We always knew Cleveland could recover from its strange slump, and the Cavs dramatically shifted back to form vs. the Celtics.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been on a strange path ever since the All-Star break ended. They won a few games, lost a few more than that, ended up going 7-10 in March, and successfully made us wonder if this was a fallout they couldn’t recover from. Deep down, most of us knew they would be fine.
If you weren’t sure, Wednesday’s drubbing of the Boston Celtics was a tangible reminder.
With the Celtics threatening for the No. 1 seed, the Cavaliers needed a win against their conference opponents to hold them off. The two teams entered Wednesday with the same record, but the Cavaliers win now gives them a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker on the year.
Here’s why this was a reminder that yes, Cleveland is, was, and will be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference this season and head to a third straight NBA Finals.
The defense was active and swarming
Last season, Cleveland finished No. 10 in defense for the regular season. Losing Matthew Dellavedova and adding Kyle Korver probably didn’t help, but the Cavaliers have been just about the worst defense since the All-Star break. They can certainly be much better than that.
On Wednesday, they were. Even Kyrie Irving — notably an average-at-best defender — was coming up with chasedown blocks.
Thomas is sometimes an easier target to pick on, but James got him, too.
That block leading into a runout dunk on the other end is Cleveland at its best.
Nothing from the Cavaliers’ slump in March was really James’s fault, at least from his play on the court. Even as losses piled up, Cleveland was beating teams soundly during James’s time on the court while getting annihilated with him on the bench. James’s stats were amazing, too, earning considerable buzz as an MVP candidate.
But Sunday was a reminder that when James is really locked in — playoff-series-against-a-formidable-playoff-opponent locked in — there’s even another level he can reach. Like him treating poor Jae Crowder as a turnstile right here.
Or this full-court sequence where he dunked and then swatted Marcus Smart on the other end.
Before this game, James said he didn’t “care” about beating Boston or not beating Boston. But with home court advantage on the line, you could see James really wanted to crush Boston.
He, and Cleveland, did just that.
This should be the Cavaliers team we’ll see in the playoffs
Cleveland has been to two NBA Finals and is the reigning champion. James has been to six straight. For all three of his regular seasons in his return to Cleveland, there has been midseason drama that ultimately turned out to be inconsequential. This can be accurately described as drama. If the Cavaliers play like this throughout the postseason and advance to the Finals, it’s also fair to say it will be inconsequential.
Nearly all of us were betting that Cleveland would turn it around. It was a safe bet after seeing it happen several times. Sure, this is just one game, and judging anything off one-game sample sizes isn’t usually smart. But this might be the exception.
To be honest, we’ve all been waiting for this game to happen.