By Douglas DiLillo
The Cleveland Cavaliers against the Miami Heat meant so much more than just the 48 minutes that were played on the court.
It wasn’t about a win or loss, pain, sadness, anger or regret. It wasn’t about the past or the future, hope, progress, healing or eventual forgiveness.
For one night in Cleveland it was all about pride.
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No championship at stake, no titles to be won but probably more emotions than any other game of basketball ever played.
The Heat got the win, 118-90, but what happened on the court isn’t nearly as important as what happened to a city and its once herald “King”, the feelings they both have for one another and how it was finally shown in front of a national audience.
Anger, frustration, hate and disgust are the best ways to describe the resentment shown toward LeBron James by his former city. After months of being the silent punching bag in this sad situation, Cleveland and its loyal fans finally got a chance to vent.
It was “boos”, witty jabs and obscenities uttered in unison by 20,562 hurt Clevelanders for the better part of three hours.
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The hatred and anger could actually be felt in the building, it was uneasy and even uncomfortable at times. Cleveland did show its spirit, however, when it cheered loudly for team owner Dan Gilbert and the players who still wear Wine and Gold.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, emotions and pride don’t translate into talent.
Once the ball was tipped and everything other than just basketball drifted away all that was left was one team filled with all-stars and another that was not.
It wasn’t the outcome Cleveland fans had hoped for but it got their point across.
“I have the utmost respect for this franchise, the utmost respect for these fans,” James said after the bludgeoning of his former squad. “I have nothing bad to say about these fans at all.
“We grew from the year before I got here, a 17-win season to the last two years I was here, we had the best team in the league in the regular season. I understand their frustration. I was frustrated also because we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to. I wish this organization and these fans, who are great, the best.”
James shouldn’t feel much animosity toward the fans at Quicken Loans Arena who’s clever chants including, “Akron hates you” brought a surprising smile to his face.
The environment seemed to drive James, who had without a doubt his most impressive night as a member of the Heat.
He scored 38 to go with eight assists and tied a Heat record for points in a quarter with 24 in the third. His 24-point third quarter was also a record for most points in a quarter at the Q.
He also scored eight while leading a 16-0 run for the Heat in the first quarter that brought his team back from down five and put them up by double-digits.
Cleveland played hesitant from that point on and the game was never within reach again.
Cavaliers fans might not miss the now hated James after his “Decision,” but they will miss performances like the one he put on Thursday night. It was the first time that Cavs fans had to experience just how difficult it is to have James playing against you instead of with you.
“I thought he played great,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. “Simple as that.”
James’ team as well finally seemed to play up to its enormous potential.
Afterward Dwyane Wade said it was the best his team has played thus far and that he wasn’t surprised by James performance because he often “rises to the occasion when things look at their darkest for him.”
Wade did his part though with 22 points while Chis Bosh had 15.
The only Cavalier worth noting was Daniel Gibson who had 21, other Cavs such as Mo Williams and J.J. Hickson played fairly poor.
The major problem for Cleveland was that all its heart and fight seemed to be in the seats and not on the court.
On Tuesday Scott called the loss to Boston a “boxing match” where the Cavaliers never threw any punchs back. If that was again the case than tonight would have gone into the books as a heavyweight, main event bout that ended in a first round knockout.
Disappointing to say the least.
The one positive thing that can be taken away from this game for Cleveland is knowing nothing really got proven in the 48 minutes that were played. The relationship between James and his former city is complex and deep, going far beyond this one game.
One game without many surprises, Cleveland booed but the more talented team won.
LeBron James had a game to remember but as Cleveland knows better than anybody, he always does against teams with little talent, when it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is the playoffs, where James has never proven himself and has often played his worst.
The reality for Cleveland now, after getting beat down by both Boston and Miami, is unless there’s major progress and growth, they won’t have the luxury of playing James at his worst, when it matters the most.