Over the past two weeks, there has been a definite shift in the tide of Cleveland sports.
The Browns, likely, are still a mess. The Indians have made their way to Arizona for Spring Training, but their activity in free agency has been less inspiring than the sight of Terry Francona’s overworked spittoon. The Cavaliers, however, seem to have rediscovered their swords.
Four straight wins marked the final leg of the squad’s trek to the NBA All-Star break, and while most of the team rested over the weekend, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters alike put on shows in New Orleans that no Clevelander will soon forget.
Waiters set the nets ablaze in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, stealing the show from MVP Andre Drummond with a fourth quarter offensive flurry that left all-star onlookers in a state of post-traumatic stress. Irving, as you well know, conducted himself similarly in Sunday night’s All-Star game, walking away with an MVP trophy, and increased camaraderie and chemistry with LeBron James that has this writer scared to death.
After seeing these outbursts of talent on a national scale being well-studied and heavily scrutinized, one could not help wondering how the Cleveland Cavaliers would fare tonight in their first game as a reunited team. They took on the haggard 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Going into this game, a fan of the Cavs had to wonder: “How will all the attention Waiters and Irving received over the weekend affect their much-critiqued chemistry? Will the team rally behind their success, or further fragment themselves as a squadron of selfish individuals, such as was seen throughout much of the season thus far? Will they go back to their old, lazy ways? Can Mike Brown continue to corral this raving pack of bandaleros?”
Incredibly, every last one of these questions was answered wordlessly tonight, on the floor of the 76ers home arena.
Three Cavaliers went for double-doubles: Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, and Anthony Bennett. Zeller delivered the best performance of his career with 18 points and 15 boards in just 25 minutes of play; Thompson established similar dominance inside with 12 and 10, and Anthony Bennett pieced together 10 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, good for the second double-double of his NBA career, both having come in the last three games.
The Cavs scored 114 points; Kyrie Irving had only 14 of them—his action was limited for a handful of reasons. . . 1: The Cavs, as a whole, brought the pain on both ends of the floor, 2: The game was virtually out of reach by the third quarter as a result, and 3: The Philadelphia 76ers, who played the Cavs hard at the season’s outset, have regressed into a pack of gigantic, jibbering noobs.
There can be little doubt that any person who might argue that the 76ers are a good team is either, A) out of his mind, B) a huge fan of the team, or C) smoking the wrong stuff. They’re no good, man—just plain terrible. And it’s hard to blame them. At the beginning of the season, there was a great deal of grumbling and rumoring that some NBA organizations planned to intentionally tank the season from the get-go; the Sixers were public enemy #1 in this regard.
The team was engineered to fail this season. You have to pity their head coach, Brett Brown, who all night, tonight, had that unmistakable, worried head coach look on his face that just screams, “mother of Mary, I am about to get CANNED.”
His team was blown off the floor. The Cavs big men owned the inside, and as a result: three-balls were there for the taking for just about anyone who felt an itch to tee one up from the outside. Even Zeller launched one! (Clanked it.)
On the opposite end of the floor, the Cavalier defense looked nothing less than cold-blooded. . . yeah. . . it was a combination of that, and the 76ers looking like they had been roofied by Moon Dog during the pregame warm-ups. I daresay a private investigator is already on the case. . .
In all seriousness, though, the Cavaliers were wicked tonight. As a team, they issued their most dominant performance yet, and key guys like Zeller and Bennett looked more comfortable than they ever have in their young careers. Comfort, also, seems to be the name of the game when it comes to this upswing for the Cavs. During postgame interviews, the word “comfort” was thrown around so carelessly that if you hadn’t seen them feeling it on the floor, you might have thought they were all lying.
Consider this, though, if you haven’t already: Tonight, 12 players were active for the Cavaliers. Out of those 12, only six were on the team this time one year ago. I’m sure you’ve already figured this out because you are so smart, but that is HALF. Half the guys in uniform tonight are new to the team this season, and oh, yeah. . . the whole coaching staff, too.
It’s no wonder these guys spent the majority of this season acting like they didn’t know each other. They didn’t! But now. . . ohhh, now, Boyo, they know. They know right.
These young men are coming together as a team—a functional squadron who seem to genuinely, finally enjoy playing together, and in response: the goons have rattled off five straight wins for the first time since LeBron wore the colors.
Speaking of LeBron. . . please, for the love of Cleveland, just stop! Stop talking about him coming back. Don’t you see what’s happening? He and Kyrie play well together in an All-Star game and all the sudden, everyone’s all hopped up like LeBron never screwed the Cavaliers organization into the ground without a care in the world.
Envision this: LeBron doesn’t come back to Cleveland to play as a Cavalier, ever. Okay? Just relax for a second, and picture that.
Now, imagine yourself three years from now. You’re sitting in a sold-out Quicken Loans Arena. . . it’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. . . the Cavaliers—a team centered around a core of the same guys playing for them right now, plus players to be named later—are on the floor. They are on the floor, and they are at war with the Miami Heat. . . . the battle wages back and forth; the arena is shaking like it’s being pounded by Thor’s hammer; lead changes are abundant, you are in your seat and you are foaming at the mouth, because there is a minute left on the clock, and the Cavs are leading by one!
LeBron brings the ball down the floor for the Heat. . . he’s taken over as point guard, because as an untrustworthy person, he can only trust himself in these situations. . . .
Dwayne Wade and his Wooden Leg hobble their way around to the right side of the arc, and LeBron dishes the ball into Wade’s hands; LeBron immediately darts in the direction of the basket, going in for the kill and Wade, Wade lofts the ball toward the cylinder and just as LeBron jumps and reaches up to snatch the ball and slam it home he is STUFFED BY TRISTAN THOMPSON! The ball is loose on the floor; it’s picked up by Anthony Bennett, who fires it down the floor to a streaking Kyrie Irving, Irving catches the pass, floats toward the basket and just before he reaches it, tosses the ball skyward into the hands of a soaring Dion Waiters who SLAMS IT HOME AS TIME EXPIRES. CAVS WIN. CAVS WIN! CAVS ARE GOING TO THE FINALS, AND LEBRON IS GOING HOME TO SOUTH BEACH.
Because guess what? The Cleveland Cavaliers are the youngest team in the league, and they have the best collection of young talent in the league (using the age of 24 and under as a measuring stick). They don’t need LeBron James to win a title; all they need—all they really need: is time, patience, continued dedication and the support of their organization and city.
So quit moping around, watching those gossipy liars on ESPN, and wishing LeBron would come back. The Cleveland Cavaliers, right now, have the best collection of young men in uniform the city may have ever seen. Stay the course. Get off your rump, open up your wallet, and go buy a ticket to a game. Support the team that you call “your team,” instead of sitting around and wishing that the man who left it in shambles will return to win himself another title so that every idiot and his mother will like him again.
Go down to the Q, and support the Cleveland Cavaliers. Support them as they are now, because if these young men stick together: they are Cleveland’s greatest chance at a title in the coming years.
Oh yeah, and say a prayer for Dion Waiters. He hurt his knee tonight on a monster dunk.