Some of the most pressure packed points of any sports season doesn’t come in a stretch of games, in a moment of a game, or anticipation.
Some of the biggest pressure moments in sports come at the trading deadline. Credit Cleveland Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry for not succumbing to pressure. The Cavaliers, as you might recall, were the Eastern Conference Champions last season, but were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers made one addition over the off season, signing G/F Devin Brown to come off the bench. For a team that had all the problems exploited on a national level, it was a very minimal move to make.
Fast forward to December. The Cavaliers were floating along the path, losing and winning, losing and winning. There was no consistent play and the Cavaliers best asset of defense had seemed to disappear.
Fast forward to late February. The Cavaliers had just begun to go on a tear. Led by star LeBron James and the further emergence of young point guard Daniel ‘Boobie’ Gibson, the Cavaliers started to get hot. Cleveland went 11-3 in January and made their move back into the top five in the Eastern Conference.
All of the sudden it went wrong. Sasha Pavlovich, who missed all of training camp in a contract dispute, had played well below his level when he made the starting lineup for Mike Brown last season. He hit his stride and found his game once again in January but then was the first Cavalier to go down.
In a 121-85 win over Washington on January 23, Pavlovich was injured with a left mid-foot sprain. He is just now participating in full contact practice for the first time since being injured. He wasn’t the only Cavalier to get hurt.
Earlier in the season James missed a handful of games, all losses by the Cavaliers while he sat and healed. The Sunday after Pavlovich’s injury another key cog was hurt. Anderson Varejao, the “Wild Thing’ went down with an ankle sprain against the Lakers in a win.
He missed a couple of weeks, just as he started to develop a good offensive game to go with his dominant rebounding and defensive skills. Varejao has since returned but had been off his game. Saturday March 8, Varejao came back to his game that he had before the ankle injury. He had 15 points and 16 rebounds and six assists to go with it. He was starting for another injured Cavalier, Zyrdrunus Illgauskus, who is still currently out with a back strain and will be out for at least a week or so more.
Another Cavalier currently in street clothes instead of the Wine and Gold is the rookie/sophomore All Star game MVP, Gibson. After the All-Star weekend had been good to him and teammate James, Gibson suffered and ankle injury of his own. Gibson has sat the last two weeks and is expected to miss two more. Gibson had been improving his game up to past 11 ppg up from four last season and has been the most improved scorer among second year players in the NBA this season.
The day after his injury, is when everything changed for the Cavaliers. All the injuries and rumors of James being adamant about getting some help, Ferry finally found a trade for the Cavaliers to help themselves.
In a three team deal, the Cavaliers brought in former nemesis F/C Ben Wallace to shore up the defense they had been missing and gave them a feared presence in the paint, as the Cavaliers had been thought of as soft. They acquired a good shooting and pushing point guard in Delonte West.
They got another outside shooter in Wally Szczerbiak. They also added veteran re-bounder and shooter Joe Smith, a former No.1 overall pick. What they gave up was a finally healthy Larry Hughes who had started shooting better, a good low post scorer in Drew Gooden, a good perimeter defender in Ira Newble, a good outside shooter and re-bounder in Donyell Marshall.
Also in the trade was second year player Shannon Brown who spent half the season in the NBDL with also traded F Cedric Simmons. James had carried his team all year long to the tune of 30 ppg and almost a triple double every night for the Cavaliers to get the win.
Now that the players have had over a week and a half to gel the Cavaliers will start getting returns on their trade. Wallace’s ppg has gone up by two and his rebounding and defense have never waivered.
Szczerbiak has been a consistent shooter from long range and also Mike Brown has said, a good defender. West has been a great point guard, setting up the offense, is able to shoot and drive and also is a surprisingly good rebounded for a 6-2 guard. Joe Smith has been as advertised, a veteran presence who can shoot and rebound effectively off the bench.
James is playing at an all time high level, a level where six year veterans who went to a major college never get to. James must unquestionably be the MVP, or it is highway robbery.
Most people around the league do not want to face the Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs because of James alone. The Cavaliers have a distinct advantage over any other playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Finals experience and the best player in the NBA at any given moment on the court and can take over a game whenever he chooses to do so.
After James crushed the Pistons spirit in Detroit last season in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals, with 29 of the Cavaliers final 30 points and an overtime win the Cavaliers are in their heads and have control over them. They match up well and even more so now with West on the perimeter and Wallace inside to help James, who is the Cavaliers best on ball defender.
The Celtics are the big three and some pieces parts. Point guard Rajon Rondo has been great, but adding Sam Cassel will hurt them a lot in the same aspect. They haven’t played together in the playoffs before and it has been a few years since Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made the playoffs.
The Cavaliers have Wallace to match Garnett on the defensive end. The Celtics do not have a player who can match James’ scoring ability at the end of games, nor do they have anyone who an go one-on-one with him to stop him.
Granted not a lot of players in the NBA can stop James, but if the Celtics do double team him, Gibson and Pavlovich will be back, Szczerbiak, Smith and West are all excellent shooters from mid to long range.
Besides James, there is another key factor here and it is Z. Z has the most experience on the team and with the addition of Wallace, his game had gone up before the injury. Wallace now takes the extra inside big man away from Z on rebounds, freeing him up to get more rebounds. Z also is a great mid rang shooter and can worry more about offense while Wallace can get the inside rebounds and put back dunks.
The Cavaliers have the single most dominant player in the NBA right now. He is unstoppable when he wants to be. James has heard every critic’s complaint and has made them eat their words, whether it was shooting or defense, he shut them up.
James now has the appropriate pieces to help. He has shooters, he has defenders, he has re-bounders and shot blockers, for the first time since being on the team he has a true point guard. Most importantly he has the drive and the will to force his team to win. He has captured that mentality to win and it has shown as he averaged 10 points per game in the fourth quarter.
If everyone comes back off their injuries and Mike Brown can figure out the rotation of Gibson, Devin Brown who has been rock solid, Damon Jones who is having a career year, Varejao, Sczerbiak and Smith off the bench the Cavaliers will be awfully tough to beat. Do you think anyone wants to see James in the playoffs?
Try facing him when he is just a few weeks away from possibly getting back to the Finals. James will be in overdrive mode, could be even better than he is now. It is scary, and with his ability to take over games in the fourth quarter, NBA fans will have something special to watch this June.
Cleveland fans have their best chance since 1997 to bring a championship to the hear of Cleveland, thanks to their own local hero, James. Ferry didn’t crack under pressure and make a bad knee jerk trade, he made a smart move for the team and to please James.
Now the pressure is on James and his gang—and that is exactly what James lives for and it was what drives him night in and night out.