Spurs Close the Curtain
But that’s as far as the Cavaliers would go, as the Spurs exposed Cleveland’s youth and inexperience in four straight games, including Thursday night’s heartbreaking 83-82 loss at The Q.
While the Cavaliers were making their foray into the Finals, the well-seasoned Spurs were cementing their decade-long dynasty – closing out their fourth NBA Championship in the past nine years.
The fourth game of the four-game sweep was not unlike Game 3 in that the Cavaliers had plenty of chances to steal a win from San Antonio. But as in each of the four losses – every loose ball, every rebound and every call seemed to go the Spurs’ way. Even the final seconds of the game were filled with ironic cruelty as Manu Ginobili rattled in a pair of free throws to put San Antonio up four – 83-79 – right before Damon Jones drilled a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded on Cleveland’s season.
"There were times throughout this series that I thought we did a hell of a job defensively for 19, 20, 21 seconds," said Coach Mike Brown, praising his former team. "And you talk about a group with poise, that group showed a lot of poise by making shots with two and three seconds on the shot clock. And not one time the entire series did they ever look rattled or panicked or frazzled at all."
The Spurs seemed poised to put the Cavaliers away after three quarters at The Q – leading by eight to start the fourth with the Wine and Gold showing little sign of life. But Donyell Marshall scored five quick points to warm the crowd up and LeBron James netted the next four to send the sold-out arena into a frenzy.
The two teams went back and forth before an unlikely Spurs hero gave San Antonio a lead they would not relinquish.
After Manu Ginobili drilled a three-pointer to put the Spurs up by three – 69-66 – with just over four minutes to play, San Antonio center, Fabricio Oberto – whose number is rarely called on the offensive end – hit a layup and was fouled by Marshall. The Argentine big man calmly sank the free throw to give the Spurs a six-point lead. On the very next possession, Oberto scored on another layup to give his team an eight-point bulge.
Before Oberto’s mini-run, the Cavaliers had a chance to catch the Spurs, but San Antonio milked one possession for over a minute-and-a-half, grabbing three offensive rebounds and taking advantage of a kicked-ball with the shot clock winding down.
The Cavaliers cut it to a deuce when LeBron James drilled a three-pointer with 4.9 seconds to play, but Ginobili sunk his fateful free throws to make it a two-possession game. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers only had time for one – and the DJ’s three-pointer at the buzzer merely affected the final score.
LeBron led the Cavaliers with 24 points, but struggled from the floor and the stripe. Facing constant double- and triple-teams, James went 10-of-30 from the field and was 2-for-6 from the line. He did manage to lead both teams with 10 assists and added six boards. For the third straight game, James tallied six or more turnovers.
Bruce Bowen did a tremendous job on James, but it was a team effort every time he touched the ball.
"We have to be better," said James, who became a father for the second time just hours earlier, "Me -- as an individual -- I have to be much better on and off the court, and that will carry our team to higher levels. I think it starts with me first and then it'll trickle down to everybody else."
The young King didn’t get a lot of help in the scoring column in Thursday night’s loss. Drew Gooden doubled-up with 11 points and 11 boards – going 5-for-12 from the floor in just 27 minutes of action. And Daniel Gibson was the only other Cavalier to net double-figures, finishing with 10 points and five dimes in his second straight Finals start in place of the injured Larry Hughes.
"This is going to carry into next year," said Gooden. "I think you’re going to see a team not slacking or letting up against bottom-of-the-barrel or mediocre teams. I think next year we’re going to step on the court with the confidence of almost being Champions."
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had another solid game on the boards, netting 13 more rebounds to give him a total of 31 in the final two games of the series. Big Z notched eight points, only attempting three field goals in the second half.
Anderson Varejao was 3-of-3 from the floor for eight points and Damon Jones finished with nine. Donyell Marshall only scored five points, but he gave Cleveland a huge emotional lift when the chips were down to start the fourth.
The Spurs were led by sixth man extraordinaire, Manu Ginobili, who tallied 27 points – going 8-for-19 from the floor and 8-for-11 from the stripe. Tony Parker tormented the Wine and Gold as he had throughout the Finals, notching 24 points and taking home Most Valuable Player honors in the process.
Tim Duncan was his usual solid self, netting 12 points, a game-high 15 rebounds a pair of blocked shots.
"We made plays, we found ways to get it done," said the Big Fundamental. "I didn't play the greatest, people missed shots, they got offensive rebounds, they made plays. But we found a way to win. That's what this team is all about. No matter what happens, we find ways to win."
Though the Cavaliers were thoroughly befuddled by the Spurs throughout the four-game sweep, they have nothing to hang their heads over. With preseason pundits picking Miami, Detroit and Chicago ahead of the Wine and Gold, the upstart Cavaliers ran through the East and ventured to the Finals for the first time in the 37-year history of the franchise.
And although their youthfulness didn’t serve them well against the rock-solid Spurs, it is a frightening proposition to the Conference competition. LeBron James is 22, Sasha Pavlovic is 23, Anderson Varejao is 24 and Drew Gooden is 25. Daniel Gibson – the unexpected star of the Cavaliers’ postseason run – is 21.
The Cavaliers journey is one that will live in Cleveland fans’ memories forever and will serve as excellent motivation for next season, when they’ll try to take the final step towards the NBA Championship.