The playoffs are often a war of attrition. Survive and advance. The players are pushing 90 games played or more at this point. The intensity goes up a notch or eight. Most teams are using a spare part or two. The Cleveland Cavaliers understand this more than most.
I always think of a story from Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier after their first run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Edmonton Oilers. They ran into a dying dynasty in the New York Islanders. The cocky young prodigies thought they'd run through the old guard with ease. It was their time. Except it wasn't. The Islanders handled the Oilers. About 30 minutes after the Stanley Cup was awarded, Messier and Gretzky couldn't help themselves. They wanted to see the Islanders celebration. If they saw how sweet it was, if they saw how much fun the Islanders were having, perhaps it'd give them the last dose of incentive to put themselves over the top the following year.
That's not what they saw. The weary, beaten down, champion Islanders were nursing wounds, lying back, relaxing. Gretzky and Messier would later recount that it was one of the most important lessons they learned. You can't win a title without extreme sacrifice. It requires everything. Coming into the playoffs, I wondered if the young Cavs would understand that. I thought it might take a year. Whether through the leadership of LeBron James, or just pure necessity or both, the Cavs have shown tremendous heart, and grit, and energy. It's been really fun.
Here are your top five Cavs stories of the week.
1) Paul Flannery of SB Nation wrote about the Cavs meeting expectations, even in the face of adversity. Of course, not everyone has the same expectations.
2) Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com took note of all the roster changes the Cavs have persevered through. Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, and Kevin Love all started opening night
3) William Bohl made it clear that there will always be a chance for the Cavs to steal games as long as LeBron James is on the roster.
4) Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report wrote a great recap of last night's game, noting the team chemistry obviously evident throughout:
From the executive offices to rear end of the rotation, there was much of the satisfaction that comes from validation. It's just that the Cavaliers had actually advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals roughly an hour before the final buzzer, but the clock hadn't caught up yet. It was somehow even slower than the beleaguered Bulls had been.
Still, there were some hugs, nearly as many as there had been Chicago points—42!—in the final three quarters. Hugs between J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, between David Blatt and Tristan Thompson, between Matthew Dellavedova and LeBron James, with the latter gripping the Aussie's neck tighter than Chicago's latest villain has ever locked a leg.
Later, there would be plenty of laughter in the locker room. Laughter as James, resting and then dressing prior to his trip to the podium, directed others to conduct their media sessions nearer to the showers, to clear some space in front of his locker stall.
5) Mike Mayer wrote about LeBron James' dominant Game 5 performance. After the game-winner in Game 4, he broke the Bulls' back.