In the five stages of grief, the last is acceptance.
Let’s back up.
The folks in Cleveland are a long way from that. It’s going to take a few seasons and likely a new star for Cleveland to move past this summer, “The Decision,” and everything that came with it. They’ll be booing LeBron well into the mid-decade and talk about it for even longer. But the franchise has to move on at some point, and that process started against the defending Eastern Conference Champions, who Cleveland had seen some four months earlier walking off with their team in a death grip.
Maybe it was the Celtics playing a letdown game on a back to back. Maybe it was a Cavs team against the wall. Maybe it was just one of those nights. But whatever the reason, Cleveland fans got to feel good about themselves for a night, and their now-ragtag-bad-news-Cavs squad. Leading the way? Their own indie-level hype-machine J.J. Hickson, beasting with 21 points and 6 rebounds including several crucial plays down the stretch. The rest of their team wasn’t efficient (Ramon Sessions 6-15, Daniel Gibson 4-14), but they were good enough to get the job done. And late in the game, they pushed, scratched, and clawed their way to a win over the Celtics.
You know, like they didn’t do last time.
Maybe this only serves to remind them of how thoroughly the King let them down before he departed for kingdoms far away. But for one night, the Cavs fans had to feel good about the effort on the floor and the result. Want to know how much the Basketball Gods smiled on Cleveland this evening? Ray Allen didn’t hit a 3-pointer. Not one.
The Cavs had a 102.2 efficiency rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which isn’t amazing, but the Miami Heat would have taken it in a heartbeat last night. What’s more, if ever there was a nexus of hoodoo voodoo heart and focus meeting advanced metrics, this game was it. The Cavaliers played their hearts out against an exhausted Boston team, and in doing so, they won the four factors that are discussed in advanced metrics, or at least drew the C’s to a draw. The Celtics shot 47% from the field to the Cavs 44%, but the Cavs outside shooting made their effective field goal percentage (eFG%) 48.1%, only slightly behind Boston’s 49.3%. Boston’s free throw to field goal percentage was only1.2% higher than the Cavs. The Cavaliers won the offensive rebounding battle and turnover fight, which meant it would just come down to who made plays down the stretch.
The rested, fired up, chemically combustive underdog did, and they walk out with a win.
This win won’t mean much in the scheme of things. Many of these players will be gone by the time March hits our faces with glimpses of sunshine. But for a night, the team held together, made their shots, and beat their demons on their home floor, a day after those same demons beat the traitor who’s mark they still bear. It’s the stuff of legend, but really only to the people of Cleveland. Which is appropriate, because they were the only ones who could understand how difficult this entire process has been and will be.
But don’t count on them getting past that anger stage any time soon.