Finals-bound Cavs have all the ingredients for bigger finish
CLEVELAND -- Today, everyone is celebrating LeBron James.
All the talk is about how he returned home, how he lifted the Cavaliers to the second finals appearance in franchise history, how he's become a leader in every sense of the word.
And that's mostly the way it should be. James has rescued pro basketball in Cleveland.
But the Cavs also swept the Atlanta Hawks because they pulled together as a team. They shared the ball. They rebounded. They defended -- oh, man, did they defend.
They also finished the job with the greatest of ease, skating their way to a 118-88 win over the Hawks on Tuesday. The Hawks won 60 games. They led for all of 20 seconds in Game 4.
So much went right for the Cavs, it's easy to forget they were the reason so much went wrong for the Hawks. But like nearly every game in the playoffs against every team, the Cavs suffocated the Hawks into 42-percent shooting.
That's actually better than the 41 percent the Cavs have normally allowed, but not by much. They also out-rebounded the Hawks by 43-32 count.
Those reasons and more are why it's easy to believe the Cavs have no plans to stop with an Eastern Conference championship.
Oh, they also celebrated the return of Kyrie Irving. While James was driving and dunking his way to 23 points (and nine rebounds and seven assists), Irving went for 16 points and five assists after missing two games with a bum foot and worse knee.
Remember, this is Irving's first playoff appearance. Remember, same goes for Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova.
And remember, the Cavs spent the four seasons prior to this in pro basketball purgatory -- or worse. Truth is, the Cavs compiled the NBA's worst record over the past four seasons. They didn't defend or score or hold leads with any sort of consistency.
Now? They're in the Finals, and that's really the truth.
Heart and soul
So please, go ahead and give James lots of credit. This sort of run doesn't happen without a superstar. Just ask the Hawks. But don't forget the other guys. If this is to continue on, they'll all have to keep doing their thing.
The good news is everyone doesn't just enjoy playing with LeBron, but they all seem to cherish their roles. Thompson knows if he gets 16 points and 11 boards, as he did Tuesday, it won't go to waste. Instead, it will go toward something meaningful. It will help complete greatness.
Same goes for Irving and Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith (18 points, 10 rebounds), and even Dellavedova -- who played about 17 important minutes despite being sick.
And the coaching of David Blatt and his staff has been nothing short of magical. Blatt is fronting a program that really is in its first year, from Blatt all the way down. Yet he has his team's undivided attention. Often, not even seasoned coaches get that. Blatt has it in Year 1 of his American pro basketball coaching experience, and he has troops united and determined.
"I just think we're playing really hard," Blatt said. "Even when we're not great, we're still playing hard. Since January, I don't know that there's a harder-playing team than us, and that takes you a long way."
Blatt speaks the truth.
The Cavs are down Kevin Love (shoulder surgery) and Anderson Varejao (Achilles surgery). That means they've spent the majority of the season playing, as James likes to say, "next man up" basketball. They've had to fill in the gaps at the most important time of the year. And now, they are here.
That doesn't happen solely because of one man. Granted, James is still just better than most, maybe still better than all, and he has the type of postseason pedigree to carry his team to great things. His presence alone can do that.
That is a great advantage to possess -- but it's not all the Cavs possess.