For those that don't know, I am not a Cleveland native. I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the great land of Canada. Last year I made my first ever trip to Cleveland to take in some Cavs games at the Q. This year I decided to come down to Cleveland to take in the first week of round two and get a taste for playoff basketball.
The crowd at Quicken Loans Arena did not disappoint in delivering a true playoff experience. There is so much raw emotion and passion that is a signature among Cleveland fans. It has factored into a reputation as one of the "crazier" fan bases out there. Cleveland fans hold their hearts on their sleeves and every time they cheer, it's not just cheering a specific play. It's cheering for the belief that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel.
When I watch the Cavs play, especially in meaningful games, I'm usually all over the place emotionally. To live and die with each make or miss with an arena full of people that felt the same way was an incredible experience. When the crowd chants for "Defense" down the stretch, they aren't just looking to create noise for the opposition. It is a desperate plea for a crowd starving for success. At least, that's how I felt.
The absence of Kevin Love is tough. Throughout the night it was so obvious how different the game would be if he were in the lineup. Pau Gasol was an absolute killer and the defensive strategy for the Rose/Gasol pick and roll/pop was not clear. Gasol routinely shredded the Cavs when Thompson would stick with Rose rather than showing and retreating back to his man. While a hard show or stick might be necessary when dealing with Rose. The rest of the defense needs to rotate and provide help on Gasol. This wasn't a huge issue with Love in the lineup, because when Love was out there Gasol was left absolutely hopeless on the defensive side of the court, which forced him to take a seat on the pine.
LeBron James seemed disengaged early on in the game. It was evident that he wanted to see what his teammates were going to bring and get other involved. However, he needs to understand that he is the catalyst of this team and the straw that stirs the drink. When LeBron is in attack mode, it forces the opposing team to scramble to try and contain him and opens things up for everybody else. He is one of the most intelligent players in the game and I'm sure he will come back much more focused during the rest of the series. But on Monday night, it was someone else that brought the team back to life.
Kyrie Irving is absolutely ridiculous. When he puts people in the blender, it's a sight to behold. While it translates to TV, seeing people completely manipulated and embarrassed by him live is a complete treat. He is a Globetrotter and a puppet master that is growing up in front of our very eyes. He's putting the league on notice and absolutely worth the price of admission.
I'll be at the Q once again on Wednesday telling Joakim Noah exactly where he should stick it. Something tells me the crowd will be going home much happier that night. Only time will tell.