Sunday, February 13

1-game winning streak

As illustrated by the photo of my game ticket I posted early Saturday morning, I was privileged to attend the Cavs' 126-119 overtime win over the LA Clippers on Friday night, which as you undoubtedly know snapped the Cavs' NBA-record 26-game losing streak. I have to say that it was without a doubt the most exciting and unique Cavaliers game I've ever been to. It was a terrifically-played contest, with the teams battling each other tooth and nail all night and really not looking like two teams who came into the game a combined 28-77 on the season.

The real fun of the game, though, was the fans - I've never seen the atmosphere so electric in the Q, not even for playoff games. I'd compare it favorably to Cleveland Browns Stadium during the Jets game this year. It's really, really easy to be cynical and down about a team whose struggles have become historic (and we'll get to that), but the fans were behind the Cavaliers 100% all game on Friday night. There were moments, of course, where it looked like "uh-oh, here we go again," but even during those rocky times the team and the fans refused to fold.

It was such a rewarding win in part because of what a national laughingstock the Cavaliers had become - the national sports media sort of just ran with the dump-on-Cleveland mentality that the rest of the news media regularly employs, and I think both fans and team were getting a bit annoyed with it. I must admit, however, that both (which for weeks sported simply the word "No" in large Comic Sans font and a photo of a certain former player, and the Onion's hilarious "scared straight" post about the Cavs were pretty funny. My favorite part of The Onion's piece was JJ Hickson's outburst:

You want to end up like me?" said forward JJ Hickson, screaming at the teens. "Broken down, hopeless, and barely able to complete a bounce pass without turning it over? Then you just keep living your life they way you have been. Look at this. This is you in 10 years."

"What are you laughing at?" added Hickson, staring directly at a snickering 14-year-old. "You think getting blown out by the fucking Toronto Raptors is funny? That's what I thought once. But this is some serious shit right here. I wish this life on no man."

Comedy aside, though, it was time to win a game, and who better to break the streak against than the perenially hapless Los Angeles Clippers? It makes perfect cosmic sense. Yes, the Cavaliers haven't had the most successful franchise history, but nothing competes with the ineptitude the Clips and their fans (assuming such people exist) have been through over the last 40 years or so. They've got some hope now in the form of super-rookie Blake Griffin (himself the subject of an amusing Onion piece, but what's easily overlooked in the excitement over Griffin's aerial maneuvers and all-around play is that the Clippers still suck. They're 20-32. Make no mistake: I bought this ticket in large part because the opponent looked vulnerable.

As for Griffin, the guy is undoubtedly a star, a fierce rebounder with a surprisingly developed low-post game and remarkable physical talents. However, on this night, Griffin (despite his 32/13 line) was outplayed by Hickson, who played a monster game on both ends. Griffin was played tough all night long by Hickson and the undersized Cavs, shooting only 42% and only reaching the numbers he did because the referees are apparently already giving him absolutely ever superstar call they can. I hope he signed autographs for them, at the very least. Griffin, unfortunately for the Clips, stays down at the offensive end and whines on the rare occasion he doesn't get a call, which led to a few easy Cavaliers baskets at the other end. This is your first year, son - get back and play defense and worry about talking to the zebras later. This facet of Griffin's game did not impress me.

The Cavaliers won by relying heavily on their best players: Antawn Jamison, Hickson, Daniel Gibson, and Mo Williams, in his long-awaited return to the lineup. Mo wasn't particularly accurate (7-18 from the floor), but gave the team an emotional spark and hit the tough fadeaway jumper to tie the game late in regulation. More importantly, Williams also directed a more efficient Cavalier offense, dihing out 14 assists. His backcourt mate Daniel Gibson poured in a clean 17 points on just 8 shots from the field (4-8, including 3-5 from downtown plus 6-6 from the line).

Williams' return also had a hidden benefit - Manny Harris' DNP-CD. I'm telling you, any time you can take a michigan product out of your lineup, good things will start to happen. It also meant more pine time for Francis Favorite Christian Eyenga, but he'll have time to develop as the season rolls on. Byron Scott was wise to ride his veterans down the stretch in this situation.

