“Who you got in Game 7?” my buddy asked me on Friday morning, after the Cavaliers had won Game 6 and put a measure of doubt in Golden State’s minds.
Just a week ago it looked dismal for Cleveland. Even I’ll admit that. They had lost at home to go down 3-1 to the defending champions, AND they were heading back to Oakland for Game 5, and what I felt was sure to be a repeat coronation. How little we knew then. How stupid we must feel now.
But the Cavaliers were out of sorts. They weren’t playing the kind of basketball they had played when blitzing inferior competition in the East. They were hesitant. They weren’t hitting their switches. They were letting the Warriors do whatever they wanted, which was punctuated by a lackluster Game 4 that seemed like it was the knockout punch. Fittingly, though, the Cavs were just employing the rope-a-dope technique made famous by Muhammad Ali, who passed last week.
The Cavs were playing dead so that when they exploded it would come from nowhere.They were letting the Warriors expend all their energy on blowing them out in the games that in the end were inconsequential so that they could stand up tall in the ones that mattered most. See, you have to win 4 games to take home the Finals trophy, and after Game 4 the Warriors only had 3; they would finish the Finals with those same 3 wins. It was epic. It was beautiful. It was completely unexpected.
The word cavalier means “having or showing no concern for something that is important or serious,” but that looked like the other team on the basketball floor for most of the final 3 games of this series. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, played with poise, with grit, and with passion. It was almost as if their Game 4 loss at home was just the impetus they needed, just the anger LeBron needed to completely take over.
And take over he did. With back-to-back 41 point efforts in games 5 and 6, it soon became clear that the Warriors had absolutely no answers for him. How was this different from the all-world effort James put on last year in an ultimately futile effort? Two words: Kyrie Irving. Having that complementary piece meant James didn’t have to do everything. It meant there was another player on the floor who the offense could flow through. That cannot be understated.
Oh, and Kevin Love. The man who wears the number zero on his chest was relevant in Game 7, in a way he hadn’t been through the first 6 games. When they needed him the most he grabbed 14 rebounds and was a force inside. This is why they brought him to Cleveland. Never too late, right? There’s just something to be said for heart and soul, for god-given ability, and for playing as a team when it’s most necessary.
But I didn’t know all of that when my buddy asked me on Friday morning, “Who you got in Game 7?” All I knew was that one team had all the momentum. It didn’t matter to me where the monumental game was being played. What mattered most was who did I see hitting the big shot when it counted, and I couldn’t shake LeBron from my head. I couldn’t discount the road team just because they were the road team. I couldn’t look at the fact that no team had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals.
“It’s The Land, bro,” I told him. “I’m all in.”
And so were the Cavaliers last night. They were all in from the start of Game 5, and they didn’t let their hand off the throttle until they were dousing each other in champagne. They seized the moment and wrung every single drop of meaning out of it. They made it their own, contrary to what their very name embodies. Which makes perfect sense.