The Cleveland Cavaliers are finally figuring it out. The Big Three is finally healthy all at one time and for the first time since LeBron returned home after four years in Miami, the triumvirate is rocking on all cylinders.
After holding off the Atlanta Hawks by a score of 100-99 on Sunday to close out the Eastern Conference semifinal series 4-0, Cleveland improved to 8-0 in the playoffs.
Now, we are seeing the Cleveland team that we couldn’t see in the playoffs last season as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were hurt, which obviously left Cleveland super short-handed. Advancing to the NBA Finals was more of a credit to LeBron James than anything else.
However, the 2015 Cleveland team that lost to Golden State in six games was a patchwork band of ballers and they were ultimately ousted by a more talented Warriors squad.
LeBron had his moments as a one man wrecking crew, but his brilliance turned to inconsistency as he was forced to do it all alone against a team with several All-star performers. In other words, it wasn’t happening.
However, some people confused Cleveland being down two All-Stars in last season’s playoffs with this year, not realizing it’s a different ball game. Based upon the struggles the Cavs had at times this season, the firing of David Blatt and the rumors of Love being unhappy and wanting out, along with whispers that this would be King James' last year in Ohio, I wasn't sure if Cleveland could defeat Golden State or San Antonio.
The potential of Cleveland's talent was yet to be reached. I didn't necessarily see it as a knock on LeBron and Irving has fought injuries throughout his young, evolving career. As LeBron's first year in Miami showed us, a championship chemistry needs to be developed and health maintained for the master plan to actually come to fruition. In addition, Miami didn't have that huge, 73-win roadblock to overcome.
That team had to figure out how to win together, just like this team seems to be finally doing. They say LeBron James is a super intelligent guy. His business ventures prove that, but more significantly, his basketball track record speaks to it.
Whatever team he is on goes through the same process of struggling to develop chemistry and trust each other. LeBron throws what appears to be a few fits, but as the season progresses, you can clearly see what his intentions were and why he said what he said and did what he did along the way.
Certain media chose to attack Cleveland's Big Three and continuously praise Golden State. After all, it was easy to do because LeBron is held in such high regard but is also one of the most criticized basketball legends who never got in trouble a day in his life.
Most chose to ignore the fact that Irving and Love weren't playing and frame the finals loss to Golden State as some kind of failure by LeBron.
Cleveland is playing with confidence and they have finally figured out how to bring the best out of Kevin Love, who has appeared unhappy and unmotivated during his brief tenure in Ohio.
As they have transitioned to a three-point shooting team in these playoffs, hitting a staggering 77 treys in four games, Love has become more comfortable in his role and he is finally getting the shots and looks everyone predicted when he decided to take his talents to Cleveland.
On Sunday night, Love scored 27 points and shot 8-of-15 from the arc. He had razor sharp focus and he moved around the floor effortlessly positioning himself to be an impact player. His season average was 16.0 points per game, but in his last 10 games he is scoring at about a 19 point per game clip.
"We're in a great rhythm right now," said King James after the game. "We know exactly where we want to be on the floor."
That’s bad news for Eastern Conference rivals and Western Conference killers. It is safe to say that with or without Chef Curry, Golden State would be facing a Cleveland team that is better than the one they faced in 2015, which adds so much more intrigue and drama and anticipation to this year’s finals (if the two squads make it).
Cleveland, now fully equipped and prepared to bring the ruckus and rain treys and having worked past the injuries and attitudes and unfamiliarity, are resembling a team that has no weaknesses.
This latest three-point barrage proves that the Cavs can match Golden State in three-point efficiency -- especially with Kevin Love finally getting his hands on the rock, playing with inspiration and purpose. That’s great news for Cleveland, who won’t be exchanging two's for three's against their Western Conference opponent in the finals.
The real Cleveland Cavs team has stood up. That’s a scary thought. They seem more than capable of bringing the first championship in Cavs history home.
Regardless of the mighty opponent, when Kyrie is killing and Love is percolating and LeBron doesn't have to do anything other than beast defensively and facilitate and the three-ball is being drained by any number of shooters, Cleveland is as good as any team.
Most people have their money on Curry or Kawhi. After peeping these first two playoff series, I’d suggest that they at least consider placing that bet on the birth of Cleveland’s Big Three.