Discussing the aftermath of last night with my longtime colleague at Curse of Cleveland, J.V., I told him that there were more painful losses since I've been following Cavaliers basketball (basically every elimination game the past four years, but especially the last two seasons), yet never was there a defeat so embarrassing, so disappointing, so absolutely devastating, so hope-crushing, so hit-you-in-the-face-then-hit-you-again-before-you-can-recover as last night's Heat Beach Party in Quicken Loans Arena. No, with so much scar tissue built up around my Cleveland sports heart, it's getting pretty hard to feel that pain anymore. LeBron James and his cronies punk'd us, and they punk'd us good. The gutless wonder found his rhythm in a historic display by Cleveland fans that I believed would leave him feeling that he was fighting for each and every breath. Obviously, there's so many places where it went wrong, but I can tell you the one that really sticks with me even after a night's sleep to cool my emotions.
It's Jawad Williams going up to James and hugging him postgame, it's Daniel Gibson talking with LeBron during most of the game, it's the entire Cavalier bench not having the stones to tell LeBron to go find someplace else to stand and make chit-chat, or at the very least ignore him, and it's the disconnect between what the team and players said and what actually transpired. If the Cavaliers who played with LeBron for years want to be friendly before and after the game, that's fine. Daniel Gibson even said it the day before the game. Instead, what took place was a little too much love for the man who went on national television to tell your guys as a whole that you weren't good enough for him anymore.
Even more infuriating watching it at home was the apparent refusal of the Cavaliers, ANY CAVALIER, to knock the prince on his hind end. Slicing and dicing like a madmen, James took the game to blowout circus-act proportions in the third quarter on his way to 38 points in just three quarters, even though the outcome itself was over a few minutes before the half. Still, no pride from that Cavalier unit to step up to the plate and stop James's dribble penetration or at least knock him out of the sky. That video to get the crowd pumped up (not that they needed it on this night) says things like "our city, our pride, our home", and as much as I hate to say it, it is just lip service, a front, smoke and mirrors. I guess I'm a little (or a lot) naive, but I felt like this blue-collar, gut-it-out-as-a-unit team actually believed at least SOME of that stuff.
Early on, this team was fighting, they had a 17-12 LEAD, and for the first quarter, they were holding their own against a immensely more talented team. Then, somewhere in the second quarter, the team cut its engines and was complacent with doing a nosedive in front of the entire sporting world. The sad thing is I assume most outsiders couldn't laugh at the situation the Cavaliers were in; you can't laugh at something you pity.
What went wrong on the court between the lines other than letting LeBron mentally and physically run laps around them? The same things that have been this team's dysfunction all season long. They didn't shoot well, they didn't have any form of helpside or on-the-ball defense, they didn't rebound especially on the defensive end, and they simply didn't want it like the 20,562 watching them did. The starters turned in another dreadful performance with just 28 points and only one player (Mo) in double digits with 11. Daniel Gibson led the team with 21 points, but most of that came looooooong after it didn't matter. I'll give Boobie credit for at least mixing it up with someone (Eddie House) late in the contest. As for showing life, Varejao was the only one to even lay a hangnail on James, knocking his headband off. That showed him. I knew there would be nights this season where this team would get blown off the court if they didn't shoot well simply because they don't have enough offensive firepower to survive it, but when their effort and toughness are missing, that's when they truly become unwatchable.
Let me give credit to the Cavalier fans who DID show up, and for the most part had their say while not giving the city the anticipated black eye. They were loud, epicly loud by all accounts of everyone who was there. They stayed loud even when things went south, and LeBron James is not a human being (we're all still debating, I think) if he didn't feel some sort of emotion from that display. Bravo, fans! You deserved better on this night, truly you did.
After the game, I thought James may come to his senses and hit the softball that Craig Sager lobbed up there out over the middle of the plate. He was actually doing well in my mind, he came right out and said they were seven wonderful years and a lot of memories from great fans. Then, he refused to say he wanted to apologize and instead went for the much more enjoyable (for him) topic of working on the "greatness of himself in Miami". So much for your first step down the long, long road of redemption.
Even more infuriating than that for me was Reggie Miller's unprompted digs at the Cleveland fans. Telling us to "get over it" and calling us "jilted lovers"? Really, Reggie? I mean, that's the most overplayed song on the "Media Hates Cleveland" playlist. You stayed in one midwestern city for your whole career, you did it the right way, but WE need to get over it? Would you have told the Indiana fans the same thing if you had decided to leave? This much I'm sure of, that man is dead to me now. The new and improved Charles Barkley. Check that, Barkley never said anything that infinitely stupid. And, Reggie, your sister is more of a basketball player, announcer, and man than you are.
Where do the Cavaliers go from here? It's just one loss, and the team is tied for the eighth spot in the East (yep, it's that bad in the East) with their 7-11 record. But, it seems like so much more than that. A win last night, or at least a hard-fought, well-played lost could have sent them out on this road trip against three beatable teams with some confidence. Now, with their last two performances against two of the league's best at home, I'm not sure I want them to make the playoffs. In all honesty, last night was THE FIRST night since the Boston win on opening night that I wasn't 100% confident that this team was going to make the playoffs. I still believe this team has the potential to do it, but now, I question their drive and motivation under this new regime, and it's not Bryon's fault.
Maybe the inevitable DOES have to come this year. Maybe the Cavs can't try to make this one playoff run for pride like I had hoped. Maybe the relics from the LeBron era who seem to still be fond of him (Boobie, Andy, Jawad) need to be shipped out. Maybe the Cavaliers need to get bad and get bad fast. Maybe it's time for us to take our bitter medicine.
I'll ALWAYS love this team, but right now, I'm disappointed and more scar tissue is building. My greatest fear? Becoming entirely numb to it all and not caring anymore.
I know a lot of casual fans took that leap after last night.