The Detroit Pistons never stood a chance. There was no way they were going to stop 37 seasons’ worth of pent-up frustration from pouring out and smothering them.
Everyone on the Cavaliers knew it. So did the 20,562 rabid fans at Quicken Loans Arena, as well as the estimated 50,000 revelers who packed the Gateway district to be part of Saturday’s historic evening.
All that was left was to watch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals unfold, which Cleveland won 98-82 to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
“This is special, this is special, this is really special,’’ raved Cavaliers forward LeBron James, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists in the series clincher. “I’d like to thank every last one of you 20,000-plus fans. Without you guys, we wouldn’t have got it done. But it doesn’t stop. We’re on to the finals.’’
Indeed, Cleveland is, beginning Thursday in San Antonio against the Western Conference champion Spurs.
That matchup, however, is a subject for another day.
Saturday night was all about the Cavaliers becoming the third team in NBA history to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win the conference finals — and only the second to do so with four straight victories.
It was a night for Northeast Ohio to rise up and witness the coronation of a new king of the East. And it was an occasion that local fans have dreamed about for years, only to have it be even more satisfying than they ever imagined.
“I’m so excited right now, I can’t even answer questions,’’ James said. “It’s about time something went right in Cleveland sports. I believe it was just our time. We’re here now. We’re gonna enjoy it (today), then get back to work on Monday.’’
The entire day turned into a celebration of basketball in Cleveland as people began flocking downtown shortly after lunch.
Every parking spot within a reasonable distance of the arena was filled three hours before tipoff, as were the neighborhood bars, restaurants and street corners.
Cavaliers fans were everywhere, even at Jacobs Field, where there were just as many No. 23 wine-and-gold jerseys entering the turnstiles as there were Chief Wahoo caps.
It was such an inspirational scene that even TNT analyst — and longtime Cavalier critic — Charles Barkley couldn’t find anything bad to say about it.
“This city is behind this team. This city really needs it,’’ he said. “(Cleveland) deserved to win. They outplayed them in every single game.’’
As Barkley noted, the most shocking aspect of the Cavaliers’ upset victory wasn’t that they won. It was how they did it.
Regardless of what the Pistons did defensively, they were unable to stop Cleveland from imposing its will during all six East finals games.
If it wasn’t James doing the damage, it was rookie Daniel (Boobie) Gibson, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden or the gutsy play of injured guard Larry Hughes.
Gibson, in fact, was the best player on the court in Game 6 with 31 points off the bench in 29 minutes. Struggling veterans Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Eric Snow also got into the act, playing critical minutes in the fourth quarter.
Their performance was so solid it relegated team mainstays Ilgauskas and Gooden to being cheerleaders as time wound down. The broad smiles on their faces showed that they didn’t mind the situation a bit.
“Honestly, we thought we outplayed Detroit for the first five games, but we only had three wins,’’ James said. “They definitely brought out the best in us, but we just believed and guys stepped up.’’