We’re heading that way, to the Eastern Conference Finals.
(This article was written by Tom Pestak but the subtitle won’t cooperate)
On November 20, 2013, the Cavs lost an embarrassing home game to the Washington Wizards. They trailed by 18 at halftime while locked in a sedated malaise. After what must have been an unpleasant speech from Mike Brown, the Cavs almost immediately saw their deficit balloon to 27. Brown called a rage timeout, fired off a hockey substitution, and what happened next will forever remain in the minds of the few masochistic passionate fans that continued to watch.
If the Cavs win tonight, they will see the conference Finals for the first time since the 2008-2009 season. If they lose, the Wine & Gold will play their first game seven in the playoffs since the 2007-2008 season, a game they lost. Either way, this game is going to lead to some flashbacks of sorts for most Cavalier fans.
This game comes down to guys playing the positions they are assigned to on the floor and the positions their physical gifts dictate. And, I mean playing those positions like they were played before guys other than point guards and shooting guards dribbled the ball up the court.
Kyrie Irving needs to dribble up the court because he is a point guard, and LeBron James needs to work in the post, set screens, and cut to the rim because he’s a small forward with the strength of a power forward or center. That game plan works for the Cavaliers. They won game five because the King returned to his rightful throne down by the hoop.
Four points I’m thinking about the Cleveland Cavaliers…
1.) Coming into this series, one of my biggest concerns was how the Cavaliers’ toughness would stack up against the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls, after all, roll out a number of players — point guard Derrick Rose, swingman Jimmy Butler and center Joakim Noah, in particular — who are long, strong and, overall, play a more physical style than their Cavaliers counterparts. The Bulls also feature a deep and talented front court rotation that, along with the 6-11 Noah, include 6-9 Taj Gibson, 6-10 rookie Nikola Mirotic and the 7-0 All-Star Pau Gasol, who is “hopeful” he’ll be able to play in Thursday night’s Game 6 after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
But, beyond being physically tough — which the Bulls definitely are — they are one of the most mentally tough teams in the league.
Overview: The Cavaliers were able to overcame a slow start and a shaky finish to beat the Bulls in Cleveland and take a 3-2 series lead. LeBron James led the Cavs with 38 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, and three steals, with 24 points on 10-12 shooting in the first half alone. Kyrie Irving added 25 points on 16 shots, while Jimmy Butler led the way for Chicago with 29 points as Derrick Rose struggled en route to an 8-24 night from the field.
That game had EVERYTHING. I’m not sure how I’m going to recap it and get any sleep. LeBron played possibly his best playoff game in a Cavs uniform since 2009. He completely dominated in the first half and finished with 38 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 blocks (including a highlight, series-saving block on D Rose) and ZERO, (count them…wait you can’t) ZERO Turnovers. Incredible. He was dominant in the half-court from mid-range, backing down Jimmy Butler and tossing socks into a laundry basket from every angle.
Game 5. LeBron’s had some memorable ones, including “Game 5“. It dawned on me that this series is in some ways reminiscent of those early playoff series against the Pistons. Anemic half-court offense, gritty defense, possession battles, and two teams that didn’t like each other. The difference is that the relative lack of offensive firepower wasn’t due to an outbreak of debilitating injuries.
Pau Gasol will not play tonight. Kyrie Irving’s gonna give it his best. Let’s hope the Cavs found a descendant of Mr. Miyagi to fix Kyrie’s extremities, or that Kyrie developed a swan kick of sorts in the past 40 hours.
With any luck, this one won’t come down to issues of timeouts, last minute sideline plays and a third buzzer beater to end it. If the Cavs can continue to defend the Bulls the way they have been the last two games, and find some semblance of offense inside (with Moz and TT) and out (from J.R.), and LeBron can protect the ball the way he did in Game 2, the Cavs should get one big step closer to the next round.
Buckle up, this ride’s going to feel like the mean streak.
