I’ll admit, much like any long-time fan of Cleveland sports, I’ve had my reservations about this year’s Cavs team. We, in Cleveland, can’t get our hopes up too high when it comes to championships–even with the world’s best player on our team–since we typically end up dropping the ball in the end (literally and figuratively). However, one game into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first playoff run since LeBron last played for us in 2010, and a 100-113 win over the Boston Celtics has renewed the fan faith here in Cleveland. A championship is so close we can actually taste it. More people than ever (including those genius freaks in Vegas) admit that Cleveland may very well win its first championship since 1964… and the first championship for the NBA franchise, ever. This team has come such a long way, that even I’m close to accepting they may be unstoppable. Since the rocky start at the beginning of the season, there were a lot of misconceptions floating around about the team and its players. I looked deeper into a few to see how first impressions changed now that we’re in the post-season.
J.R. Smith is trash
I really didn’t pay much attention to J.R. Smith when he played for the [irrelevant] Knicks until I watched a video of him untying his opponent’s shoe laces on the foul line last year. From that point on, I was convinced he was a complete scumbag — just another player that is making a joke out of a sport he gets paid a ton of money to play in. Then, in the middle of the season, the Cavs took part in a trade that sent Dion Waiters to OKC and gave us J.R. and Iman Shumpert. I wasn’t impressed… in my mind, we were getting an injured player in Shump, and swapping the piss-poor attitude of Dion for another player with the same story. What exactly were we thinking on this? Everyone I complained to told me to calm down, that we only got J.R. because he was a package deal with Shump. Once Shump’s injury was all healed I’d see why this trade benefited us. But before Shump could even play any material amount of minutes in the game, J.R. Smith proved me wrong. It was beyond evident that he was, and continues to be, an asset to this team, crushing threes like it’s his job (well, it kind of is). He’s admitted multiple times since coming to Cleveland that he’s been taking the game more seriously (he says it’s because there’s nothing to do in Cleveland after 9pm, but whatever). And then there was this well-written and all out impressive essay J.R. wrote for The Cauldron, commenting on his mid-season trade, defending his reputation, and applauding his teammates. I have since changed the way I view J.R. on and off the court, and he’s easily become one of my favorite players on this team.
Kevin Love is the truth
I mean. There are no stats to prove that this statement is false. And if you looked at Kevin Love’s stats, you’d think he was a totally consistent player, posting double-doubles out the ass and putting up some pretty solid numbers game-to-game. It is for this reason that my dad calls him Casper the Friendly Ghost. Because you watch him out there on the court, and it looks like he isn’t doing much of anything. He’s slow, his presence isn’t really felt out there, he just isn’t that impressive. That is, until you realize he’s put up 19 points (despite having hardly scored in the entire first half) and got 12 rebounds right under your judgmental nose. So, I’m torn. A part of me is like YEAH K Love… one of the big three BABY, and I see him on the court and I think… is he really though? J.R.’s piece actually comments on this point, saying, “More important than what you notice about Love’s game, though, is what you don’t. He does all of the little things a team needs to win.” And though this is a different role for him than I think most people assumed he would take when he agreed to come to Cleveland, for now it’s working. He can keep being Casper. Beautiful, tall, scruffy Casper.
The team will crumble if LBJ isn’t in the game
This was only a misconception because I assumed the team would only crumble if LeBron didn’t play. I assumed any other player on the team sitting out wouldn’t have much affect on the game on way or the other. LeBron is that charismatic leader that pushes the team to perform at its highest level, that isn’t something I’m trying to dispute. But, what I began to realize after watching throughout the season, is the team looks a whole lot worse when Kyrie sits out. I checked out the stats too… out of the 13 games LeBron missed in regular season, the Cavs won three of those games (23%), which is pretty piss poor to begin with. HOWEVER, in games that Kyrie didn’t play? We only won one game out of seven he missed (14%). If you take into account the three games both players sat out (1/5, 2/27 and 4/12 which were all losses), then the winning percentage is still 30% of the games LeBron sat out and only 25% for Kyrie. It may be LeBron’s team, but I’d argue that Kyrie’s presence on the court is vital.
I’ll leave you with a quote from J.R.’s essay, because this is the mindset we all need to stay in as we keep moving forward in the playoffs. One game down, 15 to go…
As for what comes next in Cleveland, I will make it real simple for you: If we continue to play the way we have been playing, I don’t think anyone can beat us.