This is why we love the NBA. Hell, this is why we love sports. Games like this, although relatively meaningless in the standings, can lift the spirits of an entire city, for one night at least. This game had everything. The drama of LeBron's return. The David and Goliath match-up. The absolutely amazing crowd. Everything off the court was set up perfectly, it was just up to the Cavaliers to step up and put up the fight on the court, and boy, did they ever.
After LeBron skipped out on the introductions and waited until the lights were turned off to take the floor, the Cavaliers faithful brought the venom that he rightfully deserved. Boos echoed throughout the Q every time he touched the ball and cheers erupted each time a hard foul put him on the ground. Little signs of effort is all we wanted from the players. Hard fouls, hustle, and leaving everything on the floor would be enough for us. The discrepancy in talent is obvious, so a win was certainly not expected. Ryan Hollins, Anthony Parker, Baron Davis, Boobie Gibson, and J.J. Hickson gave us all of that and more. The first quarter played out pretty much as expected. The Cavaliers were energized by the crowd and jumped out to an early lead. The Heat rallied to tie the game at 24 a piece by the end of the first period.
Call me cynical, but at this point I was just waiting for the inevitable collapse. Talent would take over as James and Dwyane Wade cruised to an easy win. It never happened. The Cavaliers led by 11 at the half and the lead would grow to as much as 23. Hickson and Hollins abused Chris Bosh all night long, contributing 34 points and 15 rebounds between the two of them. The Heat went on a run of their own, slicing into the Cavaliers lead, outscoring Cleveland 17-1 during a good portion of the third quarter. With the game tied at 83 and Quicken Loans Arena crowd at full volume, the Cavs took over. A final 12-0 run punctuated with a ferocious dunk by Hollins and three-point dagger from Parker put Cavs fans everywhere over the edge. That's when it hit me. Miami had nothing left, the Cavs were going to win.The final four minutes of the game were mere formality as Cleveland closed out a well deserved 12 point win over the villainous Miami Heat. The internet exploded, Twitter went crazy, and Dan Gilbert sent out a signature message to LeBron. Cavaliers fans have suffered through a long season that is nearing it's end. The 26 game losing streak and the relentless injuries almost seem worth it for this one win.
I believe we all owe an apology to Ryan Hollins who had a particularly ridiculous game. After everyone complained and dogged him for being our starting center, he certainly earned his keep with this one performance. He came up with huge blocks and stadium-rocking dunks at critical moments throughout the game. He severely outplayed Miami's Bosh and posted a +/- of +33 while Bosh turned in a pathetic -24. Furthermore, he exchanged heated words with Wade resulting in double technical fouls, providing the intensity that the Cavaliers so clearly lacked the first time around. Additionally, it's time to admit that we underestimated Baron Davis as a competitor. Essentially everybody in the NBA community assumed that Davis would give minimal effort after being traded from Los Angeles to Cleveland. Whether he came out to prove his doubters wrong or if he simply hated Donald Sterling THAT much, Davis toughed it out through injury and stepped up as the leader this team so desperately needed. He may be overpaid and past his prime, but Davis proved that his competitive fire remains.
People will point out that it's only one game and that the Cavs are still going nowhere this year, but to diehard Clevelanders, it means so much more than that. This team is on the right track. The worst is behind us, and we can FINALLY move past LeBron James. This is a sign of things to come for the Cavaliers franchise. The idea of contending again is still a long way off, but if tonight is any indication, I think the post-James era in Cleveland is going to be just fine.