Disappointment, not doom, in Finals loss
With LeBron James, you can dream bigger. And more realistically. And just about all becomes possible, and with that possibility comes expectation.
So, as the champagne flies around the Golden State Warriors locker room and Cleveland, collectively, deals with a taste much different and much less joyous, keep this in mind.
A week ago, a lot of people thought the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to win the NBA title. Really. It was possible, too. It was within reach.
Think about that a year ago. Even five months ago, that seemed like a real stretch.
The Cavs didn't win a championship. Yet. The drought lives, the Cleveland sports misery TV montage lives, the angst lingers. What would've been the biggest Cleveland story ever and one of the most incredible sports stories anywhere, ever, was derailed by the Warriors flipping the switch, making a lineup change, Draymond Green deciding to participate and the NBA's best team, wire to wire, deciding to finish its run.
James was brilliant and dominant. The Cavs -- almost all of them besides James new not just to this stage but to anything like this -- limped behind him. They were shorthanded and gassed by the end -- James was exhausted, too -- and though everything could have been different if the final minutes of Game 1 would have been different, it wasn't.
The Cavs came this far, came up short and don't have a whole lot in which they can be disappointed.
It just wasn't good enough. Not against the Warriors.
The better team won. The deeper, more balanced, more efficient team won. Golden State went fast and eventually ran the Cavs out of gas.
"Tonight," James said a couple hours after Game 6 ended, "we ran out of talent."
"We never made an excuse and we certainly won't now," Blatt said. "We played our hearts out. The Warriors were better."
Sure, with James it's always championship or bust. He's tried since last July to downplay and dance around that, but he's on his own planet from a talent standpoint. With that comes expectation, and pressure, and all of those things he's changed about the Cavs in this complicated homecoming that changed everything.
On the other side in the Finals was the guy who won MVP this year, and a team that had a special mix of experience and unselfishness and grit despite having a reputation for splash and flash. We can't say with certainty that the Cavs will be back, or that they'll have better injury luck or much better personnel, or that they'll be better than what the superior Western Conference delivers if the Cavs get back here, so it's fine to be disappointed that the Cavs didn't win when they were here.
It's fine, too, to think it's pretty damn impressive that they were here.
Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it was going to be very difficult to beat the Warriors four times in two weeks. Sometimes, facts and excuses can live in the same zip code. Like expectations, dreams and reality. The Cavs rose from making a scene at the lottery to leading the Finals in 25 months. The Cavs rose from tying the all-time professional sports record for consecutive losses in 2011 to playing for a title in 2015.
"It hurts when you come up short," James said. "I wish I could have done more. It just wasn't our time."
James took a chance last summer. Other moves followed. A messy 19-20 start ended up meaning little in the big picture, and the big picture still shows the Cavs as big players, not just knocking on the door behind which that drought and that misery montage live but maybe getting ready to kick it in.
The elusive Cleveland title remains that. It's something to chase. It's a chase that will drive James and the whole organization.
Tuesday night, the champagne was placed in the visitor's locker room. In Cleveland, though, the hangover really shouldn't be all that bad.