Friday, June 20

The 2007-08 Cleveland Cavaliers: A look back

With the NBA season wrapped for another year, this seems like a pretty opportune time to take a look back at the Cavs season, highlighting some of their best games and most exciting moments. Sure, the Cavs didn't duplicate their 2007 Eastern Conference championship run, but they did win 45 regular-season games despite holdouts and injury trouble, end another Washington Bullets' season in the first round, and take the eventual NBA champions to 7 games. Let's look at some of the most memorable moments of the year:

LeBest Player in LeLeague
LeBron posted another MVP-caliber season, even though a deserving Kobe Bryant took home the hardware. LeBron's numbers were actually very similar to his past few seasons; 30.0 ppg (NBA scoring champ), 7.9 RPG, 7.2 APG, 1.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, and shooting percentages in line with career totals. Importantly, he led the league in 4th-quarter scoring, helping the Cavs top the league in come-from-behind wins and filling Cavs fans with confidence in tense, late-game situations. This guy is good. We'd all like to see him hit a few more FT's (he's vowed to improve his FT shooting this summer), and 31.5% from behind the 3-point line is really not good, but this guy is the best Cav ever and makes every game worth watching.

Holdout hangover
Big ups to Andy Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic for their early-season holdouts, destroying team chemistry, delaying their own physical development, and potentially costing the Cavs a chance at a higher seed. Varejao's was particularly unpleasant, with him ripping Cavs' management and vowing to leave his deal ASAP. I was amused when he got far less money than the figure he had originally overvalued himself at. At least Varejao got things together by later in the season - Pavlovic was pretty much useless for the whole year after returning to the club.

The Toronto game
Note to home fans: Don't heckle LeBron.. It will not end well for your team. On Jan. 6, LeBron took exception to someone yelling at him from courtside. Naturally, LeBron took it out on his opponent, scoring 24 of his 39 in the 4th to erase a huge lead and almost single-handedly destroy the Riptors.

Andy in the stands
Someone please buy me some season tickets; the Cavs went 6-0 when I was at the Q this season. That mark included wins over the Lakers (take that, Dave!), Bulls (you too, Dasharath!), and an OT thriller over the Bobcats (take that, Raymond Felton, who kept me from the bar an extra half hour by sending the game into OT with a buzzer-beating three). I also saw them knock off Toronto, the LA Clippers, and who knows, the Timberwolves or something. I still have not seen the Cavs lose in person in the LeBron era.

The Portland Game
84-83. Just read about it.

Two key contributors
Throughout the year, I think that a lot of Cavs fans undervalued the contributions of two players: Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Devin Brown. Though Big Z is frequently a target of fans' complaints, he put up 14.1 ppg, a career-high 9.3 rpg, and 1.6 bpg on the year, as well as maybe the league's most confused-looking mug shot. Sure, pick on him all you want for being slow, but Z is an excellent shooter and a fine offensive rebounder, and you can't teach height. Brown, for his part (7.5/3.4/2.2), came off the bench a number of times to spark the club in moments where they seemed to have forgotten that the object of the game is, at least in part, to score points. Then he (apparently) played a prank gone horribly wrong on Coach Brown, earning him a permanent spot on the bench during the playoffs to watch Wally Szczerbiak miss shots.

TCB in January
A few of the highlights I already mentioned (Blazers, Riptors) came during the Cavs' stellar 11-3 month of January. During this month they also beat the Spurs on the road (where SA was 34-7 on the year), pitched essentially a perfect game against the Bullets (121-85), and took down the future West champion Lakers once more.

Notching two home wins over the C's
Not to mention those three in the postseason...

Short-handed in Atlanta
You might remember this game, where an injury-depleted Cavalier squad, the night after a beatdown in Houston, went into Atlanta and toppled the Hawks 100-95. It was one game where the club's effort was so strong that I felt compelled to write an article about how proud I was of them.

The Big Trade
You might have heard - we switched some players with the Bulls and Sonics. No, seriously, GM Danny Ferry made a last-minute overhaul of the Cavalier roster, bringing in Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, and Delonte West in exchange for Drew Gooden, Larry Hughes, Shannon Brown, Cedric Simmons, Donyell Marshall, Bobby "Bingo" Smith, Michael Reghi, Lamond Murray, Moondog, Cliff Lee, Leigh Bodden, a bag of basketballs, an instructional book by Pete Maravich, and six players to be named later.

Most hailed the trade as a good move, and I thought the reconstructed team ended up going farther than the old team would have. Wallace played good defense even as his body starts to betray him and Wally was a bricklayer extraordinaire. The less-heralded players turned out to be key - Delonte West stabilized the PG position, while Joe Smith brough veteran smarts and a deadly mid-range jumper.

The post-trade win over the Bullets
As a result of the aforementioned deal, the Cavaliers ended up playing (and winning) a game with this as their entire active roster:
LeBron James
Devin Brown
Damon Jones
Eric Snow
Billy Thomas (really)
Dwayne Jones
Kaniel Dickens

I think that's all I need to say about that.

April 2-16
I heard they were playing games here, but the Tribe season had started, so I can't confirm this.

Eastern Conference Playoffs, Round 1: The Washington Series
Hey, it's you guys again! Have you noticed how many of this season's highlights involve Washington? Yep, the Cavs ended the Bullets' season once again, dispatching them in six games as they did two years ago (it only took four to sedate an injury-riddled Washington club in '07). Did anyone really think Washington was going to win this series, other than their crazy players DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas? The Cavs held serve at home fairly easily, including a 30-point drive-by of the Bullets in Game 2, with "overrated" LeBron pouring in 31 per. At this point, the series was over.

Sure, the Wiz embarrassed the Cavs in Game 3 (by 36?!), but the Cavs ended all doubts with a road win punctuated by Delonte West's huge game-winning three-ball. Yeah, they squandered a close-out at home, but destroyed the Bullets in Game 6 behind a seriously overrated triple-double (27-13-13) from the King.

Two things stick out for me from this series: one is the Bullets' pathetic attempts to thugify themselves and foul LeBron hard constantly, a tactic that didn't exactly transfer into wins. The other? LeBron's absurd alley-oop from Daniel Gibson in Game 1. Wow.

Eastern Conference Playoffs, Round 2: The Celtics Series
The Cavs' second-round foe was the Boston Celtics, who posted the league's best regular-season record and claimed the top seed. It took Boston a surprising seven games to knock off the sub-.500 Atlanta Hawks, losing all three on the road and winning all four at home.

Luckily, all three games in this series were in Cleveland, in the friendly confines of Quicken Loans Arena. The new guys (West, Wallace, Szczerbiak, and Smith) all played huge roles in a blazing 108-84 victory to kick off the series, and the Cavs locked down on defense to take a 2-0 series lead in an 88-77 highlighted by LeBron's fantastic dunk over Kevin Garnett. LeBron then played his best game of the series in an ugly (yet beautiful) 74-69 win over the C's to complete the three-game sweep of Boston.

Oddly, according to some obscure league rule, the Celtics got to move on to the Conference Finals and face the Pistons. Don't ask me why. Whatever the reason, the books closed on the Cavs' largely successful 2007-08 campaign and our thoughts turned to the Tribe, and Browns once again. But the Cavaliers will be back.

Go Cavs!

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