The Cavaliers May Have Lost, But They're Still The Heroes Cleveland Needs
The story of the 2014-2015 Cavs season is much like that of Cleveland itself.
With the return of LeBron James and subsequent forgiveness from his hometown fans, the world of NBA basketball turned its eyes to the Cleveland Cavaliers, anticipating greatness and a rise from the ashes with the trio of superstar players: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
These hopes were dashed initially, however, when the Cavs started out their season 19-20. Something needed to change. LeBron James had big dreams to fulfill for his hometown, and Cleveland’s Cavaliers had expectations to live up to for the NBA.
So, General Manager David Griffin pulled out all stops by making two big trades, acquiring Timofey Mozgov, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert.
This move literally changed the way the Cavaliers played the game, both on and off the court. With these three players added, the Cavaliers lived up to the name they built for themselves before the season even began.
They rebounded the second half of the season with a record of 34-9, and their image grew with them. The Cleveland Cavs, a team of NBA All Stars, were flashy, fast and sexy. Their offense was scoring at a historic pace.
If the Cavs offense was a city, it would have been Las Vegas. In all of Cleveland sports history, it has never had one team successful at being “sexy.” Even the flourishing Browns of the 60s were tough, mean and hard-nosed. This was a first for the Land.
Many don’t remember, but Cleveland had a time of being a “sexier” city when it served as a heavy manufacturing hub during the industrial revolution.
In the Roaring 20s, the city was home to big-time carmakers, famous jazz musicians and the World Series Champions, the Cleveland Indians.
The Flats were alive with music and dancing, and the city was booming with hard-working folks making great strides in industrial technology and political progress of the era.
After The Great Depression hit the nation, Cleveland fell hard, but was again revitalized with small steps that would mean great strides for how we know the city today.
The 1936 Great Lakes Exposition brought in 7 million visitors to the city, and later led to the building of Cleveland institutions we all know and love, such as the Great Lakes Science Center and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, the downtown areas came alive again with the building of the Cleveland Transit System. In 1948, the Cleveland Indians won their second World Series Championship, bringing some fame and attention to Northeast Ohio.
Today, Cleveland’s name as a city has entered the national conversation once again, as the media chatter about a revitalization.
Young people are moving away from the suburbs and back into the downtown areas that were abandoned and left impoverished with the Recession. Courage, zeal and modest devotion are, again, transforming the city into a hub of progress, arts and local vibrancy.
The return of LeBron James brought even more attention to Cleveland’s current renaissance, but the Cavaliers' flashy brand was not one its fans necessarily identified with.
The Cavs suffered what ended up being catastrophic injuries during the playoff season.
With Kevin Love’s dislocated shoulder early on in the playoffs, and Kyrie Irving’s knee injury finally giving way in the first NBA Finals game, the Cleveland Cavaliers had already set a new record as the first Finals team to win a game without two if its three major players.
The Cavaliers lost the finals in Game 6, but many still consider this an overachievement.
With so many injuries and an incredible lack of injuries for the Warriors, few initially expected the Cavs to advance beyond the playoffs, let alone win two Finals games (the most in Cleveland basketball history).
It happened because in the absence of a fast offense, something much more akin to the city’s character rose up.
Without two of the Cavs’ biggest superstars, other players like Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson spent more time on the court.
While not as gifted offensively as Irving and Love, these replacements were better able to implement David Blatt’s powerful defensive strategies.
Suddenly, the Cavs had gone from a flashy, offensive team (one the Warriors would have planned to take down in a sheer shootout), to a much stronger defensive team that still carried the offensive weight of LeBron James’ and JR Smith’s shooting.
Slow, methodical, relentless and resilient, the Cavaliers had finally become a team Cleveland fans are proud to call their own.
The Golden State Warriors were incredibly lucky this season with a lack of injuries, while the Cavs lost more main players than any other team. But, when Cleveland gets injured, the city gets tougher, and so does the team.
This story is a throwback to Cleveland’s history of resilience through hard work, grit and a truly unbreakable spirit.
In the end, the Cavs were exhausted. With no extra players available for rotation and everyone spending extra time on the court to make up for time that would have been filled by Irving and Love, the task became unfeasible for these men to achieve.
Yet, following the Warriors win last night, Las Vegas announced its favoring of the Cavaliers for the 2016 NBA Championship.
When the 2015-2016 Cavs season begins, the team will be in full health again, and everyone expects revenge will be sweet for Cleveland. But, when the Cavs do win their title, it won’t be with the flashiness of Vegas; it’ll come with the true grit of Cleveland spirit.
Clevelanders are notorious for ending every lost sports season with the same mantra: “Next year.”
But, there is a different tone, a fiery resolve, in how fans are muttering those words this time around. The Cavs can do more than hang with the Warriors; they have a real shot at winning the damn thing next year when the team is finally in full health again.
It’s bound to happen because a win for the Cavaliers is more than an NBA Championship. It’s a win for the city of Cleveland, a mark to its present revitalization and hope for a better future.
That’s what it means to be all in for Cleveland.