The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a long and successful year with the return of LeBron James all the way to the improbable NBA Finals run they made. We look back at the top 10 moments from this past season that should have Cavs fans excited for the 2015-16 season.
10. Wiggins Draft
In the 2013 NBA Draft, the Cavs selected UNLV Forward Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick. Bennett turned out to be a bust, as he barely cracked the rotation in the 2013-2014 season in which the Cavs went 33-49, and did not make the playoffs. The Cavs front office really messed up, picking Bennett instead of players like Victor Oladipo, Nerlens Noel, Michael Carter-Williams, among others. When it came to the 2014 NBA Draft, Cavs fans prayed the the Cavs would not mess up two years in a row, especially since they were very very lucky to be granted a second 1st overall pick in two years.
Deciding between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, the Cavs ultimately chose Wiggins, preferring the player with more upside over the player who was at the time more NBA-ready. Although Wiggins would never play a single minute for the Cavs, it seems that the Cavs made the correct choice in the draft in choosing Wiggins, as drafting him allowed the Cavs to use him as a trade piece to get a third all-star to pair with Kyrie and LBJ.
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9. Love Trade
When LeBron decided to return to the Cavs, he published an article with SI, saying that he could not wait to help TT, Kyrie, and Dion Waiters improve their game. He failed to mention neither Wiggins nor Bennett. Many analysts deemed this as the writing on the wall for Wiggins and Bennett: LeBron wanted the Cavs to get a third all-star to pair with Kyrie and himself. Not many all-star players were on the trading block at the time, and only one name kept popping up in trade rumors: Kevin Love. Love had been voicing his displeasure with the T-Wolves for a year already at the time, clearly upset that the T-Wolves hadn’t been able to make the playoffs in the 6 years he had played for the T-Wolves. GM Griffin of the Cavs then set his heart on trading for Love.
Originally, it was rumored that the Cavs agreed to send two first round picks, along with Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett to the Wolves in exchange for KLove, which would have allowed the Cavs to keep Wiggins. That would have made the Cavs near impossible to stop, due to Wiggin’s huge upside and the ability to play alongside and train with the best player in the world. In the end, though, the Wolves demanded Wiggins, and the Cavs gave in. The Cavs traded Bennett, along with Wiggins and a first round pick (Miami Heat first rounder received in the LBJ trade) in part of a three way trade with the Philly Sixers in exchange for Love. Although it is still hard to say for certain if the trade was worth it, Love had a great season with the Cavs, and he hopes to return next season.
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8. ECF Without Love And Irving
Kevin Love had gone down with a shoulder injury back in the first round of the playoffs against the Boston Celtics, and he was out for the rest of the post-season. Kyrie also injured his knee in the series-clinching game 6 against the Chicago Bulls. The Cavs relied on JR and Delly to help LeBron clinch game 6. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs faced the Atlanta Hawks, who had taken the Eastern Conference by storm, winning 60 games and only losing 22 in the regular season. LeBron and bench players vs. the Atlanta Hawks seemed like a daunting task, and Cavs fans hoped that Kyrie would return to help the Cavs.
In the game 1 win, it was clear that Kyrie was still battling the knee injury he sustained against the Bulls- he had trouble keeping up with Hawks guard Jeff Teague on defense. Trying to get Kyrie feeling better, the coaching staff sat Kyrie for games 2 and 3, in which the Cavs, led by LeBron, beat the Hawks by large margins. Many fans feared for the Cavs ability to match up with the Hawks due to injuries to Kyrie and KLove, but the LeBron-led Cavs executed vs the Hawks. The Cavs won an easy game 4, and swept the #1 seeded Hawks. This was LeBron’s biggest achievement at the time, leading a group of bench players and young guys to the Finals. He averaged 32.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 10 assists per game in the Eastern Conference Finals, which really shows his ability to take over a game. Cleveland fans couldn’t be happier.
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7. J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Timofey Mozgov Trades
The Cavs had a rough start to the season in which there were many expectations for them, for at one point, they had lost more games than they had won. The team took a further hit when starting center Anderson Varejao went down with a season-ending injury, pushing Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup. This did not work out well, as Thompson was undersized at center. The Cavs had also desired a wing defender, so they went to work. In early January, the Cavs completed a three way trade that saw Dion Waiters, Lou Amundson, and Alex Kirk leave the Cavs in exchange for guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith. Many viewed this as a great trade, in which the Cavs received two great shooters, one of which also was an elite defender. Dion Waiters also proved to be expendable, as his play-making ability and decision making was often questioned.
A few days after the JR/Shump trade, the Cavs also packaged two first round picks to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for little-used center Timofey Mozgov. Mozgov had been on the Cavs’ radar for quite some time, since Blatt had coached him before on the Russia national team. Although it seemed like a steep price to pay, the gamble paid off, as the Cavs went on a 40-5 streak shortly after the trades. This really had Cavs fans excited- JR and Mozgov were immediately inserted into the starting lineup, and the Cavs played with a type of energy that cannot really be explained.
