It’s as though the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs are trying to prepare for a reunion or something…
If the Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA, second- and third-best teams will meet Thursday night in San Antonio. The NBA has backloaded the regular season schedule with high-profile meetings, and Cavs-Spurs in the Alamo City will get the party started, nine days before ABC begins its new Saturday night package on January 23.
Think the Cavs and Spurs were unaware of the need to play well heading into Thursday’s showdown? There’s not a basketball-loving soul on this planet who would arrive at that view.
These teams look ready for battle, as the NBA regular season (which, to be honest, needs a large thermos of coffee) finally begins to perk up.
What’s great about the Spurs’ and Cavs’ wins on Tuesday night, in their final tune-ups before this clash, is that they revealed greatness in different ways. These teams are linked in their star power and their commitment to defense, but part of surpemely successful basketball is manifested in the ability to win in different forms under different circumstances. The Spurs and Cavs certainly do this on a regular basis, and they did so on Tuesday.
San Antonio conquered the road back-to-back and the 4 a.m. appointment with a hotel bed. It’s a brutal part of NBA life, but getting a high seed and maintaining a lofty cruising altitude in the standings depends on the ability to navigate enough of these situations during the season. In many ways, the Spurs “beat” the Detroit Pistons by crushing the Brooklyn Nets the previous night. Core starters were able to rest in the fourth quarter and enjoy a short night at the office. That feeds into freshness — mentally as well as physically — for the back end of the back-to-back, and it showed in The Palace on Tuesday.
Tony Parker scored a season-high 31 points. Moreover, he reminded everyone on the floor (and watching on television) that he can still be a lethally effective player at times. Parker doesn’t cut up the NBA like the tornado he was two or three seasons ago, but he did recall his 2013-2014 self in the first five minutes of the third quarter. He torched Detroit for 14 points in a five-minute span, as the Spurs scored 57 points in the middle two quarters, building a large lead which held up in the fourth quarter.
San Antonio’s offense flowed like the river it has so often become since the franchise re-invented itself in the early part of the decade. The Spurs won authoritatively in a circumstance (back end of a road back-to-back, many miles from home) which often gobbles up teams in the middle of January, when legs begin to yearn for the respite of the All-Star break.
That’s one kind of greatness: easily surmounting a situation which is so often difficult for one’s competitors.
Cleveland displayed another central kind of greatness on Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks: Stuck in the middle of a long road trip and knowing the huge game against San Antonio loomed in the distance, the Cavs were tempted to look ahead and get bored in Dallas.
They didn’t allow those easy human inclinations to ambush them.
Yes, the Cavaliers dragged through the first three quarters against the Mavs. This is partly human nature, but partly the reality that in the NBA (or any sport, or any endeavor), you’re just not going to have the same level of energy every night. It just IS. It’s life. It’s work. It’s not a commentary on athletes; it’s the simple truth of existence — for all of us, not just millionaires in basketball shorts.
Cleveland has been bouncing around the country, playing roadies in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, and Philadelphia before swinging down to Texas for the three-game visit to Dallas, San Antonio (Thursday), and Houston (Friday). That’s a lot of miles and destinations. Expecting a razor-sharp performance against the Mavs was not realistic. This was a game in which the Cavs needed to marshal their energies, hang in the fight for prolonged periods, and steal the game in the fourth.
That’s exactly what they did.
They mashed the Mavs on the offensive backboard, 17-7, and those extra possessions were just enough to get Cleveland into overtime. Once there, Kyrie Irving — who put on one of the biggest and best shooting displays of the 2014-2015 NBA season in San Antonio against the Spurs — warmed up for the Alamo by hitting a 29-footer off an assist from LeBron James in the final 15 seconds of the extra period to drive a dagger into Dallas.
Cleveland is young at many positions, but that youth — leavened by the experience of LeBron and Kevin Love — pulled out the kind of win veteran teams win in the Association.
Cleveland has won eight in a row. San Antonio has won nine in a row.
Anyone ready for a little dynamite action on TNT this Thursday?
The stars at night / are big and bright
DEEP IN THE HEARRRRRT… OF TEXAAAAAAS!