Thursday night, after the Celtics' 89-73 win in Game 2 over the Cavaliers, it started to creep into my mind that maybe the Cavs took a step backward this year.
Actually, that thought started in October when the Mavericks embarrassed the Cavs on opening night, when Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic held out for better contracts preceding sub-par seasons, and when the Cavalier offense looked inept every night LeBron James didn't have a huge stat line.
Then General Manager Danny Ferry made the ultimate shakeup in February. He dealt away half the team for a different half, and he did it with the future— and specifically the playoffs—in mind.
Down 2-0 in the series to Boston with LeBron James struggling with his shooting touch and Celtic triple-teams, enter Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Joe Smith, and Wally Szczerbiak. Thanks to those four "trade pieces," we've got a series again in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Most people label the Cavaliers a one-man team, and there is much truth to that statement. As LeBron goes, so goes Cleveland.
But as the Cavaliers rolled to a 108-84 victory over Boston, we started to see some things Saturday night: Wallace's energy and interior strength, Smith's smooth elbow jumper and scrappy rebounding, Szczerbiak's smart drives and shot selection, and West's "true point-guard skills," evident by his 21 points and effective dribble-drive.
In short, all four contributed at their highest levels at the same time. The steady Zydrunas Ilgauskas continued to hit big shots, as well. It didn't even matter that LeBron scored a modest 21, though he did play a tremendous defensive game with numerous steals and highlight-reel blocks.
Wallace, despite his inner-ear infection, showed up with a fire in his belly from the opening tip. His early jams from LeBron dishes set the tone. West calmly tossed up southpaw jumpers that found, to quote Joe Tait, "nothing but the bottom of the net." Smith made the most of his minutes, not only hitting shots but also scraping the glass and the floor for loose balls.
If "these Cavs," the Cavs that played Saturday, showed up four times in a series, Cleveland could win not just this series but the whole thing.
It's going to be tough for the Cavs to beat Boston, knowing they will have to win at least one on the road. (They're aided by the fact that the Celtics seem to leave all of their drive and energy in Beantown.)
Even if the Wine and Gold could pull off a comeback, it would be equally tough to beat the Detroit/Orlando winner. But with the pieces in place and the personnel puzzle starting to fit together, the Cavaliers have hope.
They do, indeed, have a shot.
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