January 2, 2014. A blizzard pounded the city of Cleveland and its surrounding suburbs all day long.
Roadway accidents occurred every few miles. Semi-trucks spun out on off-ramps. Many timid area residents left work early; the more fearful . . . they never arrived to the office at all.
And the Cleveland Cavaliers won a game in overtime to end a horrific six-game losing skid. They started their new year with a big win.
Now forget, for a moment, that this game was played against the Orlando Magic—one of only four teams in the league with a record worse than the Cavaliers’. Forget, too, that the first 47 minutes of the game were some of the ugliest yet this year in the NBA; they were a genuine snooze fest, characterized by woeful shooting from both squads.
Erase those pertinent facts from your mind, and know this: The Cavs won in the clutch. They won after the majority of the home crowd at the Q had abandoned them. They won in highly improbable fashion, and without Kyrie Irving.
Know this, also: Anderson Varejao tied a franchise record with 25 rebounds, and the Cavs are currently on pace to play in the most regular season overtime games in NBA history. So far, they’ve played in six. The Association record is 14, set by the Philadelphia 76ers during the 1990-91 season.
So how did they do it, tonight? That’s an outstanding question . . . because no one really knows.
During postgame interviews, Cavs announcer Austin Carr was more jovial than Santa Claus with a beer in hand, as he slurred his way through his assessment of the game. Someone asked him how the Cavs won, and he yelled “I don’t know!”
This is how it happened, sort of:
With 50 seconds left to go in regulation, the Cavs were down seven. A moment before, they had been down nine, but then Cavs rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova took a charge from Magic center Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Dion Waiters shot and made both foul shots.
Quick side note: Glen Davis seems to be setting careers highs this season in girth and shiftlessness. By the look of him, it seems plausible to believe that he might have swallowed former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy during the offseason. This makes it that much more impressive that little Matthew Dellavedova, the mad Aussie, took a charge from him without hesitation.
After the foul shots, time continued to slip away: The game seemed to be over with 18 seconds left—the arena was nearly empty, and there was uncharacteristic silence between Carr and his co-announcer Fred McLeod. After a moment, Carr quietly mumbled, “Need a three here . . . .” as the Cavs puttered around with the ball, and his tone implied the hopelessness of it all.
But after seemingly everyone other than the men on the floor had given up, Jarrett Jack was fouled while shooting a three. He made all three free-throws, and suddenly the Magic led by only four with nearly 14 seconds left on the clock.
On the ensuing inbound, whichever guy, who was supposed to pass the ball in for the Magic, didn’t get it off in time—spurring a turnover as a result of a five-second violation.
Dion Waiters drove to the rack and canned a layup. The lead was cut to two. After the Magic inbounded the ball, Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova fouled Magic guard E’Twaun Moore, who was hitting around 90% on his free throws.
Miraculously, Moore missed both of his free-throws, the Cavs rebounded the second miss, and a timeout was called with nine seconds left in regulation.
The Cavs huddled, down only two points. Anyone watching this game was likely in complete disbelief at this point, but this is Cleveland, and disbelief is as common as anything else. In the huddle, Cavs head coach Mike Brown unleashed his fool-proof, master plan . . . a throwback to the LeBron years . . . give the ball to Waiters at the top of the key, and let him drive to the rack.
Waiters got the ball near midcourt—in a situation where LeBron James used to shimmy around a bit, hit the defender with a useless head bob, and unleash a crappy jumper, Dion Waiters drove the ball straight home and laid it in for two with less than a second left on the game clock! The game was tied!
The Magic took a timeout, inbounded it from midcourt, and Magic point guard Jameer Nelson nearly stroked a three as the clock ran out. But he missed. Overtime.
Over the course of a five minute overtime period, only one Magic player scored—Aaron Affalo, with a layup.
And then it was time. Time for the old Cleveland standby—at least, mythically. The Wild Thing emerged to close the game, only it was not Charlie Sheen wearing geeky glasses and a bad earring.
It was Anderson Varejao. Anderson Varejao canned an open jumper. On the next possession, Anderson Varejao canned an open jumper. A minute later, Anderson Varejao was fouled while trying to can a layup, and he made both free throws.
On a night where the Cleveland Cavaliers had no business winning a game, it wasn’t over until Anderson Varejao canned back-to-back jumpers. Then Fred McLeod screamed something in Portuguese, so apparently it isn’t over until Fred McLeod speaks Portuguese.
The Cavs improved their record to a meager 11-21, but the number of overtime games and close games they’ve played in this year proves they are slightly more competitive than their record implies. Indeed, 10 of their 21 losses have been by a margin of seven points or less.
As Cavs fans, this sounds sort of like a grasp at straws for optimism, but while the Cavs have undoubtedly been pretty bad this season, they’ve still shown reason for hope.
They won tonight without Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum. They won when they should not have lost. On a night when 90% of Cleveland’s population was holed up in their homes because of a blizzard, the hometown Cavaliers stepped up, and brought magic back to the Q. That was a miserable pun, and it will not be deleted.