Celtics' Thrashing Is Wake-Up Call for Cleveland "Faithful"

Dan DelagrangeCorrespondent IMay 12, 2010

CLEVELAND - MAY 11: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on while playing the Boston Celtics in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 11, 2010 in Cleveland, Ohio. Boston won the game 120-88 to take a 3-2 series lead. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In the hours following the Cleveland Cavaliers' 120-88 embarrassment against the once-again very mighty Boston Celtics, a dense fog hung over the Interstates and streets of Cleveland.

The floating blur collapsed upon the city's street lights; a silent, terrifying symbol of Cleveland sports fans' hope evaporating quicker than a Rajon Rondo Euro-step through the Cavs' defense and appearing to threaten to extinguish all faith and championship aspiration.

Cavaliers fans expected their team to remedy the Rondo problem, smooth over the squad's offensive inefficiencies, and jog its way to a 3-2 series lead and claim another step toward getting a shot at revenge against the idle Orlando Magic.

However, things didn't look good for the Cavs from the very beginning Tuesday night.

MVP LeBron James failed to register a single field goal in the first half.

Paul Pierce regained his untouchable swagger in a gutsy, no-backing-down performance.

Kevin Garnett looked like the '08 version of the future Hall-of-Famer in repeatedly tormenting Antawn Jamison with fadeaways that seemed to hit nothing but twine all night.

The Boston defense, which caused 17 Cleveland turnovers, was both impenetrable and as close to mistake-free as it could be.

Also, an ongoing Cavalier migraine continued in (hard to choose a winner in a category loaded with worthy candidates) Mo Williams—the supposed "Robin" to James' "Batman"—looking like a scared, confused child chasing Ray Allen around the court, through picks, and to the three-point arch, where Allen repeatedly torched a now-flailing Williams.

(As an aside, Williams absolutely has to put in some kind of effort on the defensive end of the floor. It has become overwhelmingly clear that running over the top of picks results in the same thing: chasing the ball handler's back all the way to the hoop. Take a look—during any game of the Cavs-Celtics series—at how many times Williams fails to run underneath a pick and ends up seeing his man either get an open bucket or give a great look to an open teammate.)

While Allen's Rip Hamilton impression again was successful in losing Williams on the majority of Boston's touches during Williams' minutes and James lacked the irrepressible, violent will to win that everyone assumed was a nightly certainty, perhaps the most disturbing element of Cleveland's regression was the reaction of its fanbase.

Reactions posted on Facebook Tuesday night ranged from mild and uncreative ("This sucks") to irrational ("God, why do you hate Cleveland?") to outrageous ("I refuse to be a Cavs fan and I hate LeBron").

Since when did Clevelanders—a group of people that prided itself on being tough, blue-collar, "people's people"—devolve into such whiny basketball snobs that will abandon hope as soon as things begin look bleak?

The resolve Cleveland has developed from its football team being ripped away, becoming victim to double-digit sports disasters, and not getting a whiff of championship success since before the Super Bowl existed seemed long gone Tuesday night.

Let's not get carried away, though. The Cavaliers have a ton of work in front of them just to see their season reach this weekend.

They dearly need someone besides James to leave a significant footprint on both ends of the floor (we know James will return in Game Six: When has the guy ever had two bad games in a row, especially with his team facing elimination?).

They need to reestablish the stingy defense that got them the best record in basketball this season.

They need to give more than nine minutes of playing time to Delonte West, who has been spectacular in this series when called upon.

They need to realize that nothing in the postseason is a guarantee and nothing is owed to them for simply being favored to win this series.

They also need to know that the people to whom this means so much (the fans) are still behind them and believe. Yes, it's a cliché, but it's not over until it's over. Sometimes, what makes great feats so great is their accomplishment against great odds.

The odd thing about the fog enveloping the streets of the downtrodden doormat of professional sports?

It made the city's lights brighter.

We're not done yet, Cleveland.