The Cavs are underdogs, but don't count them out in the Finals.
by Craig Lyndall
Everything about this Cavaliers playoff run feels lucky. The way it’s gone down since Kevin Love got his arm yanked makes everything the Cavaliers have achieved feel like a bonus. Even as far back as the beginning of the season, the Cavs weren’t supposed to be here, despite the return of LeBron James. They definitely weren’t supposed to be here after Kevin Love got hurt. J.R. Smith got himself suspended for what turned out to be the toughest challenge in the Eastern Conference portion of the playoffs when he missed two games against the Bulls. And they most definitely weren’t supposed to be here after Kyrie Irving became hobbled thereafter.
Yet here they are. The Cleveland Cavaliers — bolstered by some unlikely heroes and maybe even some anti-heroes — find themselves four wins away from breaking the cycle of losing in Cleveland that has lasted longer than most of our lives.
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Somehow, some way, they’ve been able to field a team that’s combined three-point shooting, defense and timely performances from secondary players to push them into the NBA Finals, and it’s really changed the gravity of it all for me. Rather than being wound tightly and nervous the way I was the last few times the Cavaliers were making their playoff runs, I’ve been surprisingly calm even as the anticipation builds toward Game 1 Thursday. This has just been so much fun. I want to savor it all without ruining it by expecting or fearing the worst. This might all come off as excuse-making or a strange exercise in reverse psychology depending on how you read it. I can sense that you might say to yourself, “Is he really just building in a bunch of excuses in case they lose? What a loser.”1 I could see that, but I can’t deny the way I’m feeling about this Cavs team or this series. It’s kind of just fun to be here and to partake in it all.
None of this means that I think the Cavaliers can’t win, by the way. I understand why they’re underdogs. Golden State is a good team and they’re healthier than the Cavaliers. They also have home court advantage, and it’s not just an on-paper home court advantage. Those Oracle Arena fans get after it better than most NBA crowds. It makes sense to me that the Warriors are five- or six-point favorites in the series opener.
Then again, I’m thinking that five or six points is two clutch threes by J.R. Smith, for example. Five or six points is two missed threes for Steph Curry with Iman Shumpert’s hand in his face. Five or six points can be made up over the course of the four offensive rebounds per game that Tristan Thompson is averaging in the playoffs. None of this even speaks to LeBron James, who can make up five or six points for the Cavaliers by himself on any given night — and throughout these playoffs, seemingly on every given night.
And all of that possibility is bolstered by the idea that this Cavaliers team is playing with house money. I keep obsessing over the Vegas odds, because I want to make sure that I’m not just being a homer when I say that the Cavaliers have a chance to win. I really do think the Cavaliers have a chance because of how much of a defensive team they’ve become with the losses of Kevin Love and of Kyrie Irving’s minutes and mobility. It’s forced the Cavaliers to play a lineup consisting of their best defenders, which just isn’t a bad thing when it comes to a Finals matchup with such a prolific scoring team like the Warriors.
In the end, the Cavaliers might lose. That’s not alright with me, of course, but it doesn’t feel like the end of the world. This Cavaliers team isn’t playing at full strength and they haven’t even played together for a full season together. This feels like the start of something as opposed to the end, despite all the talk people want to do regarding Kevin Love’s future.
I’m sorry for saying it in a lot of ways, but this trip to the Finals feels like a bonus. Like the last time the Cavs went to the Finals, we all know how quickly the pressure can mount from “lucky to be there” to “can’t get over the hump.” It’s a risky proposition to ever waste an opportunity, and I obviously don’t want the Cavaliers to waste this one either, but it’s all gravy.
If the Cavaliers can play as loose and easy as I’m feeling about the team and their chances, then maybe, just maybe this — one of the unlikeliest of chances to win it all – might just be the one. It all feels so fun, and lucky and yes, even possible.