Thanks to the 113-87 win over the feisty Toronto Raptors in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the two-time, back-to-back defending Eastern conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers are hitting their proverbial stride at the perfect time.
In what appears to be the hardwood version of a symphony orchestra playing in perfect sync and harmony, the Cavs ‘Big Three”’ of LeBron James (33 points), Kevin Love (20 points) and Kyrie Irving (30 points) combined for 83 points in clinching the franchise’s third ever Finals appearance.
In the game, they played like the trio that many envisioned, when they all came together two years ago, with Irving slashing to the rim and hitting shots like the point guard assassin that he is, Love proving doubters wrong in grabbing big rebounds over the so-called next coming of Hall-of-Famer Dikembe Mutmobo in Bismack Biyambo in grabbing 12 rebounds and finishing with a double-double.
And then there is the King.
Universally maligned and criticized for his past post-season failures, ‘The Decision’ and his 2-4 record in the Finals, James has the look of someone with a HUGE chip on his 6’8 250-pound shoulders as he threw down some thunderous dunks and jawed with Raptors uber-fan/”brand ambassador” and notorious front-running bandwagoner in Toronto-born rapper, Drake.
Cleveland has the look and feel of a team that is dangerous, yet even-keeled and determined but not over-the-top.
Perhaps they are motivated to vanquish the bitter taste of seeing the Golden State Warriors and the newest pre-ordained media all-time great in Steph Curry hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy on their home court and state when coming back to Cleveland that the visiting locker room still smells like champagne, but unlike past Cavs teams, THIS team is playing with some edge.
The 2007 team was merely happy to make the franchise’s first-ever trip to the Finals before getting swept by Tim Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs, last year’s team made it out of sheer grit and determination after losing Love—and would also lose Irving in Game 1 at Golden State. This year’s team is healthy, has a deeper bench and can play small-ball like the Warriors or put their big boy pants on and bang with the rugged Thunder.
Another element that this Cavs team has in addition to health and proverbially playing in the shadows of Dubs, is a quality bench.
Unlike last year, in which the self-absorbed former head coach David Blatt seeming refused to go to his bench which had Mike Miller, Kendrick Perkins and Brandon Haywood, new head coach Tyrone Lue, and his up-tempo pace-and-space style, has seemingly worked wonders along with quality role players such as Richard Jefferson, Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellevedova, Dhantay Jones, Timofey Mozgov and perhaps the best steal at the NBA deadline in Channing Frye who has proved to be a quality asset, in being the hottest shooter from beyond the arc this postseason in making 26-of-45 attempts from three-point range and shooting 57.8 percent.
Many are still quick to dismiss Cleveland due to playing in the weaker East, yet Cleveland is 2-0 vs. Oklahoma City and 0-2 vs. Golden State. Basically, Cleveland has a fair puncher’s chance against the West in having a 2-2 record.
And if you really look at what is happening out West, The Thunder are doing the Cavaliers a big favor in pushing the Warriors to the brink of elimination. Granted, many Cavs fans would relish a chance to exact some revenge on Golden State, the way this Cavaliers team is playing, it doesn’t matter as the Big Three are in rhythm, which could prove to be dangerous to both.