CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers waited 37 long years for their first taste of the NBA Finals, but they only got to savor the experience for eight days.
Cleveland’s brief stay in the championship series ended Thursday night, when San Antonio completed a four-game sweep with an 83-82 win at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Spurs got to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the Cavaliers’ court, while the home fans got slapped with another dose of reality.
Talk about cruel and unusual punishment for a franchise and a city that deserve much better.
“We had our opportunities, and the crowd was great and gave us extra energy that we needed — we just could never get over the hump,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “A lot of that you’ve got to give credit to the Spurs.”
If there was any doubt that San Antonio was the class of the NBA, it removed it by steamrolling Denver, Phoenix, Utah and the Cavaliers in succession during the playoffs.
The four-time champion Spurs lost a total of four games in four postseason rounds, then completed their title journey with just the eighth series sweep in NBA Finals history.
“The Spurs were definitely the better team in this series and they kept us off-balance,” Cleveland forward LeBron James said. “We learned that as good as we thought we were, there was still a team better than us.
“I really think our team as it is now is good enough to win a championship. We just ran into a better team.”
To their credit, the Cavaliers did not go down without a fight in Game 4. With James leading the comeback, they scored
14 consecutive points to go ahead 63-60 with 6:54 left in the game.
It was Cleveland’s first second-half lead in the series, but it proved short-lived as Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili called on their championship experience to answer right back.
“It made it sweeter for them to make a run, for us to answer, for us to keep our composure and find a way to win,” Duncan said. “Those guys played great in the fourth quarter, but we made plays and we found ways to get it done.”
Making the loss even harder to swallow, the Cavaliers did not play their best basketball down the stretch.
Brown kept top rebounders Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden on the bench for all but 47 combined seconds in the final period, which proved fatal when San Antonio grabbed five offensive rebounds in a critical three-minute span.
It’s one thing to lose with your best players on the court, but when Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and Anderson Varejao are among the five guys working up a sweat, that’s an entirely different story. But it’s also a story for another day.
This night was all about saluting the Spurs — and cherishing all of the great memories the Cavaliers have provided us with over the last two months.
“We wanted to win the big thing, but when we look back on it, hopefully we can be satisfied,” James said, quickly correcting himself. “Or not satisfied, but happy with what we have done.”
Contact Brian Dulik at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.