Yesterday was about as hyperbolic as it gets in the NBA media world. Pundits across the new media sphere took it upon themselves to analyze the Cavs victory over the Bulls on Sunday. Their favorite talking point: head coach David Blatt, who was weighed in the balance and, by many, found wanting. Coach Blatt was called to task for his attempt to call a timeout when he had none (and was saved from the mistake by Tyron Lue), and for his initial final play call: to have LeBron inbound instead of shoot.
Much of the media’s questioning and “analysis” reached a level of groupthink and rabid mob demagoguery that was surprising, even for those of us who regularly and wade into the murky waters of NBA mainstream and social medias.
This series has become a full-on war of attrition. The Cavs and the Bulls are nearly evenly matched and the drama has been overwhelming. And I’m only talking about the on-court drama. There are enough stories (real, embellished, manufactured) off the court to fill a small library. Game 4 was a dogfight from start to finish, an often unsavory spectacle befit two midwestern teams. Both squads had prolonged periods of drowning in quicksand: After harnessing all the momentum and looking to stomp on the Cavs’ throat, the Bulls suffered through seven minutes without a point in the second quarter. A 16-0 run by the Cavs during this stretch tipped the balance towards the Wine and Gold. In the third quarter, the Cavs went scoreless for just over seven minutes. The Bulls’ 13-0 run during this stranglehold gave them a double-digit lead, which, in a game like this seemed insurmountable, especially given the battered Cavaliers’ roster. But there would be one more period of sustained “YOU SHALL NOT PASS”-ery, and it was the Cavs defense completely stifling the Bulls pick-and-roll attack in the middle of the 4th quarter. The Bulls managed a measly six points in the first eight minutes of the quarter, and the Cavs regained control of the battlefield behind some timely pipe-laying by Earl Smith III. The final moments of the game will be discussed for a very long time. In the end, Jimmy Butler hit a huge 3, and Derrick Rose turned back the clock a few years, blew by Iman Shumpert, and squeaked a contested layup past the help defense to improbably tie the game at 84, setting up a grueling overtime. But with 1.5 seconds left, Delly pitched the easiest inbound pass of his life to one LeBron James who drilled a line-toed, long-2 off one leg as the buzzer sounded and the United Center crowd gasped for the wind that had been knocked out of its lungs.
On the heels of an epic and exhausting Game 4, Tom, EvilGenius, and I got in the studio for an emergency podcast to break down where we were when LeBron hit the shot heard round the Association. We broke down the game, the play, coach Blatt, and the war of attrition that has been this series.
The video above shows you all you need to know, as the Cavs won ugly in the United Center. In the fourth, J.R. Smith got hot, and Delly and LeBron found Earl the third as he scored 11 fourth quarter points, to overcome a seven point deficit at the start of the quarter. After Cleveland clawed to a seven point lead produced by Mozzy, JR, and Bron, Dunleavy hit a tech, and Cleveland milked a six point lead for 3:39 to hold on to beat Bulls in Chicago. It was their “run out the clock offense.” They would barely get it over the timeline and then take it down to 10 before they even ran any action, usually an LBJ pick and roll. They slow rolled Chicago to hang on to a a two point lead with the ball and 18 seconds left, until an offensive foul call gave the ball back to the Bulls. Rose scored a filthy right side layup over Tristan to tie it, and after a James drive, on which Joakim Noah mauled the King with no call, Chicago knocked the ball out with .8 seconds left. After a review which gave the Cavs a chance to draw up a play, the officials put 1.5 on the clock, and LeBron caught an inbound on the left baseline and drained the game winner.
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
Tom Pestak is an Associate Editor. He's from the west side of Cleveland and lives and (mostly) dies by the success and (mostly) failures of his beloved teams. You can watch his fanaticism during Cavs games @tompestak.
Robert Attenweiler is a Staff Writer. Originally from OH, he's long made his home in NYC where he writes plays and screenplays (www.disgracedproductions.com) some of which end up being about Ohio, basketball or both. He has also written for The Classical and the blog Raising the Cadavalier. You can contact him at email@example.com or @cadavalier.
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