Saturday, May 06, 2006

Score one for Cleveland

So this is what it's like to be a fan of a winning team. I'd forgotten. Not a title-winning team. Or even a pennant-winning team. But right now, the Cleveland Basketballing Cavaliers are winners.

I know it's been a crappy week here at CSB, but it's been a great week in Cleveland. Tonight the 2006 Cavaliers become the first Cleveland team to advance in the postseason since the 1997 Indians beat Baltimore in the ALCS.

The Cavs beat the Washington Wizards 114-133 in overtime Friday night. And although it wasn't LeBron who made the winning shot, he helped set it up. Damon Jones (who had spent the previous three hours or so on the bench, probably scanning the crowd for hot chicks, wondering if he set his fantasy baseball rotation and daydreaming about cheeseburgers for all I know) made a 17-footer I'll probably not forget for a long time to put the Cavs ahead for good in the final seconds.

But that wouldn't have been good enough to win had Wizards star Gilbert Arenas made either of the two free throws he had just seconds before. After he missed the first one, LeBron came up to whisper in his ear before the second one. Accounts differ as to what His Bronness said, but whatever he said was clearly effective. Ballgame, as they say.

It's a hell of a thing, being party to Cleveland sports success. I know the Cavs have a date with the Pistons for what is likely to be a brutal and short series. But until Sunday, they're still the victors. I haven't enjoyed this kind of success in a long time. For example, the beer in my refrigerator which will soon be opened in honor of the Cavs was purchased, legally, by me. Such a thing was impossible when the Indians were busy breaking hearts in the National Capital Area. For another example, 1997 was a whole century ago.

I bring up that Tribe team for an important reason. As a friend (and occasional commenter here) pointed out, that series was much like this one. A quick look at Baseball Reference shows that the Indians, who eliminated the Orioles in six games, won their games in the following manner.

  • By one run, after scoring three in the eighth inning.
  • On a steal of home plate. In the 12th inning. They stole home.
  • With a walkoff single in the bottom of the ninth ... after Baltimore took the lead in the top half of the inning.
  • And in the series clincher, the teams were scoreless until Tony Fernandez hit a solo homer in the top of the 11th. Jose Mesa shut the door and 1-0 was your final.
The spiritual twin to Damon Jones, as far as we're concerned.

Back to tonight: The Cavs, meanwhile, after a Game 1 blowout, won on an astonishing, short-range basket by LeBron, an even more astounding baseline drive and feather-soft layup by LeBron and then Damon Jones' dagger, tonight. The Wizards were seriously close to winning this in five games. But, as weird as this sounds to say, Cleveland just got the breaks.

Although that 1997 season ended in heartbreak, it was still something special. And while I'm reasonably confident that the Cavs don't have the horses to get past the Pistons, I still can't wait to see what LeBron and the rest of the Cavs do against them.

The Cavaliers, for the first time since I was in grade school are officially something special. A Cleveland team is making its fans happy, rather than enraging and embittering them. Promise has been redeemed, cashed in for actual, tangible results. For now, this is enough.

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