Cavaliers’ Special Season Ends ’Sweeply’
Posted Jun 15 2007 8:14PM
CLEVELAND, June 15 (AP) -- The joyous ending, the one where confetti flies, champagne flows and floats parade through downtown streets - the finish Cleveland fans have waited more than 40 years to witness - will take place elsewhere.
It always does.
A championship trophy was finally handed out in this title-famished town, and the winners took it home - with their broom.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers were simply swept aside in their first trip to the NBA finals.
They couldn't stop the San Antonio Spurs' drive to a dynasty, and on Friday the Cavaliers met for the final time at Quicken Loans Arena following the greatest season in franchise history.
It was a season to savor. After all, they waited 37 years to make the finals. With James around, it's safe to assume they'll get back before 2044.
No Cavs team ever went as far, and while there was a sense of satisfaction in winning their first Eastern Conference title, some of the good vibes were tinged with a mix of uncertainty about the what lies ahead.
Making the finals once doesn't assure it will happen again, and as construction crews dismantled a gigantic replica of the shiny Larry O'Brien Trophy that stood guard outside the arena for four days, the Cavaliers had a chance to reflect.
"We came up short,'' center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "Sometimes you have to go through growing pains. There is no guarantee we will make it back but I like our chances. It makes you realize how tough it is to take the last step to win a championship.''
James stumbled in his initial steps toward one.
After soaring past Detroit in the conference finals, James was grounded by the Spurs, whose defense was unlike anything he had ever faced before. The 22-year-old never came close to taking over as he did against the Pistons, blitzing them for 48 points in a transcendent Game 5 - he scored Cleveland's final 25 points and 29 of the Cavs' last 30 - that may one day stand up as his best.
Hounded by Spurs stopper Bruce Bowen, James couldn't get his outside jumper to fall and he concluded the series with a miserable 10-of-30 outing in Game 4. He also had nearly as many turnovers (23) in the finals as assists (27) or rebounds (28).
Following the game, James didn't disguise his disappointment and humbly vowed to improve.
"Everybody has to be better coming into next season,'' he said. "I have to be 10 times better. Our team has to be 10 times better.''
James was at the arena on Friday as the Cavaliers packed up for the summer but he elected not to speak with the media, leaving the building as Cavs coach Mike Brown was being interviewed.
Brown feels the superstar forward, who became a father for the second time on Thursday, will be fueled by his sub-par finals showing.
"He knows he can play better than that, and he knows he can get better,'' Brown said. "He's a guy who doesn't like to fail and doesn't like to lose. He doesn't like second place - or anything worse - and that in itself is motivating enough for him to say, 'There are some things that I need to work on in order to help my team reach the ultimate goal, to win a championship.'''
James needs more help to get one.
For all that went right for the Cavs this season, they remain a work in progress. Their lack of a true point guard - a problem spanning several seasons - was evident in their inability to push the tempo. It was only when Larry Hughes moved over from shooting guard that Cleveland's offense began to click.
But a painful foot injury slowed Hughes in the playoffs and eventually sidelined him for Games 3 and 4 in the finals. A solid defender, the 28-year-old hasn't been the offensive complementary piece for James that Cleveland thought it was getting when they signed him to a five-year, $60 million free agent contract in 2005.
"I think his role has continued to evolve,'' general manager Danny Ferry said. "I think we're still learning how to use him. We ended up moving him to point guard and he was effective there. Those are the decisions we have to look at and decide on which direction to go with him and how he plays for us going forward.''
Ferry tried to acquire Sacramento point guard Mike Bibby before the trading deadline in February, but couldn't get a deal done. He may revisit that this summer or look at the free-agent market for help.
The Cavs, who don't have a draft pick either, will enter free agency in July hoping they can keep forward Anderson Varejao and swingman Sasha Pavlovic, both restricted free agents. Cleveland will be able to match any offers for the two from other clubs, but already over the salary cap, the Cavs are limited in what they can spend.
"We want both of them back,'' Ferry said. "I would imagine there will be interest in both guys. They are both talented players that would be attractive to others.''
Almost by himself, James has made Cleveland an attractive destination for free agents. In getting the Cavaliers to the finals, he showed that it's not all hype, that he's capable of carrying a team to the brink of a championship.
He gave Cleveland's ego and economy a boost, and had the city believing the 43-year championship drought would finally end. The Spurs, though, proved to be too much for him - for now.
His time will come.
"I think this experience for LeBron in the playoffs was unbelievable,'' Ferry said. "You really saw him improve in the Detroit series, just in how he saw the game and the pace he played. His growth in that series was impressive.
"As a team we didn't play well against the Spurs. It wasn't him it was all of us, and that's the next level of growth.''
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