Cavs just the latest Cleveland team on the what if list
So now their watch has ended.
After a franchise-record 102 games, four rounds of playoffs and the second trip to the NBA Finals in franchise history, it finally came to an end on Tuesday for the Cleveland Cavaliers, who ended the 2014-15 NBA season the way they began it – with a loss on their home court.
As disappointing as it was to watch the Cavs miss out on the first title in team history and, in the process, end Cleveland’s ongoing title drought, it’s hard to see how this could have turned out differently. Because of injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, too many players were forced into roles where they were asked to do too much as head coach David Blatt simply ran out of options along with healthy bodies.
“We would have loved to have come into the series as a whole team,” Blatt said in published reports. “I feel badly for Kevin and for Kyrie because they did so much during the course of the season to help us get here. We’re not here without either one of those guys and obviously having had them in this series would have been significant.
“But we never asked for sympathy when they went down. We never made an excuse and I certainly won’t do that now. We played our hearts out.”
Ultimately, playing without Love since the opening round of the playoffs, and without Irving intermittently until he went down for good in Game 2 of the Finals against Golden State, caught up with the Cavs and while the hearts were willing, the bodies simply couldn’t hold up any longer.
“Tried as much as we could to try to make up for those guys, but it’s a lot of talent sitting in suits,” LeBron James said after the final game. “I know one thing you’ve got to have during the playoff run, you’ve got to be healthy, you’ve got to be playing great at the right time, you’ve got to have a little luck. We were playing great, but we had no luck and we weren’t healthy.”
The loss of Irving and Love is what stings the most, because even without them the Cavs put up a good fight and someone will have to work even harder than Matthew Dellavedova to convince us that the Cavs would not have won the title if Irving and Love had been healthy for the series with Golden State.
But instead of sweeping up confetti and planning parade routes, this Cavs team joins a growing list of Cleveland sports moments that leave fans wondering:
- What if Willie Mays had not caught that drive from Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series?
- What if Art Modell hadn’t pushed Jim Brown into retirement at the age of 30?
- What if Brian Sipe had just looked at Dave Logan for another second or two?
- What if the Cavs had never traded Ron Harper?
- What if Earnest Byner had never fumbled the ball?
- What if Modell had just sold the Browns to Al Lerner?
- What if Jose Mesa had the heart of this Cavs team?
- What if Joel Skinner had not held Kenny Lofton at third base?
- What if J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert had not transitioned into Mo Williams circa 2009?
Maybe the most daunting question to come out of this season is this one: What if this was the Cavs best chance at winning a title?
While it is nice that Las Vegas odds makers have installed the Cavs as favorites to win the title in 2016, that is still a long way off and far from a certainty.
The team has to work its way through another training camp, another 82-game regular season, another year of keeping egos in check, another year of everyone buying into the bigger picture over personal stats, and, most importantly, another year of keeping everyone healthy.
That is a long, long road that needs to be navigated before the Cavs and their fans reach early June and the start of the 2016 NBA Finals. Maybe having been so close and seeing the title slip away will bring everyone back hungry, maybe Blatt will be even stronger as a coach now that he’s been through the NBA once, maybe Irving can stay healthy throughout the playoffs, maybe, maybe, maybe.
But we all thought that 2007 was just the beginning of the good times for the Cavs, but then it took them eight years to make it back to the NBA Finals. A lot is going to happen in the next 12 months with this team and there are no guarantees.
“Not every story has a happy ending,” Blatt said after the final loss. “It doesn’t mean it’s a bad story. This was not. This was a good story.”
Blatt’s right, of course, as he usually is on such matters. One can’t look at this past season and not see it as a good story, one where James came home and helped the Cavs become relevant again in the NBA.
And just because this year’s story didn’t have a happy ending, that doesn’t mean the sequel won’t be even better.
(Photo courtesy of clevelandcavaliers.com)