May 28, 2016

Partly sunny

Time to look ahead

Cavs begin thinking about Spurs

CLEVELAND — It took the Cavaliers 37 long years to get to their first NBA Finals. Now that they’re finally in them, there’s a chance an NBA championship might only be about two weeks away.
So while Saturday was undeniably a long-awaited night of celebration for the Cavaliers — not to mention the thousands and thousands of fans who poured into the Gateway Plaza after Cleveland’s 98-82 series-clinching win over the Detroit Pistons — it was also a time to dream just a little bit bigger.
“If we could win four more games,” Cavs general manager Danny Ferry said inside Quicken Loans Arena, amidst all the euphoria of his team’s first Eastern Conference championship, “this would be nothing.”
Standing between the Cavs and their first NBA title are Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, who have won three titles since 1999, the most recent in 2005. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series will be Thursday at 9 p.m. in San Antonio.
“San Antonio is the premier team in our league,” Cleveland superstar LeBron James said. “They’re playing basketball better than any team in this league. They’re veterans. They’ve been there before. They’re special.
“We’re going to be even more intense, even more physically and mentally in tune to what’s going on when we enter the finals on Thursday.”
There were plenty of ups and downs over the course of training camp and an 82-game regular season, with the Cavs barely matching the 50 wins they recorded in the previous season.
What never changed, however, was James’ burning desire to bring a title to the region where he grew up. That became crystal clear when the Akron native brought his teammates together for a huddle following their first practice this season.
“I’m not a guy who likes to look too far into the future,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said late Saturday night while recalling the day. “I wanted to say, ‘One, two, three, defense (when we broke the huddle).’ But the very first practice we had, he goes, ‘One, two, three, championship.’ I was like, ‘Damn, how am I going to tell them to say, ‘One, two, three, defense?’ So I let it go on for a little bit and finally I said, ‘We want that type of pressure. Let’s live up to it.’
“He’s the man and this is no easy task. The next team is a great team. Not a good team, not an excellent team, not a very good team, that’s a great team. We’re going to have to pry every ounce of energy we have for 48 minutes to have a chance.”
As long as the Cavs have James, the organization that previously gave us the likes of Nick Mileti, Ted Stepien, The Teddy Bears, Luke Witte, Edgar Jones, Chad Kinch, Geoff Crompton and Shawn Kemp will now always have a chance.
“If you guys remember when I was in New York (for the 2003 NBA Draft), I told you I was going to light it up like Vegas in Cleveland,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s lit now. Awesome.”
Northeast Ohio will get even more lit — in more ways than one, no doubt — if James and Co. make a serious run at the Spurs.
“We’ve gotten better every single year I’ve been in this league,” James said. “We added the pieces we needed to compete every single night. We brought in a guy in Coach Brown who stresses defense, defense, defense, defense, defense, defense.
“It’s unbelievable. You can have so many struggles during the course of the season, so many people criticizing your team — they don’t have enough pieces; they’re not a good enough outside-shooting team; Coach Brown lacks this; LeBron lacks this — but we’ve always believed. It’s always been 15 guys in the locker room that just believed. We have a special team.”
A year ago, when the Cavs stunned Detroit at The Palace of Auburn Hills to win their third straight game in the conference semifinals, James told media members afterward that the Pistons were not “The Big Bad Wolf.”
Detroit ultimately came back to win the last two games of that series, but Cleveland got its revenge on a bigger stage Saturday night and will now, in James’ words, “get ready for the Big Bad Wolf of the West.”
The Cavs will be a decided underdog in the eyes of most basketball fans nationwide, but that doesn’t bother them at all because they were also the underdog against Detroit.
“We’re not done yet,” point guard Larry Hughes said inside a very loud locker room. “We have a goal in mind and that’s to win a championship. The Eastern Conference finals we’ve got under our belt, but now we have to win the whole thing.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or