After watching an entire month of listless and uninspiring basketball, it seems like the Cleveland Cavaliers are finally ready to start getting into their “playoff mode” or start acting like they actually care. Maybe they have decided to wake up after a terrible 7-10 March filled with injuries, returns, and excuses. It seemed like the team really didn’t care when they lost more games in one month than the Golden State Warriors lost all of last season. The postgame comments were filled with statements about how the team just wasn’t playing well, needed to get on the same page, or needed more time to gel together. It’s been difficult to watch at times, but it seems like the team is finally waking up and preparing for their playoff run.
I know that a blowout win over the lowly and depleted Philadelphia 76ers and a double overtime win over a borderline playoff team in the Indiana Pacers doesn’t mean that all the Cavaliers problems are solved. They should always blow out bottom-feeders like the 76ers, and they should not need two overtimes and over 50 minutes from LeBron to beat the Pacers. The key things to take from the last two games are the fact that the Cavs are actually winning the games and the fact that they actually seem like they care and are invested in the outcome.
When the Cavs played the 76ers on Friday, it was the first time in a long time that they won the second night of a back-to-back when all their guys played both games. That shows that at least winning the game meant something to them. Another take away from the game was that they didn’t have to play anybody over 31 minutes. It was the first time in quite awhile that the team had a lead that was comfortable enough for the starters to rest down the stretch.
It was also nice to see Kyrie Irving play with some emotion. He seems like he is tired of getting beat and playing poorly. First, he picked up a flagrant foul for shoving Justin Anderson out of bounds after Anderson knocked LeBron to the ground moments earlier. Late in the third quarter, he called out the 76ers’ Shawn Long for trying to taunt after a dunk by letting him know his team was down by about 30 points. They may be small things, but it shows that Kyrie is tired of being pushed around and wants to earn back the respect he had after Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.
In the game against the Pacers, LeBron and Tristan Thompson were seen yelling at one another during a timeout with under a minute to go in the second overtime. A lot of people are pointing to that and saying it suggests the Cavs are frustrated and about to fall apart. I think it’s refreshing to see them care enough to get angry about things. LeBron called out Thompson for letting Paul George get free to hit a three-pointer, and Thompson took offense to it. I’ve been watching them shrug this stuff off and give up for months. Then they would give an excuse after the game for why they weren’t playing good defense. Now, they’re invested enough to get angry and want to fix things.
Last year, LeBron called out his teammates and sent out cryptic tweets, and everyone was on his case for being a bad leader. Soon after that, we were seeing snapchats from team dinners, and the team seemed closer than ever. They seemed to have unbelieveable team chemistry and went on to win the NBA Championship. I’m not saying it’s good for teammates to be yelling at each other and calling each other out on the floor all the time during games, but it’s nice to see them invested again. I hope they can put this thing back together and get ready in time for the playoffs. If they play like they did in March, there is no shot for another title.
I definitely don’t think the Cavs have this whole thing figured out, and they are far from looking like a championship team at the moment. However, I think they have the talent and leaders on the roster to put it back together in time. While I don’t think it is as easy as flipping a switch, I do think the Cavs will have it figured out when the playoffs start, and I don’t think we will be watching this same type of basketball from them in May and June. If the last few years have taught us anything, LeBron knows how to will a team to wins in the playoffs, and a lot of the other guys know how to show up and perform in the big games now too.