Hickson played his most inspired game as a Cavalier - the aforementioned defense on Griffin went along with 27 points on efficient 12-19 shooting (3-3 from the foul line), and 14 rebounds. He also had two HUGE blocks, laying Griffin flat on his back with one powerful stuff (one of this game's many great moments - I was out of my seat on that one), and swatting away at the last possible second a floater by Baron Davis that likely would have given the Clips the win at the end of regulation had it continued on its trajectory. Hickson can be a serious player if he brings this sort of intensity night in and night out. I recognize that this has been said in the past on many occasions by many people.

And, of course, Antawn Jamison, the team's most respected veteran, poured in 35 points and led the team emotionally all night long. Jamison also fortunately found his stroke from deep, as his three-pointer late in overtime sealed a game that looked like it was once again slipping away from Cleveland. Just a tough, smart, complete game from Jamison.

The scene at the Q when time finally ran out in overtime and THE DIFF read +7 was really fun and exciting - confetti finally fell from the rafters again, fans cheered unironically, and every single Cavalier threw a giant monkey off of their back. But the discussion about the game will live on, and I'll make my last point on that note.

As great as the crowd was and Cavaliers are, there are still some real losers out there, most notably the guy who sat in Section 212, Row 3, Seat 12, i.e. right behind me. This guy was garbage. Ostensibly a Cavs fan (he told me he was a season-ticket holder), he sat there in his argyle sweater rooting openly for "Blake," mocking the Cavs every time they missed a foul shot (care to guess if he ever acknowledged their 81.3% mark at the stripe on the night), and letting loose the least funny all-game comedy routine you've ever heard. He was painfully unfunny. I tried to impersonate him, but couldn't reach his elite level of anti-comedy. After an entire game of his fair-weather-fan bullshit (and me taking full advantage before and during the game of my living Downtown and not having to drive home), I turned to him at the end and said "You rooted for the Clippers all game, you said the Cavaliers would never lead by more than a point, and they won. In your face!" I meant every word. I distributed a liberal, Barney Stinson-esque number of high fives throughout the game, but I'll be damned if I ever give a turkey like this guy one. He responded that he's a season ticket holder but is dropping them after this year. Go root for the Lakers or something, dummy.

It's easy to be cynical about a team going through a stretch like this. It's easy to kick a team when they're down. It's easy to dismiss this win and sarcastically point to the troubles that preceded it. Snarky Cleveland bloggers will continue to mock the team, and undoubtedly set their sights on fans like me who were heartened by the long-awaited victory. I hate this. It's the worst kind of stupid, lazy writing and fandom - you stick with your team through bad times and good, and as Cleveland fans we should be quite experienced with backing a bad team by now.

But you have to enjoy the little things. If you're so much of a cynic and a frontrunner that you can't smile at the Cavaliers breaking a twenty-six game losing streak, then just stop watching them. In fact, stop watching Cleveland sports altogether. I don't want you on my team. You have to be able to savor a unique moment like this, otherwise you're just going to be the kind of whiny, mopey fan that Cleveland is in danger of being known for.

Don't mistake this for me saying you have to be a Pollyanna about the state of the club. The Cavs are obviously still not very good, and have a lot of work to do before they return to respectability. This win doesn't change the fact that they will get a high lottery pick this offseason, but complaining about their 9-45 mark won't mitigate their current struggles or accelerate their timeframe for competitiveness. It just makes you look like, frankly, a whiny little bitch. You can do better.

This was a great win for the Cavs, and the team and their fans deserve to enjoy it. And now both of us need to look forward to hopefully better times. Go Cavs!

1 comment:

Figgs said...

I haven't watched a high number of Cavs games this year, partially because the NBA as a whole isn't my favorite, partially because I've been more into college this year with OSU sporting their best team since Jerry Lucas was wearing inappropriately short shorts, and partially because well, the Cavs pork. But I, like Andy, had a good feeling going into this Clipper game, and was actually pretty stoked to watch it. Then as game time rolled around and I was flipping through the channels, I came to the conclusion that for some unknown reason Arlington, TX does not carry FSN Ohio. Damnit. It's funny how spoiled we have become that it just seems like second nature that all Cavs and Indians games should be telvised that I could have a mental gaff like that. It also could have been the amount of Nattys I had had throughout the day, but I think it was the spoiled thing. Anyway, my point in this ramble was that I really wanted to watch this one, but could not. Also, I love high-fives.