For the first time since 2007 – when LeBron James was just 22 years old – the Cleveland Cavaliers are back in the NBA Finals. The Cavaliers beat the Hawks, 118-88, in Cleveland on Tuesday to complete a four-game sweep of the East’s top seed.
The crazy part is, the game might not have been as close as the final score indicated – and the Cavs won by 30.
“Phenomenal moment in the Q,” Cleveland CBS-TV sports director Tony Zarrella said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Obviously the game was over by halftime. Seriously, they were up 17 at the half, 25 at the end of the third – it was over. Then it was just waiting for the confetti to drop and the trophy presentation.”
But it was still an emotional night for Cleveland.
“This goes back to last July (with) LeBron coming back,” Zarrella said. “Everybody’s dreaming of that special moment if they actually make a run at a title. And here we are. Now, they’re not there yet. It’s not the ultimate night. But to take that third step, if you will, before you get to the title – it was about as good as it gets until they actually top it if they can beat Golden State.”
The Warriors can close out the Rockets in Game 5 on Wednesday.
Tuesday, however, was about James, Cleveland and a promise.
“It means everything,” Zarrella said. “That relationship has been just not only resurrected, but it’s been reborn, if you will. You know what it was like when he left here. And on his end, to go down to Miami for those four years and to kind of grow as a man and to come back here – and the way he did it, which was the ultimate way with the essay and the message of coming back to Cleveland, it just means everything to the people here.”
The Cavs have had players come and go via trade this season. They’ve had key players suffer significant injuries. They’ve had all sorts of different challenges at different times.
The one constant, though, was James, who scored 23 points in Game 4 and averaged 30.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in the series.
“It starts with him, and that’s the bottom line,” Zarrella said. “The fact that he’s leading the way and he’s still probably the most complete player on the planet – that means everything to the people here.”
The NBA Finals do not begin until June 4, which means the Cavaliers will have a week to rest. That’s good. Because they need it – especially James.
“We all talk about Kyrie; LeBron James needs the rest,” Zarrella said. “This is a guy who has a lot of playoff miles on him. By his own nature, by his own game, he takes a pounding. He drives it to the hoop. He’s inside. He’s working hard a lot. But he also pays a price for that. Now he’s also a guy who does incredible stuff off the court in terms of his body. But clearly it takes a toll on him. As important as it is for Kyrie, it’s just as important for LeBron James at this point to get a week off here and then go get it – because they’re going to need everything they got.”