Talk about anticlimactic.
Starting with the overtime in Game 1, through the end of the NBA Finals, the star-stuffed Golden State Warriors beat the stuffing out of the Cavaliers, outscoring the emotionally empty, competitively impaired Eastern Conference champs by a whopping 60 points.
It was like one long 13-quarters game that the Warriors won by 60.
It ended with a 108-85 beatdown Friday night in Game 4 (Game Last) in the Cavs’ gym, where the mighty Warriors Star Machine has won two of its three world championships over the last four years.
Talk about adding insult to exit.
LeBron James is surely leaving now, right?
“I hope he stays, but I’m in no position to talk about that,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue after the game.
Actually, LeBron left early. The 48-minute man was removed from the carnage of Game 4 with 4:03 to play. The superhero who in a performance for the ages, at age 33, in his 15th season in the league, threw this flawed, ill-conceived, overmatched team on his back and carried it all the way to the Finals.
“The fact that they got here surprised me,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, after his team haymakered the Cavs.
“Sometimes you can give everything you’ve got and still come up short,” said Lue.
If this was LeBron’s going away postcard to his hometown team, here it is: 23 points, seven rebounds, eight assists.
Not his best work, but consider what he’d endured to get this far.
Like, for example, Game 1 of the Finals, which forevermore will be known in league, Cleveland and psychological history as simply “The J.R. Game.”
No need to rehash the overcooked details now. As Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca said after giving up Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” home run, “Leave me alone, you saw what happened.”
With J.R. Smith, we saw what happened. Believing it was the hard part.
What we don’t know, now that the Finals are over — the Cavs ingloriously swept, LeBron perhaps leaving, Kyrie Irving already gone, i.e. saddle up the camels, the desert beckons — is what might have happened if J.R. had not gone J.R. in Game 1.
The mind races.
For instance: What might have happened in the rest of the series if, with four seconds left in regulation in Game 1, J.R. had rebounded George Hill’s missed free throw, and instead of dribbling his way into intellectual infamy, he had gone back up for a buzzer-beating putback that would have made him the hero in a 109-107 victory and a 1-0 Cavs lead in the Finals.
Did The Brain Cramp Heard Round the World set the table for the Warriors’ four-game sweep of the shell-shocked, crushed and cursed Cavs?
Or was it the Game 1 reversal of the charge call on Kevin Durant with 36 seconds left in regulation and the Cavs leading by two?
Or was it with five seconds left, when the NBA’s Two-Minute Report said Draymond Green fouled LeBron, but the foul wasn’t called?
Or maybe it was when Hill missed his second free throw with 4.7 seconds left.
Or it could have been when Green, according to the NBA, committed an uncalled lane violation on Hill’s missed free throw, which would have resulted in Hill getting another free throw.
All of which is a long-winded way of asking whether the Cavs lost the series when they lost the winnable — the all but won — Game 1? Instead, they lost it, thanks to an unspeakable run of bad luck, the likes of which has never been seen in the recorded history of professional sports in America.
Only if you can give me a comparable, much less worse, brain blunder in a game with the stakes that high, a championship series — we’re talking mental, not physical error, so Bill Buckner, Earnest Byner and their ilk are not in play — than the J.R. meltdown.
It’s why, in the video that went viral of the Cavs walking off the court to prepare for their doomed overtime, the Cavs players appeared zombie-like. Nobody could wrap their head around what they had just witnessed.
Did the horrific ending to Game 1 so thoroughly demolish the Cavs’ spirit that a sweep was inevitable?
Maybe. Maybe not. But it sure looks like it now.
It would have been nice to see what might have followed, if the Cavs — who outplayed the Warriors for four quarters, which should have translated into a win — had won Game 1, and been allowed to feed off the spiritual buoyancy that came with shocking the world.
But they didn’t. And now the future of the franchise is once again plunged into the darkness of uncertainty as the team, the town and the league await LeBron’s next big Decision. Will he leave?
For the Cavs, that wouldn’t be anticlimactic.
That would be cataclysmic.
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