In order to truly understand just how big February 7th’s win over the Wizards was for the Cavs, one must look back at what’s transpired over the past couple weeks. A 7-8 January threw everyone off and threw the media into a frenzy. The defending NBA Champions were in an odd slump that no one was expecting. Upon going 2-4 on a long Western Conference road trip, which saw the Cavaliers get thrashed by the Warriors, fans were ready to welcome home their team and get the winning going again. However, with losses to an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans, and a loss to an underwhelming Kings team without Rudy Gay in the Q, the frustration boiled.
LeBron made his frustration heard to say the least. When asked about what the Cavs are missing and what had gone wrong, LeBron exclaimed, “We need a (expletive) playmaker!” With this, began the search for a backup point guard. Candidates included Mario Chalmers, Kirk Hinrich, Jordan Farmar, and Lance Stephenson who would all have a workout organized by the Cavaliers to see who would make the team. Since that workout, nothing has been accomplished as Kay Felder still remains the only backup point guard to Kyrie Irving. Subsequently, a familiar rumor re-emerged. The trade rumor of Carmelo Anthony to Cleveland for Kevin Love is an old one but whenever the Cavs struggle, the media makes an appearance. So, as a Cavs fan, one would find it very concerning when the team wins only 2 of its last 8 games, the team’s leader, LeBron James is frustrated, and rumors galore swirl about the team that would tear down everything Cleveland had built over the last 3 years. Answers would start to come in the form of a new month, February.
The Cavs, currently on a 4 game road trip, have started to find their way. The road trip began in New York and Kevin Love completely outplayed the rumored trade counterpart, Carmelo Anthony. After controlling the Knicks overall in New York, despite a comeback effort by “Melo” and company, the Cavs would go into Washington for an absolute war.
The Wizards, winners of seven straight, winners of 14 of their last 16 games, and winners of 17 straight at home were set to defend their home court against the NBA Champions. Back and forth they would go and eventually the game would evolve into a good old-fashioned shootout in the final 4 minutes of regulation. Despite a monstrous performance by Love in the 3rd quarter and three straight triples by LeBron midway through the 4th, the Wizards were proving to be an annoying bug that couldn’t be swatted away. Wizards countered with big 3s by Bradley Beal, who finished with 41 points on the night, and Otto Porter who was on all night from the long line.
Down 1, Cavs had just under 10 seconds to execute the game winning play. It was a simple plan. Get the ball to LeBron and get out of the way. He would go down the lane, side step, travel (uncalled), and miss the point blank lay-up with 3.4 seconds to go. John Wall is fouled, makes both free throws, and the Cavs have no timeouts. Kevin Love, from the Wizards side of the floor, would throw one of those signature “touchdown passes” to LeBron and Lebron would catch it. Realizing they need a three, Lebron ran to the right wing where he would then turn, fade out of bounds, and bank in a triple over Beal with 0.3 seconds remaining to eventually send the game into overtime. LeBron, who finished with 17 assists on the night, a new career high, was ironically the guy taking the shot to tie, not the one passing it.
It was obvious this Wizards team was not going to let this Cavalier team walk into their building and take a win without a fight. They would score the first 4 points of the overtime and in the process, Lebron fouls out with just under 4 minutes to play. If the Cavs wanted to win, they would have to earn this one. Washington would extend the lead to 5 on an Oubre triple but then… Kyrie happened. Kyrie would have a counter to everything the Wizards threw at him. He was shooting a pitiful percentage through 4 quarters but he knew, without LeBron and Love taking most of the load, he needed to step up. He would tie the game at 133 apiece with a ridiculous dribbling exhibition before knocking down the baseline J and would follow with the nostalgic 3 pointer from the right wing, his favorite spot, much like he did in game 7 to the Warriors. This gave the Cavs a 3 point lead and after a few free throws to ice the game by both Irving and Love, the Cavs won a classic by a ridiculous score of 140-135.
What did this win mean to the Cavs? Everything. It proved they’re still the top dog in the East and it proved the Cavs had an undying will to win which is something much of the media (Charles Barkley) was starting to question. Love put to bed the rumors of being traded with a masterpiece of a game of 39 points and 12 boards along with comments from many in the organization that Kev is going nowhere. Cavs showed they can handle a big moment without their leader. LeBron showed his unbelievable passing with 17 assists to go with 32 points and a clutch shot. Kyrie showed that you can never count him out of a game, especially in crunch time, as he would score 11 of the Cavs’ 20 points in overtime. In addition to all of this, Tristan was huge as he added 22 points and 12 boards and newest Cavalier, Kyle Korver, had 13 points with a couple clutch threes down the stretch. However, more than anything, this game built character for the Cavs. The toughness, the fight, and the grit– championship qualities– are back in this team, and they truly have bounced back.
Moving forward, the Cavs own the best record in the East at 35-15, and hopefully they will find that “(expletive) playmaker” in due time. Until then, the trade deadline is coming up and the most interesting time of the year begins as teams, including the Cavaliers, will try to do whatever they can to form their teams and make that glorious run in the NBA playoffs. All is good Cleveland, all is good.