East Rutherford, NJ -- A few minutes after the game tonight, which was probably only the Cavs biggest win in 15 years, a felt a hand on my shoulder in the interview room. It was Dan Gilbert. He leaned down and whispered in my ear:
"I guess our tree is growing."
Indeed it is, Dan. It was a reference to a conversation Gilbert had with reporters about a month ago now, at halftime of the last game of the season. He said then something to the effect that his franchise was like a tree and "if it isn't growing, it's dying." The point was, he wanted his team to reach the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James later got a little testy the gauntlet was laid down publicly, but the way I saw it they both actually felt the same way.
To some people, the Cavs feeling good about beating the Nets is hollow. There's truth in that point of view. After all, the Nets were a .500 team and the Wizards a joke with their injuries. But the conference finals are the conference finals and the Nets were better than their record and they proved it against Toronto and in this series.
If you come here often you should know I am a realist -- and I hate the jump shot, so boy that second half was fun to watch -- and I'm bringing some realism. I was in the studio about two miles from Continental Airlines Arena on that night four years ago this week when the Cavs hit the LeBron lottery. The Nets were playing in the conference finals the same night. The Cavs were a 17-win team with a disjointed roster and a bleak future. That level seemed seamed like a pipe dream, it is a long way from Secaucus to the Meadowlands in May. That night the Cavs were celebrating promise in the swamps, now they are celebrating reality. It doesn't matter the circumstances, it is an impressive and inspiring rise.
Now let's talk about the game...
--The first quarter may've been the Cavs best quarter of the year...until the fourth. There is reason to give the coaching staff and the starters credit here. There was a game plan to come out attacking and they did. Not only did they attack but they did it fast, before the Nets could set their defense. That was key and set up by the Nets missed shots. LeBron's willingness to go to the basket set everything up, including those 3-pointers Donyell Marshall made later.
--Before Game 4, Donyell was upset with me because I wrote on the blog that he might want to be traded due to lack of playing. He's a reader. But there's no denying this season has been extremely upsetting for him, losing his playing time and for stretches, his shot. But he came to the Cavs to play in games like this, the belief was that he could help spread the defense paired with LeBron. It may not work every night, but it worked tonight. If Donyell doesn't make another shot in his Cavs career, this game and Game 6 in Washington last season, when he scored 28 points in spreading the defense for LeBron, should be remembered. Considering it was his birthday and he said afterward it was the biggest moment in his career, I'd say at the moment makes all the regrets fade. As for Damon Jones and his performance, if the opposition is going to leave spot-up shooters wide open then I'd say it is smart to have the best spot-up shooters you have on the floor. Larry Hughes, stay seated.
--The Nets shot 3-of-16 in the fourth quarter of Game 4. 1-of-15 in fourth in Game 5. And 2-of-16 in the fourth of Game 6. Yes, Lawrence Frank played his starters too hard too early, especially Jason Kidd. The man was dead at the end. But Mike Brown's defensive system was superior when it absolutely means the most. His small, shooting desperation lineup in the fourth quarter stunningly worked like a charm. I've got no idea what he was saying in those three timeouts in the third quarter when he simply couldn't get the Cavs to run an offensive play, but the man is 100-64 in the regular season and 15-8 in the playoffs. He's not perfect, he's got flaws, but he's proving that he's a winner. So is LeBron.
--I always try to leave you with a quip, so here it is. Before the game, Damon Jones was being interviewed by two beautiful Italian female journalists. The English was broken and I'm not sure all message was getting through, but Damon was engrossed and trying his best. He must've felt good about his performance, because once they were gone he proclaimed: "I can talk a cat off a fish wagon with my cool lyrics."