BY: FLORIAN GHEORGHE
Kyrie Irving is back on the floor… so is Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
After experiencing ‘hell’ in the last several days, sitting on the bench in street clothes, far from the bright lights, Irving started Game 4 and showed the basketball world he can still be a factor. He shook of his defender, penetrated and hit a floater scoring the first basket for the home team. Two minutes later, he buried a three-pointer. He was finally ready to play…all the Cavaliers were. And what started as a close game with the Atlanta Hawks desperately hanging on turned into a total annihilation… and a sweep.
Cleveland close the deal on their home floor routing the Hawks by 30 and finished the series with one Joe Harris scoring basket after basket. Joe who?
“Our motivation for the second half was to bring Joe Harris into the game. That’s what I’ve told these guys,” LeBron James said at the post-game press conference. And what he meant by that is let the 12th man in the Cavs rotation, a D-Leaguer, play some minutes and experience the joy of a win. And he did; Harris played the last six minutes with Cleveland way ahead and went 2-of-2 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. His backer, James had once more a wonderful performance finishing early with 23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. For the series, he averaged almost a triple-double – 30.3 points, 11 boards and 9.3 assists per game.
But he was not the only story of the series. All the team was, from J.R. Smith’s hot shooting and Matthew Dellavedova’s hard work to Tristan Thompson’s offensive rebounding and yes Joe Harris’ playing time.
“They outplayed us, is as simple as that,” Hawk Paul Millsap explained. “They were firing on all cylinders.”
Unfortunately for Millsap, his team was a non-story. After winning 60 games in the regular season and making the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, Atlanta disappointed ending its season on a low note: 0-4, a 30-point defeat and some not-that-good-looking defense and offense.
“They were better than us,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer acknowledged. He tried to instill his team the Spurs mentality and succeeded in the regular season but when the lights shone brightest, the Hawks collapsed and showed their weaknesses: undersized and playing without a true superstar.
On the other side, the league’s ultimate superstar, LeBron James will be back for yet another edition of the NBA Finals. He’s the first player to make five straight finals since 1966. Overall, he will play his sixth finals of his career, tying Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan among others.
Cavs time? Not so quickly, the King says: “I can’t guarantee the championship. But I will guarantee that we will play our butts off. We will, from the first minute to minute 48, or if it’s overtime 53. We will do that.”