For the Cavs, easy does it just fine
CLEVELAND – Forget amazing happening, nothing happened here Thursday night. In fact, nothing’s happened here the entire NBA playoffs.
The Cleveland Cavaliers unloaded on another overmatched opponent, beating the Atlanta Hawks 105-85 to take a 2-0 series lead. Cleveland is now 6-0 in the playoffs, with each victory by double digits. Only the 2004 Indiana Pacers have ever done that.
It was a brilliant performance, moments of pure basketball genius – passing, spacing and no-look alley-oops to LeBron James(notes). The 20-point margin of victory is unbelievably kind; the Cavs led by 34 in the fourth. The game was over just after LeBron sent the chalk flying and long before he hit a 36-footer to close out the first half and put Cleveland up 24.
Other than that, if you were looking for the And1 MixTape Tour with sound fundamentals, this was it.
If you were looking for the NBA playoffs, well, they don’t start in Cleveland for a couple more weeks. So far it’s been easy.
“It was not easy,” countered coach Mike Brown.
He’s being polite. It was easy.
The Cavs are marching through the sleepiest spring in recent NBA memory, a team headed to the Eastern Conference finals without anything close to a challenge.
All across the country the playoffs are blowing up. It’s not just the usual buzzer-beaters, multiple-overtime thrillers and long back-and-forth series.
You’ve got guys dope-slapping each other, flagrant-fouling each other, throwing elbows and insults. The off-day debates are about possible suspensions and retributions. It’s intense, intimidating and unpredictable.
In brushing off the idea that the Rockets-Lakers series had gotten uncomfortably rough, Ron Artest(notes) even related a story about a playground game that ended when someone broke a leg off a table and stabbed a guy.
“It went right through his heart and he died right on the court,” Artest said. “So I’m accustomed to playing basketball really rough.”
It turns out the story is true – although it happened at a YMCA, the stabbing was in the back and Artest was only 12 at the time, so he probably wasn’t in the game. The man who died, Lloyd Newton, was from Artest’s hometown of Queens.
It’s a wild tale, which is why some of the Cavaliers were discussing it in the pregame locker room. Other topics included Manny Ramirez and Brett Favre.
You can’t blame them, there’s nothing to talk about here. A Ron Artest postgame interview is more intriguing than this series.
You got the sense the Cavs, although quite willing to walk through the playoffs, were a bit jealous everyone else was having all the fun.
“I’m having fun,” LeBron laughed. “I’m having a ball. … If a team can stay away from [drama] and win a championship, why not?”
Later, though, he added, wistfully, “I’m ready for whatever.”
Banged up, Atlanta isn’t worth the Cavs’ venom, so LeBron had to resort to some retro trash talk. Before the game he took some shots at the Washington Wizards, who tried to get tough the last couple years before losing to Cleveland.
“They tried [to play physical],” he mocked. “They’re not a tough team. They tried it and then went down in the first round again.”
In a city that hasn’t won a major professional title since the Browns took home the 1964 NFL championship (pre-Super Bowl), the fans aren’t complaining about turning the playoffs into virtual exhibition games. Anyone who’s survived “The Drive,” “The Shot” and Jose Mesa can appreciate a nice stress-free start to the playoffs.
Or, in this case, LeBron discussing after the game how he barely missed a 43-footer not long after he had made that 36-footer. Someone questioned whether that meant his range was officially 36 feet.
“It was on line,” he said, still a bit stunned he missed. “I shot it a little hard. Maybe if I scoot back to 47 feet it’d have [gone] in.”
Everyone’s having a good time, but, at some point, finding creative ways to dunk on people gets old. A playoff without a nervous moment kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise. It’s the roller coaster, not the destination.
The greatest drama Thursday came at halftime when everyone wondered if “Rubber Boy” really could contort himself through the head of a tennis racket. (You bet he could.)
The Eastern Conference finals will provide better competition, although how much remains to be seen.
The Cavs aren’t likely to become just the third team to reach the NBA Finals by sweeping three series (the Lakers of 1989 and 2001), but the way Cleveland is playing – the extreme level of teamwork on both ends of the court and a 43-2 record this year at the Q – means they’ll go off as massive favorites.
Cleveland is 32-5 since the All-Star break. LeBron is playing at a rare level of greatness. It’s almost impossible to imagine they don’t come out of the East.
By then, though, Dwight Howard(notes) will swing an elbow, Rafer Alston(notes) will slap a head or Rajon Rondo(notes) will get under everyone’s skin, and either the Magic or Celtics will make it a series.
And then Cleveland can react, find a villain and have some fun. The playoffs are better when there’s someone to hate before you humiliate.
So, good news Cavs fans, the playoffs start soon. We think.