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6. Kyrie At The Q
On January 29th at the Q, Kyrie picked up the slack for the Cavs in a big way, with LeBron out for the night for rest. The Portland Trailblazers were in town, and Kyrie was matched up against fellow all-star Damian Lillard. Throughout the game, Kyrie drove to the basket with ease, and also shot the ball at an efficient rate. Following the 38 points he scored the night before against the Detroit Pistons, Kyrie made a whopping 11 3pointers on the way to a career high (at the time) 55 points. This was including the game winning pull-up 3 pointer he made over Trailblazer elite defender Nicolas Batum. With the game tied at 94-94 with 15 seconds left, Kyrie calmly dribbled the ball up, and shot the three on the right wing. Swish. Cavs fans went crazy, and at the time, at least for a night, it seemed as if the Cavs would be just fine even if LeBron was injured long-term. Kyrie would go on to break this career high later this season against the San Antonio Spurs.
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5. LeBron’s First Game Back
There was possibly no game with more hype than LeBron’s first game back in a Cavs uni- the home opener against the New York Knicks. Tickets for this game sold out in minutes, and LeBron did the chalk toss to a sold-out Q. Player Introductions had the fans cheering and screaming louder than ever before. Everyone believed that this was the start of another new era, one filled with yearly playoff runs and great basketball being played. The fans had gotten sick of the Cavs finishing the last 4 years with losing records, and were excited for the Return. Although the Cavs wore the lucky navy blue unis, the Cavs were unable to win against the Knicks, losing 95-90. LeBron only scored 17, and it was clear that his desire to be more of a facilitator was causing him some trouble, as he committed 8 turnovers. Despite this, the first game back for the King was an indicator of what was to come.
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4. Kyrie’s Career High
LeBron has an intense history against the Spurs, winning against them in the 2013 Finals, and losing to them in the 2014 Finals, both in 7 games. This only hyped up the regular season matchup even more, in which both teams were streaking, winning games at home and on the road, climbing up the standings of their respective conferences. Although everyone assumed LeBron would step up, Kyrie stole the show, and ultimately, the game. Kyrie came out firing, matching veteran Tony Parker shot for shot, assist for assist. LeBron struggled throughout the game, but Kyrie stayed consistent. Down by 3 with just a few seconds left, LeBron in-bounded the ball to Kyrie, who hit a fadeaway 3 pointer to tie the game. Cold Blooded.
In overtime, Kyrie continued to hit crazy shots, and even LeBron joined in on the action, hitting a few threes of his own. The Cavs ran away with the game in overtime, due to Kyrie and LeBron’s clutch shots. Kyrie shot 8-8 from downtown on the way to his new career high 57 points, while LeBron also scored over 30 points. When asked about Kyrie holding the record for most points scored by a Cavalier, LeBron said that Kyrie could hold the title for a while, but that he would re-claim it eventually.
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3. LeBron’s Game Winner In Chicago
Many NBA analysts believed that the Chicago Bulls were the only team in the East standing in the way of the Cavs path to the Finals. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Chicago first appeared to be a handful, winning game 1 on the road, and the Cavs barely squeaked out a game 2 win. The Bulls then won game 3 on a game winning three pointer by Derrick Rose, which really hurt Cleveland’s morale. Cleveland was supposed to go into the United Center, and as the higher seeded team, get a win on the road. Due to busted coverage, Rose was open enough to get a good shot off, and it sunk.
Game 4 was a very close game throughout, and with only 1 second left, Cleveland regained possession of the ball. Now, LeBron typically is the inbounder in situations like this, but he instead waved off Coach Blatt, and told Dellavedova to inbound. LeBron then caught the pass in stride as he faded away, sinking the baseline jumper. The degree of difficulty was off the charts, and everyone knew LeBron meant business. That shot was the turning point of the series, as the Cavs won both games 5 and 6 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
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2. LeBron’s Return
LeBron surprised everyone when he publically declared his decision to return to the Cavs in the form of a publically written article published on Sports Illustrated. He spoke about a desire to win a championship for his hometown, and the desire to be the true leader of a young team and lead them to success. Most Cavs fans were furious when LeBron left for Miami in 2010, but welcomed him back with open arms when he announced his decision to return. He brought along with him a championship-caliber hype that only comes with the best basketball player in the world. This, truly, was christmas in July for the Cavs and Cavs fans.
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1. Finals Wins Games 2 And 3
LeBron was able to lead the Cavs to the Finals for the first time since 2008, when the Cavs were swept by the Spurs. Already as the underdogs in the matchup, the Cavs lost both game 1 of the Finals and Kyrie to season-ending injury. Almost everyone wrote the Cavs off, saying that they stood no chance against the Golden State Warriors, that they would get swept. LeBron returned and put up 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 assists to lead the Cavs to a game 2 victory, tying the series at one apiece. The Finals had shifted to Cleveland, with games 3 and 4 played at the Q. The Cavs had not been in the Finals since 2008, so the 2015 version of LeBron had many fans hopeful of a home win, and more-so a championship. The Cavs also won game 3, taking a 2-1 series lead behind LeBron’s 40 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists- another almost-triple-double. These two wins were a huge surprise to everyone, as no one expected LeBron and others to be able to keep up with the Warriors. This gave Cavs fans hope of a championship, all because of LeBron.