 10 vs 8 for the Cavs) but the productivity of those extra players, even combined as I noted above, is no greater than the Cavalier reserves. Plus, just because Cleveland plays Miller, Marion, and Perkins very sparingly doesn’t mean that those players are useless or do not account for additional depth that the Cavs do not use. The wild card for the Warriors is David Lee and, even though used very little, is a highly productive player when called upon.

If someone wants to drop the “East is so much weaker” you can’t compare the Cavs statistically to the Warriors, I would point out that the Cavaliers were 14-1 against the Western Conference after January 15th when the current team was fully assembled. Cleveland beat virtually every playoff team in the Western Conference during that span including the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers. The only game they lost was to Houston in overtime and the Cavs did not have Kyrie Irving on the floor during that game.

But statistical analysis can only take us so far when it comes to analyzing this series. The Warriors may have the best scorer in the series but the Cavaliers clearly have the most dominant single player in LeBron James. His ability to be a triple threat on any night is a separator in a playoff series. Cleveland has great team chemistry and, even without Kevin Love, they are a superior team in terms of toughness and have been challenged with large numbers of injuries during the playoffs. Most of these injuries are nagging and not completely resolving. Shumpert, Irving, James, and Thompson have all been dinged up by varying degrees. And Love was lost for the entire playoffs. This is an edge for the Warriors but an edge for the Cavaliers in terms of resiliency and ability to adjust to adversity.

Kyrie Irving’s health and ability to maintain a high level of play is critical for the Cavaliers to have a strong chance to win a championship. Even with Irving hobbled he has been reasonably productive but he needs to stay well to avoid being a defensive liability. That would be a hole that the offensively gifted Warriors could exploit. The Cavaliers will remain creative but really cannot hide Irving defensively as well as they could against the Hawks and Chicago.

In an NBA finals, unless one team is substantially better than the other team, both teams will go through adversity and be challenged in the series. It is the team that can respond best to that adversity who will likely prevail. By that measurement, Cleveland seems to have a huge edge. The tough “grind it out” style that the Cavaliers have played in the playoffs will not be easy for Golden State to counter. If the Cavaliers protect the ball and avoid silly turnovers outside the three point line, it will be difficult for Golden State to control the tempo and avoid a half court grinding defensive game. If that is true, advantage Cleveland again.

Baring major injuries to James or Irving, Cleveland wins in 6 games. The 50+ years of misery will end.