In Game 4, Cavs face biggest game in franchise history


Cleveland Cavaliers fans watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Kent on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. The Cavs beat the Warriors 96-91, bringing the series to 2-1 in favor of the Cavs.

Jimmy Miller

On the heels of a 96-91 defeat of the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Cavaliers fans have expressed confidence in how they feel the series will end.

But the work is not over—in fact, it’s really just beginning.

Truthfully, there’s reason to be excited about where the Cavaliers stand right now. First of all, they proved their defensive performance in Game 2—particularly from reserve point guard Matthew Dellavedova—wasn’t a fluke. Holding one of the league’s most high-octane offenses to under 60 points through the first three quarters two games in a row is no accident, especially when nobody did it all season. Winning Game 2 at Golden State also helped the Cavaliers make a statement, not only because they nearly snatched a Game 1 win before the overtime collapse, but also because the Warriors have four losses there all year. And, of course, the resurgence of do-it-all playoff LeBron James, the Cavaliers’ star forward, is encouraging, as the other two members of the Cavaliers’ “Big Three”—Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving—are nursing season-ending injuries.

Beyond all that, the Cavaliers have successfully, in two consecutive games, set milestones for a franchise that has spent more time in the murk than in the win column. Sunday’s win over the Warriors was the Cavaliers’ first Finals win in history, and Tuesday’s victory proved to be the first one in Quicken Loans Arena. The game is statistically a deciding factor in who wins the series. The fans are excited. This is exciting. There’s no denying that at all.

But none of this matters if the Cavaliers stop there. The Dellavedova worship doesn’t matter if he stops playing at the highest level in his career. LeBron’s candidacy for the greatest of all-time—he’s making his strongest case he could have ever possibly made in years past right in front of our eyes—doesn’t matter if the Cavaliers ultimately falter and his video game numbers fall back down to rookie mode.

Realistically speaking, the hype for how close Cleveland is to winning a championship also bears the weight of continual expectation.

I’m not saying I don’t believe in this team. How can you not, after what they’ve managed to do with what seems like so little? I’m also not saying all of that above because I’m a negative Cleveland fan hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. In my 20 years on this planet, I’ve never once felt more comfortable with a Cleveland team bringing a championship parade to Cleveland. But what I am saying is this: Every game from here on out is the biggest game the Cavaliers have ever played, period.

There’s a real chance to go up 3-1 in the series and head to Oracle Arena for a Game 5, meaning the Warriors would need three wins to Cleveland’s one. But there’s also a real chance the Warriors catch fire in Game 4, and in what suddenly becomes a best-of-three series, play two of the remaining three games in Oakland. Game 4 is more important than any game the Cavaliers have ever played in, if the ultimate goal is to win a championship.

Subsequently, Game 5, one way or the other, is even more vital than Game 4. Let’s suppose the Cavaliers get the job done Thursday and win Game 4: Suddenly, LeBron and company are looking at a close-out game for the championship every Cleveland fan has clamored for since 1964. Or, on the other hand, if the Cavaliers drop Game 4, the much-vaunted and absolutely pivotal Game 5 suddenly becomes a virtual must-win to stay afloat in the series.

To put it into perspective, every single game is as much of a must-win as the previous three, if not more so, and LeBron knows it. Iman Shumpert, who temporarily left the game for a shoulder injury, knows it, too. Dellavedova, who has played absolutely out of his mind, knows it, even when he was on his way to the hospital for dehydration.

Sweaty palms again, Cleveland fans—the best, most intense part of the series has yet to come. Be excited, but keep in mind this thing is far from over.

Contact Jimmy Miller at [email protected].