Resiliency Was A Must For LeBron, Cavs in 2018
Even with the brilliance of LeBron James in his 15th season at age 33, the 2018 version of the Cleveland Cavaliers was not meant to get to the NBA Finals.
Even with the brilliance of LeBron James in his 15th season at age 33 on their side, the 2018 version of the Cleveland Cavaliers was not meant to get to the NBA Finals.
If you were to ask every player in that locker room who started the year in Northeast how they felt about the journey, they’d have the same reply.
“Five seasons in one.”
This list extends to the nine players—six of whom were actually in the permanent rotation during the season. It was a group that ended things with a completely different roster than they started with.
It feels like “PB&J” with James and Dwyane Wade was two years ago, doesn’t it? How about the days where Derrick Rose started a handful of games at the beginning of it all?
Jae Crowder was supposed to be one of the most underrated acquisitions of the Kyrie Irving trade, while Isaiah Thomas was pegged as the All-Star point guard replacement that made the move worthwhile.
Without getting into too much detail, things did not work out as they had hoped, so they turned to the NBA Trade Deadline to turn things around.
A quartet of new faces entered the picture to invigorate the team’s spirits. Young upstarts Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson were acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers. Overshadowed by the dominance of rookie Donovan Mitchell, former Utah Jazz swingman Rodney Hood found a new home. And George Hill, a veteran point guard with plenty of experience who has seen his fair share of meaningful games, entered the fray as well.
From the jump, they found a groove with each other quickly. Teammates new and old weren’t bogging down on learning the ins and outs of a playbook. They were simply playing the game. Then, the All-Star break came and it got clunky. There was a lot of over thinking and confusion involved.
If trying to learn on the fly with little practice time and a two-week west coast road trip in March didn’t make it hard enough to pick things up, their head coach being forced to take a step back to address health concerns did. Let’s not forget the attempt to re-insert Kevin Love into the mix after his broken left hand made him miss a significant amount of action.
They found somewhat of a rhythm under Larry Drew in the interim, but nothing substantial enough to show that they were an actual championship-caliber squad.
The Cavaliers entered the NBA Playoffs as a set of players who had been together for basically one month. It was like the only part of their regular season together acted as training camp, except the games were incredibly meaningful in the battle of the standings. When it comes to a new team, success takes more than a minute, a day, a week, or a month, for that matter.
LeBron once wore a cap to a press conference in the postseason that read, “There is no magic pill.” That right there explained the predicament they were in. You can’t just skip steps in the process.
"After all the stuff that we've been through, and for the guys to pull together, and get this far when a lot of people counted us out, I'm very proud of the guys, and it's a big step for us."#AllForOne https://t.co/lJKohZDSXp
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) June 9, 2018
Cleveland wanted to be the championship team of years past, but simply couldn’t achieve the goal of measuring up to them. Outside of James and his spectacular leadership in the grind of over 100 games combined over the course of the season and playoffs, there was no consistency about them.
Love was the closest thing to a number two option. In the NBA Finals, he came to play and had his best series of the entire postseason. But in those battles with the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers, the physicality and defensive pressure piled onto him so much that he couldn’t contribute in the manner he was accustomed to.
The tertiary go-to guy never surfaced as one singular person. Some nights, it would be George Hill attacking in pick-and-rolls with James. Other times, Kyle Korver would light up teams from beyond the arc coming off screens and pin downs. Even J.R. Smith had his moments as a dependable option against the Toronto Raptors in the second round.
But when it came down to it, beating the Golden State Warriors required that the Cavaliers have a steady course of action. Unfortunately, they were the furthest thing from stable. There were simply too many unknowns.
Most of the time when they had four players or more in double figures, Cleveland thrived and won ball games. There is the arguing point of officiating that will always come up, but the bottom line is it still wasn’t enough against the defending champions.
Hill had to step in and provide some sort of playmaking to fill the void of Irving, which didn’t happen, nor should anybody have expected it to. Smith could not find a flow on either end and played a role in giving away the first game at Oracle Arena. For the second straight year, Korver was stifled by a defense that didn’t let him touch the basketball or breathe when he had the chance to shoot.
Clarkson’s tunnel vision booted him from the rotation quickly in the Finals, as he likely should’ve been removed before then. Prior to a sensational Game 3 in a pivotal moment at the time, Hood looked lost any time he dribbled or tried to force the issue during the playoffs. Love corralled rebounds and played relatively well working on the block or when he put the ball on the floor, but he could not reliably convert on three-point opportunities on the catch for some odd reason.
Nance Jr. was a breath of fresh air once he came back into the picture, but he wasn’t the type of player you could rely on when it came to keeping up with Golden State. Green had an incredible showing in the last two contests of the Eastern Conference Finals before he was overmatched on the big stage.
They didn’t make timely shots. They didn’t make open shots. They had too many breakdowns due to defensive miscommunication. The issue was not singular.
Yet in spite of this, the Cavaliers still made it to that point. A brand new collection of players that started its path to the postseason on February 11th with more than a half of a season experience less than the competition represented the league in the Finals.
Resiliency was the foundation of Cleveland’s season. It was a long one, and an unforgettable one for LeBron, that—for all intents and purposes—should not have even been as extensive as it turned out to be.
However, it was.
And that is reason enough to credit James, the players, the staff and even the organization for putting in the work to make it happen.
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