The Cavaliers have worked too hard and accomplished too much this season to be swept out of the NBA Finals.
Yet that’s the situation Cleveland is now facing after a brutal 75-72 loss to San Antonio in Game 3 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday night.
At this point, the question isn’t if the Cavaliers will win the world championship — NBA history tells us they have no chance — but rather if they can extend the competition beyond the minimum four games.
“We can’t live on history, but at the same time, we have dug ourselves a big hole,” said LeBron James, who amassed
26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists despite early foul trouble. “We have to try and come out and win four straight games.
“Everybody has to still believe.”
Despite James’ outward confidence, the Cavaliers’ psyche has to be destroyed after the nature of their three-point defeat.
They held San Antonio to fewer than 25 points in all four quarters, dominated the Spurs on the boards and were in a position to steal the win throughout a painful-to-watch final period.
Time and time again, though, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel “Boobie” Gibson and James missed wide-open shots that could have turned momentum in their team’s direction as the clock wound down.
“I thought our guys fought, they gave effort, but we did not make enough plays down the stretch to win the ballgame,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown lamented. “LeBron did a terrific job driving the ball, but he had a couple go in and out that could have really helped us with the outcome of the game.”
While James’ two missed layups during San Antonio’s 5:43 fourth-quarter scoring drought were costly, Anderson Varejao was responsible for the most devastating decision and the least intelligent shot of the night.
With the Cavaliers trailing 72-70 and 14 seconds left in the game, “Wild Thing” took a pass from James at the top of the key and inexplicably headed toward the basket against Spurs center Tim Duncan.
With the entire crowd of 20,562 yelling “No!” from the time Varejao caught the ball, he spun left and right, then shuffled his feet before launching a shot that hit nothing but glass.
Every single person inside Quicken Loans Arena knew it was a terrible shot, except for Varejao, which is sad considering this is his third NBA season.
But Brown deserves some of the blame, as well, for having top percentage shooter Zydrunas Ilgauskas on the bench during the game-changing sequence.
“That was tough,” the coach said. “I knew what lineup I wanted on the floor at that time. I knew where the ball needed to be. It was frustrating not to be able to get a timeout during that time, but things happen.”
Unfortunately for Brown and his players, you don’t need Nostradamus to predict what things will happen next.
The Spurs will win the series and celebrate their fourth NBA title on Cleveland’s home court. It’s not the way the Cavaliers’ great season deserves to end, but it’s the way it’s going to.
“They did not have a happy night,” San Antonio forward Manu Ginobili said. “(For us), it’s great, beautiful, even though we didn’t play good.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.