Editor’s note: This piece was submitted to us by Danny Cunningham, Cleveland native and late of SKOR North. You may see his writing here from time to time going forward and be sure to give him a follow on Twitter @RealDCunningham — Chris
It’s been three weeks since we’ve seen a live NBA game thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ESPN has made the decision to start showing classics in primetime throughout the week. Wednesday is the night that the NBA is taking center stage, and the World Wide Leader is getting things rolling with a doubleheader. It’s truthfully the best NBA doubleheader Clevelanders could ask for: Game 5 and Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.
Yes, if unless you’ve been living under a rock since the moment the Warriors won Game 4 of that series to go up 3-1 — honestly go back, it’s better under the rock right now than out in the world – you know what happens in not only the two games ESPN is showing on Wednesday, but in Game 6 as well. With that being said, this is an excuse to look back at the two of the most memorable nights in franchise history and pick out two of the best, but underappreciated things to look for when re-watching each of the games.
We’ve all seen the worst example of a mean sign directed at LeBron James over and over and over again. We’ve made fun of it countless times on Twitter, still laugh at it whenever it’s brought up, and question how anyone thought it was even remotely a good idea.
“LeBron…take the “HIGH ROAD” back to CLEVELAND WITH YOUR 2nd YEAR LOSING TO THE GSW! You are no longer known as “KING JAMES” – you are now “LOSER CRY BABY JAMES” (with your feelings “HURT”)”
Okay, there’s so much to unpack here. I’m going to ask a few questions.
- What’s the limit for the number of words on a sign? I mean, I think the signs that fans used to hold up with four words and ESPN somehow connected in them were busy. Whoever made this put a paragraph on the sign.
- I don’t understand the inconsistencies in capital letters here. Was the creator trying to make some of the words more forceful than others? Isn’t everything on a sign basically said in a yelling tone? Either go all caps or don’t bother with it.
- Even more than not understanding the lettering structure, why did so many things need to be put in quotations? This might be the most pointless part.
- Just kidding, the most pointless part was the last half sentence, which was put inside of parenthesis. In the off chance that James saw the sign and decided to read it, was that just supposed to be optional for him? “Hey Bron, I put this end part, but if you don’t feel like reading further it’s really not a big deal.”
- I still can’t get over the fact that someone thought having a THIRTY-FIVE WORD sign was a good idea.
- This looks like it was laminated by a disgruntled grade school teacher to send home with a bad student to show his or her parents.
- WHY not ALL caps?!
So, by this point, I realize I’ve written far too much about a stupid sign at a game nearly four years ago, but I’ve got one more point here, and you’ve already read this much of it anyways.
The “HIGH ROAD” and “feelings ‘HURT’” parts of the sign stem from James’ presser the day before Game 5 — at least that’s what I’m assuming. That was when the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bill Livingston read back Klay Thompson’s answer saying that James just got his feelings hurt and LeBron responding with saying that it was difficult to take the high road. It’s definitely worth watching, when you have the time, which you probably do right now since you can’t leave your house.
Kyrie Irving’s dominance
As long as we’ve brought up Thompson we might as well go in this direction next. Yes, Kyrie Irving has had some incredible nights in his career. Dropping 55 points on Portland in 2015 and then 57 on the Spurs a little over a month later certainly come to mind as bright spots.
Everything considered, Game 5 was Irving’s magnum opus. Yes, I know what happened in Game 7, everyone does. From the jump, until the final horn, this is the best game of Irving’s career for my money. There were many moments during this game that Thompson just looked helpless trying to stop impossible shots from falling through the net. It didn’t matter who was or wasn’t on the court that night, there might not have been a soul on this Earth that could have slowed Irving down.
The best stretch from Irving offensively probably happened in the middle of the fourth quarter. Irving scored 10 straight points for the Cavs, and all four of his buckets were insanely tough. It started with a turnaround basket (plus the foul) over Thompson on the left block, was then followed by a tough bank shot over Steph Curry (that probably could have drawn a whistle), an insane turnaround jumper at the elbow over Thompson, and then a contested 3-pointer over Andre Iguodala.
Just an offensive masterpiece.
It’s worth mentioning how crazy hot Klay Thompson was during this game, too. If it weren’t for him, the Warriors lose this one by far more than 15 points. He finished with 37 points on just 20 shots. His performance helps make this game an absolute classic.
It’s entirely possible that each time this game is re-watched or even mentioned, there are still old nerves that emerge from the depths of your insides. It’s a night that no Clevelander, or NBA fan, will ever forget. It’s the type of night that you’ll always remember who you were with, where you were at, and how you reacted, and that will never change.
JR Smith’s moment
Okay, so this one probably comes up more in random Cavs conversation than the other things written on this list. The No. 1 item on any JR Smith defender’s agenda (hello, it’s me, defender of JR Smith) is the stretch he had to open up the second half. Did he turn the ball over trying to throw a ridiculous lob to LeBron right after it? You’re damn right he did. Does that matter right now? Absolutely not.
Every time the Warriors opened up a league of roughly five points — in any game during this era, not just this one — the opponent was in the danger zone. The game was 90 seconds away from being over at any point. There was a sense of impending doom, and right as the third quarter started, it felt like the game was teetering on disaster.
Enter Earl Joseph Smith III.
He came out of the locker room ready to launch. First, he hit a long 2-pointer to inject a bit of life back into the Cavs, then a Tristan Thompson basket and a Klay Thompson 3-pointer were exchanged before back-to-back 3-point makes from Smith.
It’s easy to look at all of the infuriating moments that Smith had throughout his career. But this, and the press conference that followed the game from Smith made him a likeable figure in Cleveland as long as he’s thought of.
Smith scored eight of the Cavs’ first 10 points of the second half, and cut Golden State’s lead from seven down to just two, before he grabbed a steal from Klay Thompson that led to a layup from Irving that tied the game. The Cavs wouldn’t trail by more than four points the rest of the way. In fact, that leads to the other sequence from Game 7 that gets looked past.
LeBron gives the Cavs the lead
When we think back to this game, our minds instantly jump to hearing Mike Breen on the call exclaim “Iguodala to Curry, back to Iguodala, up for the layup, OH, BLOCKED BY JAMES!” and rightfully so.
I’m not here to say that anything James did in this game supersedes his block. That’s the play of his career, and one of the best, most influential plays in basketball history. There’s no debate there. But over the course of two offensive possessions and one defensive possession in the fourth quarter, everything went exactly how it needed to go for the Cavs, and that’s mostly thanks to James.
With 5:30 remaining in regulation, James and Tristan Thompson run a pick-and-roll to that forces a Festus Ezeli switch onto James on the left wing. James pump fakes, gets Ezeli into the air, and draws three free throws. James drills all three freebies to cut Golden State’s lead to 87-86 with 5:24 left.
The defensive possession was the unforced error that will forever haunt Golden State fans and bring delight to Clevelanders: Steph Curry’s errant behind-the-back pass to Klay Thompson. The Cavs really didn’t do anything to force this, but the gif of Curry throwing the Larry O’Brien trophy behind his back and out of bounds will live on for eternity.
Cavs get the ball back, have a mostly empty possession, and with the shot clock running down get the same switch to force Ezeli onto James. This time James steps into the three, knocks it down, and puts the Cavs up 89-87. They would never trail again.
It’s an easy sequence to forget, but its importance is understated.
Things out in the world right now aren’t fun to think about. Hopefully reading through this made things a little bit better, even if just for a brief moment. While watching Game 5 and Game 7 won’t fix any of the problems that exist right now, maybe for just a few hours we can think back to a better time, and hope for better days ahead.