October 25, 2014

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Cavaliers’ performance spoils celebratory mood

The Cavaliers put together a banner season in 2006-2007, which entitled them to a banner night on Wednesday.
Just 41/2 months after reaching the NBA Finals for the first time, Cleveland raised its Eastern Conference championship banner to the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was a moment many Cavaliers fans thought would never come, but became a reality just before the start of their 92-74 season-opening loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
“Being able to look up and see we are the Eastern Conference champions will always bring back a lot of great memories for us and the fans,’’ Cleveland forward Drew Gooden said. “That’s why this is a big night. Not only (did) we get to raise the banner, we get to have a little bit more celebration in the building — kind of top it off from last year.
“Now, though, it’s time to get back to work and start all over again.’’
Truer words have never been spoken, especially with the way the Cavaliers played in the first half on what should have been a night to remember.
With the exception of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and newcomer Devin Brown, Cleveland’s players were lifeless, uninspired and flat-out awful in falling behind by 20 points.
The top offender on the team was superstar LeBron James, who had three times as many fouls in the first two periods as he did points, rebounds and assists combined.
“We didn’t play well, obviously,’’ Cavaliers guard Larry Hughes said. “We definitely have to play harder and we have to play smart. For the most part, we didn’t do either one.’’
Not only did Cleveland’s lousy performance take some of the luster off its banner-raising ceremony, it took all of the air out of a sellout crowd that wasn’t very lively to begin with.
It was a disappointing turn of events because the matchup had all the trappings one would expect from a nationally televised game between two of professional sports’ biggest draws.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — fresh off his elimination from “Dancing with the Stars’’ — roamed the arena and hammed it up at every opportunity, far outshining the star power of talk show host Jerry Springer and singers J. Holiday and Angie Stone.
ESPN’s announcers and cameramen were seemingly in every corner and crevice of the building, including diminutive ex-Rockets and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who barely registered a look from the paying customers.
Add in the fact it was Halloween and the Cavaliers were wearing their pumpkin-colored throwbacks, and all the ingredients were in place for an entertaining evening.
“Being a part of something like this is really special because it brings back memories from when I was younger,’’ Gooden said. “I remember when I got my first car, it was on Halloween, and I drove to my friend’s house to watch the Lakers get one of their championship rings.
“To be a player in the same situation — except we got a banner, not a ring tonight — is exciting.’’
The gap between winning a conference banner and a world championship ring, however, is as wide as Texas is hot. San Antonio drove that point home hard with a four-game sweep of Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
Losing in that fashion was a painful, but necessary, lesson for the Cavaliers if they are to take the next step and bring home the ultimate prize.
However, there is no guarantee they will return to the NBA Finals in the future, which is why everyone inside The Q took a moment Wednesday to celebrate what played out last season.
“A lot of different things have to fall into place for us to be back where we were last year,’’ guard Damon Jones said. “Luck has to be on our side a little bit. All you can do is embrace the moment and be ready for the challenge.’’
Contact Brian Dulik at sports@ohio.net.