Orbiting Cleveland: Legend of Cavaliers season grows with a LeBron playoff buzzer beater

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
One week ago, I contended that the Cleveland Cavaliers should still be considered the favorites in the Eastern Conference Semifinals despite the loss of Kevin Love to season-ending shoulder surgery and J.R. Smith’s looming two-game suspension.

I maintain that point of view today. In fact, I’ve never felt more confident.

Yesterday, the Cavaliers defeated the Chicago Bulls 86-84 after LeBron James hit a buzzer-beating jumper from the left corner. It was a nice reversal of fortunate for James who struggled throughout the contest, going 10-of-30 from the field — yes, he took 30 shots — while also committing eight turnovers.

More importantly, it was sweet revenge for the Cavaliers, which lost in similar fashion on Friday after Derrick Rose make a circus-style three-pointer as time expired to lift the Bulls to a 99-96 victory.

The important thing is that with their victory on Sunday, the Cavaliers once again own home-court advantage. For all intents and purposes, the series now becomes a new three-game series, and two of those three games will be played in Cleveland. The importance of that cannot be overstated.

This series has not been pretty. Game one saw the Bulls outrebound, outdefend and outclass the Cavaliers in every facet of the game. Sure, the score says the Cavaliers lost 99-92, but that’s not an accurate enough reflection of just how lopsided the game was.

The Cavaliers returned the favor in game two, winning 106-91 and embarrassing the Bulls along the way. With four Cavaliers scoring at least 15 points, it might have been the team’s most impressive postseason performance thus far.

But then things got interesting. Games three and four were gritty, defensive, even ugly at times, but that’s what made them so fun. Say what will about the series against Boston, but that was meant to just whet our appetites. We can all now collectively agree that playoff basketball is officially back in Cleveland, and what a beautiful thing it is. It’s here to stay, too.

Say what you will about the team’s effort in games three and four but one thing that cannot be argued is this: Kyrie Irving and James had abysmal shooting performances in both contests. Can you believe that Irving has gone a combined 5-of-23 in the two games? What about James, who has combined to go 18-of-55 over that span. Aren’t these two of the greatest basketball players in the world?

That’s a rhetorical question, so I’ll offer another one for you. Can this type of poor shooting possibly last?

Even with Irving nursing a foot injury, one has to expect that he and James will eventually begin to perform better from the field. The fact that the Cavaliers nearly went 2-0 in Chicago with these performances from Irving and James is a great sign for this team’s future. It’s also reflective of how it’s been a total team effort for the Cavaliers up to this point.

Consider Tristan Thompson. With the addition of Love this season, Thompson’s role was significantly reduced, but you wouldn’t know it now. He’s been an absolute beast on the glass this series, going toe-to-toe with Joakim Noah despite giving up a couple inches.

What about Matthew Dellavedova? Remember when there was so much chatter about how this team still needed a backup point guard? Hell, I’m guilty of writing a column on that very topic just a few short months ago. Yet how efficient has the scrappy Australian been this series? He’s giving the Cavaliers quality minutes every time he enters a contest, and it’s clear that his teammates are quickly gaining more faith in his abilities.

Timofey Mozgov has been impressive as well. With six points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter yesterday, he was one of the central cogs that made the Cavaliers machine work. With James and Irving struggling to score, it was crucial that someone pick up the slack, and Mozgov’s 15 points did just that.

Of course, we can’t forget about J.R. Smith. Now thrust into a new role as the sixth man, Smith has excelled in his first two games in the series, shooting 7-of-14 from beyond the arch. On both Friday and yesterday, there were multiple occasions where he made a big shot to keep the Cavaliers alive.

Here’s some food for thought. Smith has made plenty of big shots already with the crowd against him, but what happens when the crowd is on his side? Just think of Smith draining a three-pointer as a deafening crowd at Quicken Loans Arena cheers him on. Nothing gets into a team’s psyche more than these type of moments, and the Cavaliers are likely hoping for that type of performance from Smith on Tuesday.

Above all else, this team will always stand a chance as long as they have No. 23 on their team. It’s funny, very few players can be considered a game’s hero after shooting 10-of-30, but that’s exactly what James was on Sunday. Remember how you felt on Friday as you stared at your television screen when Rose drained that three-point shot? That’s exactly how Chicago fans felt yesterday, but worse — James did it in their house.

Admit it. After Rose’s shot on Friday, you thought, “Well, this series is over. This is typical Cleveland.” Except that’s where you’re wrong. Nothing about this past year has been typical for Cleveland. Remember, LeBron James came home.

This isn’t your father’s Cleveland. It’s not your grandfather’s either. Few teams can come back from a loss like Friday’s and then put together a gutsy performance like we saw yesterday.

In fact, only one type of team is capable of that: a championship-caliber team. You do the math.
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About Steve Orbanek

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