Within humans, there exists a tendency for addiction.
Some people waste away their lives chasing incredible highs. Others, of a far darker breed, revel in their lows. The average person seeks to find happiness through an effort at achieving the great balance.
But this balance is difficult to find. This is an unpredictable, off-kilter world where one can detect evil in even the greatest demonstrations of love. There are so few certainties. A person can so rarely be sure of what, exactly, comes next.
Maybe this is part of the reason people obsess over sports. Sports, which are just as unpredictable and menacing as the world around us—different only in their sense of organization, and the fact that they touch a fan’s life from a certain distance. Different, also, in their continuity. Days end; jobs end; life ends; but sure as shit: sports go on.
“There’s always next season,” squawks the Cleveland sports mantra, and indeed, there is always next season. There is and will continue to be, until some unforeseeable calamity strikes down this great city for better or worse. It would be the Cleveland sort of luck for the zombie outbreak to begin on East 9th Street, and end at the I-480 Bridge, where the National Guard will place the edges of The Dome which will keep the virus from spreading.
That got ugly quick. . . . and unfortunately, so did Wednesday night’s Cavaliers game.
The Cavs played the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena. Various storylines preceded the matchup, and as Cleveland would have it, they all played out faintly unexpectedly, but nevertheless in favor of the opposition. Here were the Big 3:
- Luol Deng was playing against his old team for the first time. This was the team he spent nine years with. . . so imagine going from Kindergarten through 8th grade in a single school building, and midway through your 8th grade year being told that the school can save some serious dough by chucking you out without warning. That’s what the Bulls did to Luol.
- Chicago was trying to continue their effort to stay afloat as the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, even though their front office has already shown signs of abandoning ship (i.e. dumping Luol Deng for cap space) so that they can play the NBA lottery with all the other rubes in July
- Joakim Noah versus Anderson Varejao on the inside. Why was this a pertinent storyline, you might ask? Well, it’s because these guys are intense, gangly, seven-foot tall freaks with the energy of wild horses on methamphetamine. They bring it, and they seem to hate each other (when they’re on the floor, at least)
So what happened? The Bulls were ailing—no Derrick Rose, no Carlos Boozer; n0 Kirk Hinrich. And no Luol Deng, of course, meaning: They were without three of the five or six best players they started the season with. And the Cavs had one of these guys in Deng. The emotion was present, the stage was set, the Fat Lady was still drinking beers with Campy Russell at the Velvet Dog on West Sixth—it was on.
The first half was a whirlwind, both good and bad for the men of the wine and gold. By the time the Cavs were able to piece together 8 points, Bulls point guard D.J. Augustine had already scored 8 of his own. Their reserve power forward, Taj Gibson—a guy known for his defense—was hitting uncontested baseline jumpers as if he assumed Carlos Boozer’s skill set along with Booz’s starting role in his absence. The Bulls led after one.
In the second, Kyrie Irving made his presence felt. The guy moves in such a loose, lazy-looking way when on the court, that it’s sort of easy to forget he’s out there at times when he’s not shooting. This was the case early in the second, before the young man stumbled down the court and, seemingly on a whim, canned a three.
Next time down, he let his teammates screw around with bad shots for a bit before Andy Varejao tore a rebound from the clutches of a Bulls defender, found Irving, and watched as Kyrie unleashed another surefire three-point score. Next time down the floor? You guessed it: Kyrie blew the top off the building. The Bulls called a timeout, and the Cavs had a lead. They carried this lead into the half on the back of two more threes out of Irving. With those five threes, he scored the last 15 points of the quarter for Cleveland.
Halftime passed. The Cavs came out in the third, looked sluggish, or unprepared, or whatever you want to call the look of them when they’re not clicking, and the lead was gone before Austin Carr could cackle drunkenly. The Cavs were out-hustled and outplayed in the third, and nothing changed in the fourth, aside from them getting very tense toward the end of the game, and failing to find the magic in the waning minutes like they so often do.
It was a sad and uncomfortable second half, for no one more so than Luol Deng. At one point, a player he mentored in Chicago, Jimmy Butler, fouled him on the back of the head. The camera panned to Deng’s face, and to put it plainly: he looked hurt. Not in a physical sense, but an emotional one.
And it’s hard to knock the guy. For the first time maybe in his life, he was playing a very serious game against men who were and likely are as close to him as his own family members. That look Deng gave. . . . should his career persist in its strength, the picture of that look may be one that sticks with him. It embodied everything he was going through on the night of this game—in coping with cutting the cord from his old family. There was pain and smoldering anger in that look. Unfortunately, it didn’t improve his play on a night where he shot 2-11 from the field and scored just 11 points. 11 points, 7 from the free throw line, in a game he must have wanted more than anyone.
As for that Varejao-Noah matchup? That, also, was a win for Chicago. Varejao played hard and put up decent numbers (10 points, 11 boards, 5 assists), but Noah was better, stronger and tougher. And that’s what Mike Brown stressed in his post-game press conference: toughness.
“They just out-toughed us,” Mike Brown said to begin his presser, with a look on his face reminiscent of Chief Wahoo with a piece of feces hanging beneath his nose. “That’s it.”
Only that wasn’t it—Brown went on to explain all the things the Cavs did poorly during the game, which basically ended up being a quick hit of everything a person can do in a game of basketball aside from vomit all over the floor.
He used the term “we” in nearly every sentence, but it seemed as though he was blaming his players the entire time—using his presser to call certain guys out, as he has done all season. The Cavs aren’t playing well, eh? Inconsistent, eh?
Well, if you come out of the locker room and begin the third quarter with a one point lead, you’re thought to have a small advantage. The game so far has come up basically even, and after making needed halftime adjustments, a team hopes to be in a position to increase their lead after the fact.
So, when you’re having it absolutely put to you in the third quarter after leading at half, something is wrong. Either the adjustments made at half aren’t working well, or there were no adjustments made at all—either way, whoever is doing the coaching is being outcoached, nine times out of ten. Also, if Taj Gibson is two points short of a career high in scoring midway through the third quarter, you are sure as hell being outcoached.
Also, if you claim to preach defense and an NBA team puts up 98 points against you, it isn’t a huge deal. BUT, if you claim to preach defense, and the team that put up 98 points against you was only given FOUR points off the bench, something is wrong. And, not that it matters, that’s what happened in this game, and those four points: They came from two guys, with a combined age of 74 years old. You do the math.
Brown blamed the players. The players blamed themselves. Realistically, everyone who sets foot in that locker room is to blame—prepubescent towel boy included.
The Cavs are now 15-27. Bottom-feeding again, but all hope is not yet lost. The regular season is now more than halfway over by one game. . . . the Cavaliers don’t need to have the best second half in the history of the Association to make the playoffs—all they need is a pretty damn good one. The talent is there, believe it or not. The fan base is there—Cleveland fans have an addiction worse than heroin, and though the complaints are repetitive and endless, they’ll always be there to some degree or another. The coaching? It may not be there. Some people believe Mike Brown has already lost this team.
It wouldn’t be surprising. Running around blaming his players in interviews for mistakes that he should be working tirelessly to prevent—mistakes that he maybe is working tirelessly to prevent—shows he probably doesn’t have what it takes.
40 games left, though. That’s a ton of games, really. Anything can happen. The sands of time and the patience of all involved are running thin, but through all this misery, there’s something to smile about for even the lowliest Cleveland fan:
We still have professional sports teams. Teams we can escape into for a few hours whenever they suit up. Teams we can love, appreciate and call our own, even when the storms over Erie seem more ceaseless than the most tiring days of our lives.
Through it all. . . . Go Cavs.