To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ demise may have been greatly exaggerated.” We all had to watch the Cavs go through a listless and pathetic stretch in March, and many people were ready to say that they lost their edge and would not be a factor in trying to defend their NBA Championship. They had a 7-10 record in March which is the first time a LeBron-led team had double digit losses since his first month in the league in 2003. They gave up first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time in a couple of years and looked like they were falling apart. They had to deal with some injuries and acclimating new faces to the offense, and they were not short on excuses for why they could not play any kind of competitive defense.
They finally put a few wins together by blowing out the 76ers to end the month of March and beating the Pacers in double overtime to start April. They were finally winning but still didn’t seem like they were where they needed to be. They beat the Magic which was expected and set themselves up for a showdown in Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. For obvious reasons, ESPN was trying to hype up the showdown between the top two seeds in the East that would be televised on their network.
LeBron, however, downplayed the matchup as he usually does by saying that no regular season games are important to him because he’s made it to six straight NBA Finals. The Celtics were coming off of a few days rest and preparation while the Cavs were playing the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. Everything was set up for a big letdown for the Cavs. They have been terrible all year on the second night of back-to-backs and especially on the road. In addition to that, Tristan Thompson was ruled out, and didn’t even make the trip to Boston. He’s the Cavs primary post presence to provide some kind of rim-protection and rebounding. I think everyone was tuning in to see if the Cavs would play with any kind of passion and emotion or if they would just give this one away.
Instead, it looked like maybe the Cavs flipped the switch that everyone has been talking about to get ready for the playoffs. After a close start, the Cavs pulled away by outscoring the Celtics 71-46 in the middle two quarters. They didn’t even shoot the three that well. They only hit about 31% from deep. LeBron thoroughly dominated the game by scoring 36 points on 14 of 22 from the field to go along with 6 assists and 10 rebounds. He had a plus/minus of +32 for the game and got into the lane whenever he wanted to. The Cavs did not look tired and went into Boston and completely demoralized them.
After the month of March the Cavs had, it was easy to see that they were not being given the same respect they had been as reigning NBA Champions. They were not feared or looked at as unbeatable by the rest of the East like they have been in the past, and teams were starting to think the Cavs were vulnerable. I don’t believe that championships are won in April, and I don’t think that blowing out a quality opponent in one game means the Cavs have fixed all of their problems.
However, I do believe that LeBron and the Cavs made a big statement with that win to show that they are still the team to beat in the East. If the Celtics face the Cavs again in the playoffs, they will remember this blowout on their home court. The Cavs wanted to show people that they can play defense when it really matters and remind people that no one can take his game to a higher level in “playoff mode” than LeBron can. Tony Rizzo from ESPN 850 said it best when he said that there is no way LeBron is letting Isaiah Thomas or John Wall knock him out of the playoffs.
Whether the Cavs continue to ride this momentum into the playoffs and hold onto the number one seed or not, the Eastern Conference got put on notice. Apparently there is a switch the Cavs can flip to play better basketball, and they were able to locate it pretty easily. They may not have looked like a championship team all season, but they will have everyone back and ready to go when it matters. LeBron knows how to dial it up come playoff time, and he knows how to get the most out of his teammates as well. As long as LeBron is in Cleveland, you might as well move West if you want to play for an NBA title.