CLEVELAND – Before the Cleveland Cavaliers bounded out onto the court for their first chance to defend the title they shocked the basketball world with 10 months ago, LeBron James gatd his teammates in the wood-paneled hallway outside the locker room.
For Cleveland it was a game in which it nearly wasted a late lead the way it had so many times in the regular season.
The Cavs barely flinched at how dicey things got.
“If I didn’t get that block last year in the Finals, what happens?” James retorted when asked how Cleveland would have handled things had Miles made it.
“If Kyrie didn’t make the 3? If Steph [Curry] would have made the 3. T’s so many. You can’t look at a game like that.”
Irving was asked if the overall output in Game 1, which shared some common themes with the Cavs’ disturbing finish to the regular season in terms of shoddy defense and failure to protect a lead, left him and his teammates feeling vulnerable.
“Not going into any game with the group that we have. I understand t’s some mistakes that happen throughout the game, and the regular season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but like I said, it’s just a step in the right direction. Game 1, just taking care of home floor and have to come out for Game 2 with an even higher focus and even better level of intensity, limit our mistakes, and we will be good.”
Just like the Cavs rationalized their regular-season struggles by pointing to injuries, roster upheaval and scheduled rest as the main causes of their disappointing record, they could recognize their atypical 14-for-27 night from the free throw line or Irving’s off 11-for-27 showing from the field as evidence that the Pacers had no business being in the game.
“I’m happy how emotional we was. I’m happy with the energy and the effort. Played with energy and effort all night. … Game 1 has always been a feel-out game for myself. Seeing what you can do, seeing ways you can get better, and you always go into Game 2 even more prepared because you want to see what type of game plan they have. As the series goes on and on, we start to know more about the team, more about your opponent and try to be better the next game. But, this was a great start for us.”