So this is what it comes down to.
All of the hopes and dreams that Clevelanders have of this year's version of the Cleveland Cavaliers bringing a professional sports championship home for the first time since the Browns did it in 1964 are down to one game.
Everything that the Cavaliers fought for and worked so hard during the season to achieve is on the line. If they do not win all that they have accomplished—the NBA-best record of 66-16, the home 0ourt advantage in the playoffs, Mike Brown winning Head Coach of the Year—will all mean nothing if the Cavs fall tonight and then go on to lose this series to the Magic.
What will it take for the Cavs to get back into this series? They have to be able to move the ball around on offense and have absolutely no times where they just stand around and make LeBron do everything on offense. Mo Williams and Delonte West have to be able to shoot the ball well.
On defense, they have to be able to find an answer to the Magic's pick and roll. They have to be able to close off the outside shooting game of the Magic and keep bodies on the Magic shooters.
Most of all, they have to be able to keep their composure when things do not go their way—like Sunday night when they had emotional meltdowns. The worst part was that the Magic gave them opportunities to win, but the Cavs failed to take them.
If you are Stan Van Gundy and the Orlando Magic, a loss will not bother you in the least bit because you have been there beofre with the Boston Celtics and the Philadalphia 76ers, prevailing both times. However if you are the Cavaliers, lose and your worse nightmare comes true.
This is a must-win for the Cavs. This is the best look that they will have at winning a championship. A win gives them back the home court that they rightfully had going into this series. Everything has been set up for them—and to lose and blow that will be unacceptable. They may never get back, and there is no guarantee that they will have the same amount of success next season.
So what if the Cavs lose to the Magic? Should that happen, life will go on in Cleveland. We will take our slap in the face again like true adults, and realize that it is just a game, even though sports in Cleveland is somewhat of a form of life.
If the Cavaliers do not win a championship this season or next season we will turn our attention to the Browns and Indians, and place our hopes with them once again. Know this, though—if this franchise goes without a championship within the next two seasons and LeBron James decides to go elsewhere, the Cavs will never be looked at as part of the equation again.
I have often said that the day that LeBron decides to leave will mean death for the NBA in Cleveland because LeBron is the only reason that team is still breathing. Why? Simple.
The order of fandom in this town goes as follows: The Browns are first, the Indians are a close second, and then if there is any room at all left the Cavs. Don't believe me? Just look at the attendance from the Cavs' last run in the late-'80s and early-'90s through 2003 when LeBron arrived. Not even Shawn Kemp was able to attract much attention to the team—although going from being a high-flying superstar in one city to being a 300-pound washup in the next might do that to a struggling franchise trying to keep its head above water.
LeBron is so special to this city because he knows what the city has been through with its sports teams—and wants to do something to change it's fortune. This city will be hard pressed to accept it if the Cavs are in a position where they have to find two or three players that equal his talent or try to replace him with Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh (which is not likely to happen) in the summer of 2010—if they do at all.
So is the Cavs' joy ride over? Not just yet—but it very well could be if they lose tonight. Here in Cleveland we have not given up the ship just yet. However many of us are hanging our heads.
All we can do is hope and pray that the Cavs find a way to have this great ride they have taken Cleveland on end in a stop to the promised land.