NBA Finals: The Timely and Unexpected Rise of the Cleveland Cavaliers
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As the Cleveland Cavaliers wrapped up their Eastern Conference Finals series at home against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, head coach David Blatt and LeBron James shared a heart-felt moment on the sideline.
Blatt, the celebrated international coach who faced much ridicule and scrutiny in his first season manning the sidelines muttered to his franchise player, “We ain’t done but I just want to tell you man, what you did for this team, for this city, coming back and what you did—you deserve it. You deserve it. Just keep going”.
LeBron James isn’t finished—as well as the rest of the Cavs. After starting the season 19-20 with all the scrutiny, the pressure, and championship aspirations, change was something this team needed. LeBron took two weeks off to get his body right and to mentally condition his mind that this campaign was a totally different journey—a painful and long Odyssey in trying to end the city’s 51-year championship drought.
Yet, in his first season back, the Cavs are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007 and with LeBron making his fifth straight appearance making him the first non-Celtic to accomplish this rarely talked about feat. So much for LeBron being patient and getting his championship hopes too high.
However, this Cavs season was far from ideal—a far cry on how everybody pictured it during the start of the season. Everyone had a vision that this team will dominate and pick apart their opponents with their three-monster attack of LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love but it was struggles on the defensive end, which led to the early disappointments for the team.
In this case of emergency, Cavs general manager David Griffin was forced to break glass. He executed two huge trades which helped propel the Cavs to a winning 34 out of their last 43 regular season games and a 12-2 record in the Playoffs. He first dealt away the ball-dominant Dion Waiters for a defensive stopper in Iman Shumpert and a great one-on-one scorer in JR Smith. He followed up that by acquiring a much needed rim protector in Timofey Mozgov.
The Cavs only reached their team’s full potential when Kevin Love came down with a shoulder injury at the end of Round 1. With the most overqualified spot up shooter in Love out for the Playoffs, it unleashed the rebounding beast in Tristan Thompson to help anchor the Cavs defense. Shumpert eased the load of LeBron in guarding the opposing team’s best player and JR Smith has helped the Cavs with timely outside shooting and another one-on-one shot creator.
Problems turned out to be opportunity for this team—an opportunity for them to build their own identity from the pieces they had and learning on to rely on each other when everybody counted them out.
But everything from here on out rests on LeBron James shoulders. He averaged30.3 PPG 11 RPG 9.3 APG dominating the Hawks in every facet of the game; all while helping guide and lead the inexperience Cavs in these Playoffs. And by the end of the day, LeBron James and the Cavs are happy to have made it this far and so early in the King’s second coming but what they do and how they do it rests entirely on LeBron’s shoulders.