In Ohio State country, it's always been presumed that a lackluster season could be saved by a victory over Michigan.
The Cleveland Cavaliers came up with a triumph Tuesday night that meant as much to the downtrodden faithful in Northeast Ohio when they beat the Miami Heat 102-90 in Quicken Loans Arena.
"That was such a great feeling because I thought the first time we played them here, we were embarrassed and they took a little bit from us,'' Cavs guard Anthony Parker said of the Heat's 28-point victory over the Cavs on Dec. 2. "This was the night we wanted to get that back. For us, but moreso for the fans. They've been so great for us all year.
"That was the great feeling, getting it back for them. Tonight they were great and they've been that way all year.''
Even a triple double by now arch enemy LeBron James (27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) wasn't enough for the Heat, which rallied from a 71-48 third-quarter deficit to tie the game at 83 with 6:58 left. But after a Luke Harangody layup ignited a 12-0 Cavs run, 7-foot center Ryan Hollins finally played like the enforcer that he's built to be. He blocked a shot by Chris Bosh then followed with a slam at the other end, a tone-setting play that inspired the Cavs in the final minutes.
Hollins finished with 13 points and three blocked shots, along with three rebounds and two assists.
"We talked all season long, not allowing teams to get into the paint and get easy layups,'' Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "(Hollins) started that off right away and pretty much set the tone for us defensively. He was a presence out there tonight.
"We always felt he was capable of doing this, it was just a matter of him going out there and doing it. Tonight he did a real good job of keeping his composure, keeping his head and doing the things we have been talking about. He was a presence down there in the post position and on the defensive end.''
J.J. Hickson added 21 points and 12 rebounds, Parker contributed 20 points and seven rebounds, Ramon Sessions had 11 points, six rebounds and six assists and Baron Davis chipped in with 10 points and seven assists.
"Our attitude in the locker room before the game was that we had nothing to lose,'' Hickson said. "One of the main things that coach said was, 'We are playing for ourselves. We were not playing for anyone outside this locker room. We are not playing for any accolades. We are just playing for ourselves and our pride.' With that statement, we came out and we showed that we were playing for ourselves and our pride.''
For most of the season, the Cavs didn't seem to be listening to Scott. For most of the season, Hickson was a one-quarter or a one-half wonder. Hollins looked like a head case, an underachiever. Parker couldn't make the big 3.
On any other night, the Cavs might have folded after blowing a 23-point lead.
In the big picture, it means more to the Heat (51-23) and fighting for seeding in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But the Cavs (15-58) found their pride when they needed it most.
Feel like a victory over That Team Up North? Some would say it certainly did.