The NBA calendar year concludes on Saturday, June 30. With the Cleveland Cavaliers’ future as uncertain as its been since 2010, this feels like a great time to review the 2017-18 season’s best games. While Cavs fans found little joy in The Finals, Cleveland still managed to win their fourth consecutive Eastern Conference Championship and fifty regular season games. Herein is a pseudo-scientific review of the team’s top five games of the campaign:
- Home Opener. Cavs 102 – Celtics 99. Cleveland was still smarting over Kyrie Irving’s trade demands and subsequent defection to Boston. The NBA did not miss a step and scheduled the two clubs to clash on opening night. LeBron James scored 29 and Irving countered with 22, but KI missed the would-be tying shot in the dying seconds as the Cavs secured a cathartic victory. Also, it says in the box score that someone named Dwayne Wade played 28.5 minutes for the Cavs. Do they mean the guy from Miami? Weird.
- Game 5 Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. Cavs 98 – Pacers 95. You’re remembering correctly. This was LeBron’s buzzer beater over the Pacers. While there is certainly an argument to be made that this was one of the best games of the year, it just barely missed the top five. Still, it’s damn fun to watch.
5.) February 7, pre-trade deadline. Cavs 140 – Timberwolves 138
The Cavs were a deeply flawed team when the hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves a day before the trade deadline. Isaiah Thomas was clearly unhappy and not at full strength. Kevin Love had received some not too subtle shade from his new teammate. Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose were clearly not working. Perhaps worst of all, LeBron did not seem happy. It all came to a head against Minnesota. In a tense back-and-forth affair, James logged almost 49 minutes on the court including overtime.
In the waning seconds, The King blocked a Jimmy Butler shot before calling a quick timeout. The announcer actually says, “heads-up play by Smith as he turns to call the timeout.” *Shudder* With exactly one second left, Jeff Green found James posting up downcourt and The Chosen One calmly turned and knocked down the winning 17-footer. I love the below image, in which James has the choice to either chest bump Cedi Osman or Isaiah Thomas and he chooses the young Turk. He made the right choice.
4.) Game 7 – Eastern Conference Quarter Finals. Cavs 105 – Pacers 101
Despite opening in 1994, Gund/Quicken Loans Arena had not hosted a Game 7 until this April. No one expected the seemingly overmatched Pacers to reach a seventh game against the Cavs, but there we were. Cleveland led by eleven at the half, but a strong third quarter from Indiana led to them holding a brief 59-58 lead. The Cavs kept their composure and while it was never a very comfortable lead they built an advantage that ultimately led to a 105-101 victory.
The man of the hour was, surprisingly, Tristan Thompson. The new father was a regular DNP-CD in the latter part of the season, but he provided the muscle and spark the Cavs needed that day. His 15 point, 10 rebound day was not a career high in either category, but he got crunch time minutes and made them count.
3.) Game 3 – Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Cavs 105 – Raptors 103
Do you want to know when the Toronto Raptors’ season ended? It was not, as you may suspect, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The real heart-stopping moment came two days earlier in Cleveland when LeBron James received an inbound pass with 8.0 seconds left in a tie game, accelerated past Kyle Lowry at the three-point line, lifted a running, off-balance, contorted nine-footer that banked of the window and splashed through the cylinder.
James notched a casual 38 point, 6 rebound, 7 assist night as the Cavs nearly blew a fourth-quarter lead to the desperate dinosaurs. By rule, the teams had to play the fourth game, but everyone knew how it was going to end. The visitors went extinct when LeBron beat the buzzer.
2.) Game 1 – Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Cavs 113 – Raptors 112
Before this game, it seemed the Cavaliers were on borrowed time. Cleveland barely outlasted the Pacers, a team that almost everyone expected them to throttle. All signs pointed toward this being Toronto’s year. The Raps earned their first one-seed in franchise history, won 59 games, and had home court advantage against the Cavs. Also, Toronto had more rest with the visiting Cavs playing on tired legs. The Raptors led 33-19 after one quarter, 60-57 after two quarters, and 87-82 after three. Somehow the Raptors went ice cold down the stretch including five missed shots in the last ten seconds. A last second James miss set up overtime.
The Wine and Gold took their first lead of the game in the extra period and did not look back. A game that felt like a quick loss coming in quickly became a hard-fought, galvanizing win that sent a clear message to Canada’s largest city: LeBron James owns you.
1.) Game 7 – Eastern Conference Finals. Cavs 87 – Celtics 79
Ignore for a moment that this was the last Cavs win of the season. The Cavs’ Game 7 victory marked a significant achievement for the team. Consider how poorly the club played defense all seasons, how many new faces arrived in February, the superhuman number of minutes James played, all under the specter of the King’s impending free agency. At various points, the Cavs trailed in this series 2-0 and 3-2. They had lost their first three games in Boston by 25, 13, and 13 points, respectively. The Cavs even trailed Game 7 at the half, 43-39. Still, despite all of that, Cleveland managed to outscore Boston 48-36 in the second half to secure a comfortable eight-point win. James posted a snazzy 35 point, 15 rebound, 9 assist state line. Jeff Green of all people dropped 19 to make up for a concussed Kevin Love. LeBron played literally every second of the game as the franchise earned its fifth conference title.
You’ll notice LeBron James’ name appears frequently in this article. There is no underplaying this impact on the Cavaliers this season. As of the writing, and hopefully, as of your reading, LeBron is still a Cavalier. No matter what he does in the next two weeks there is no denying the 2017-18 campaign offered plenty of opportunities for him to showcase his otherworldly talent. So, let’s raise one last digital glass to the 2017-18 Cavaliers. “Whatever It Takes” took us a long way. Cheers.