Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving has yet to experience a hostile playoff crowd like the one that surely awaits in Chicago.
This is it.
This is when the Cavaliers will get a better idea what’s in store — for this season and beyond. This is when the Cavs discover whether they’re really Finals material — or just not the same without Kevin Love.
No, the Eastern Conference semifinal vs. the Chicago Bulls cannot be determined this weekend. The series is tied at 1-all heading into Friday’s Game 3 at Chicago (8 p.m. EST). Game 4 is Sunday in Chicago, so even if someone loses both, the other team will still have to win another.
But this is still it.
Cavs starters Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson have never played in a road playoff game like this. Nor has reserve Matthew Dellavedova. This is an opponent with major talent, a veteran opponent, in front of fans who know their hoops — and love to hate the enemy.
Yes, LeBron James and many of the Cavs’ older veterans have experienced this. But not the playoff newbies. Not until now.
"Those fans are amazing and they feed off that crowd," James said. "We’ll have to be even better than we were (in Game 2)."
That’s hard to imagine. Game 2 was an avalanche. The Cavs never trailed. They led by 20 at the end of the first quarter. And now they have to better?
LeBron knows what he’s talking about. The Cavs must play with even more energy. They must make even smarter decisions. They must realize their margin for error is even smaller. That’s just the way it always goes on the road — especially in a building like the United Center. Especially against a team that features the likes of Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and Jimmy Butler, and a coach such as Tom Thibodeau.
The Bulls aren’t the Boston Celtics, a young opponent that only knew how to fight in the first round. The Bulls believe they can actually win. Not only this series, but the whole thing. They might be right.
They are at home. They’ve won in Cleveland. They have the fans behind them. It’s the Cavs who are on their own.
To LeBron James, well, that’s no big deal. As he often astutely reminds us, he’s seen it all. A basketball game in foreign territory is not among the situations that make him nervous.
Not everyone on the Cavs can say that. Even their coach, David Blatt, is doing this for the first time. He’s coached in huge games, won a lot and possesses an impressive resume. But beating the Bulls in Chicago, in this environment, is not on the list. Not yet.
The Cavs will have more meaningful games than the two this weekend. Win or lose both, again, they’ll still need to play at least one more.
But for now, this is it.
At this point in the season, the Cavs have played none bigger. Fortunately, they have James to lead the way. Fortunately, James Jones and Mike Miller and Kendrick Perkins and Shawn Marion are in uniform, too. And fortunately, Smith is returning, and Irving and Thompson aren’t trying to do this by themselves.
LeBron likes to refer to Jones and the other playoff-savvy types as "battled-tested." They are men who may not make the All-Star team, but can occasionally bury a big shot or snare a key rebound when it’s needed most. Well, guess what? It is needed most.
This is it.
This is where the Cavs can prove they’ve figured out the Bulls, where the younger guys can show they’ve learned a lot in six playoff games, where Blatt can do his finest work.