...let's have a timeout to applaud the Cavaliers. Besides the obvious excess that we don't want to teach our kids to expect out of life, for those of us who are raising student/athletes this has to be one of the best examples I have ever seen in sports of the old axiom, there is no "I" in T-E-A-M. Yeah, LeBron James was at the center, and ever the first two layers away from the center, of it all. However, if you look beyond that, here is what you have:
Ty Lue - We will likely never know (well, at least until the inevitable book/movie combo come out) what really went on. Was it that Lue did his best Phil Jackson impersonation and cajoled his players into doing what needed to be done to win or was it the players scripting what needed to be done and then buying into it. I would think more of the latter with a touch of the former. We will never know if David Blatt could have pulled this off but my guess is that he couldn't, especially if the latter scenario was what turned the tide.
Timofey Mosgov - Here is a guy who was at the center of the finals last year, literally. However, this year everyone learned that you can't beat the Warriors with old school center Mosgov on the floor. He is still a very good player, just not in today's ultra-quick NBA. He took his demotion/benching like a man and didn't blow it all up by being a baby. He did what was for the greater good.
Matthew Dellavadova - See Mosgov, but in the finals. Delly just couldn't hang with Warriors Splash brothers. Not a knock against him as few players can. And he didn't pout. He supported his team.
Mo Williams - Here is a guy who started at the beginning of the year and eventually had to morph into being the point guard of garbage time. Yet he didn't mess up the chemistry and got some meaningful (albeit rust-laden and less than fully productive) minutes in the finals.
Channing Frye - He stepped up when needed in the early rounds and then, finding he wasn't productive in the finals, sat with dignity and cheered his teammates.
Dantay Jones - Nothing new for him, but he led by attitude in how to be a bench player who is seldom called on but, in the one moment he is, be productive. You can't teach that, you have to learn it by experience and Jones, although you can't quantify it, taught his teammates above how to act.
Kyrie Irving - Here you have a superstar who learned when to take charge and when to stand around and let LeBron do it. This was CRUCIAL to coming back from that 3-1 deficit, not just in the last 3 pointer. A big shoutout to his teammates, including LeBron, for letting Kyrie cook when he had it going.
Tristan Thompson - It has been said over and over but how many centers can guard the MVP shooting guard of the league? I think the answer is "one" and maybe, in all-time NBA playoff history, the answer is that same number. He changed his role as needed for this team, even hitting a couple of mid-range jumpers. In the last game he was more noticeable for his defense and getting loose ball fouls than in his offensive rebounding. But, overall, he was a force on the boards, on court defense, on blocking shots and on helping his team as needed.
Kevin Love - Here is my teamwork MVP of the series. He TOTALLY morphed his game. Once he found that he was having trouble scoring outside he went inside and scored. When Thompson was pulled away from the basket he upped his rebounding, doing a generally good job but being a beast at the end, especially in the last game. For kids who want to know how to play the game, just look at Love. While his 3-pointers weren't going in, he found another way, rebounding, to impact the game...and his defense was always pedal to the metal, at least for him.
J R Smith - Here is my #2 in voting in the teamwork MVP. Known as a scorer and as a hot head, he scored early in the playoffs and, for the most part, controlled his emotions for the good of the team. In the finals, when his shot deserted him due to the change in team approach and the team he was playing against, he defended like a fiend and when the outside shot wasn't working, he took it to the hole and dished off for some dunks to change it up. But most of all it was his defense and his ability to control his temper that made him my #2. He showed that putting yourself aside and doing what the team needs, even if it means a total makeover in your game overnight, is possible if THAT is what your team needs.
Iman Shumpert - While he underperformed in the finals in my estimation, he still knew his role and made as many plays as he could. If one player was going to be replaced next year my guess is that the most expendable would be Shumpert. Still, if they keep him he knows what he has to become great at to give the Cavs a chance to repeat next year. If he focuses on those things and learns from his first finals experience and dedicates himself, he should be stellar next year. Heaven knows, he has enough role models on this team to show him what can happen if you put the team first.
Notice that this long blog post has said nothing so far about LeBron. Because there is nothing that a pure basketball mortal like me can say. He simply did what needed to be done, including having his beat up body make free throws when they really mattered. When he needed to block shots he did. When he needed to rebound, he did. When he needed a 3, he got it. Actually, the one spot that he didn't perform in was when he drove. He dished off too much. But he was trying to keep his team involved and negate the 3-man collapses on him when he drove. I don't know that he had to deal with that type of pressure all year. Next year that won't be a problem. He now knows how to deal with that! While others on this team were great role players and teammates, LeBron was a great leader and doer. When people step out of the way to allow the leader to get it done, that leader has to get it done. Steph Curry didn't do that. LeBron has done it again and again and again...and again. Curry, from this experience, needs to learn that it is not all about your shooting or your driving and making acrobatic shots. The true leading scorers, the Oscar Robertsons, the Jerry Wests, the John Havliceks, the Magic Johnsons, the Michael Jordans, those guys do it all and do different things at different times when that one particular thing is needed the most by their team. Curry needs to learn that...hopefully he learns it right after the Cavaliers compete their 3-peat. Interestingly on the Warriors, the guy who knows that the best is Damond Green. He was my teamwork MVP for the Warriors.
Can this team repeat, or 3-peat? Who knows. But they have given us two great finals in a row and our first major professional sports championship in 52 years. For a Cleveander that is enough. We'll soak it in and let the future take care of itself.
Now back to baseball. Did I mention that the Indians were still in first place? Go Tribe.