- The Cavaliers are on the verge of being swept by the Warriors in the NBA Finals but there is no denying they have been fun to watch.
This is a strange thing to write about a team that's on the verge of being swept, but the Cavs have been great in these Finals.
They haven't been perfect, obviously. No one will argue that point. There have been defensive breakdowns, missed free throws, spotty shooting from role players, one instantly-viral J.R. Smith mistake, and a turned ankle for LeBron that probably affected him more than most of us realized in Game 3. None of these losses have gone according to plan for Cleveland. But speaking of plot twists: these Finals games have been way more entertaining than anyone would have imagined two weeks ago, and that's as much a credit to the doomed Cavs as it is the Warriors dynasty.
So let's talk about Rodney Hood. This is hard to explain, but I've spent several months championing Hood on various podcasts, demanding he gets opportunities on the Cavs. It was technically a joke, but honestly, it's always come from a sincere place. I loved Hood coming out of the draft. I enjoyed his sporadic scoring outbursts through his first few seasons in Utah. When Cleveland traded for him, I was convinced he could help down the stretch. Somewhere along the way, under duress, I promised everyone that there would be at least one Rodney Hood Game in the playoffs that proved all the skeptics wrong. And yes, that sentence got sadder and sadder as the year unfolded.
Hood was marginalized almost as soon as he arrived in Cleveland. Early on he was sidelined with a nagging injury—a familiar theme over the past few years—then his three-point shooting abandoned him, and eventually, the same way Jae Crowder's confidence shattered next to LeBron, his replacement met the same fate.
Hood became a punchline on Twitter, and as he fell out of the rotation, he didn't even make the SNL sketch about The Other Cavs. He went from averaging 16.8 ppg in Utah to putting up 4.8 ppg in the playoffs for Cleveland. He didn't play in most of those Cavs games, and at one point, he refused to enter a Cleveland playoff game altogether. It was dark. All this was happening in a contract year, as well. "I look back at my Utah highlights on YouTube," Hood told SI last week. "Just to remind myself: 'That was this year.”
So when Ty Lue announced before Game 3 that he was ready to dust off Hood and introduce him to the NBA Finals, even the believers weren't sure what would come next. Also, there were predictable jokes. If Rodney Hood is the solution, said everyone, you have bigger problems. As one writer grumbled before tip-off Wednesday night: "We have reached the 'What if Rodney Hood is the X-Factor??' point in the Cavs-Warriors rivalry." All of this skepticism was valid, and in the grand scheme of things, absolutely, genuine Rodney Hood intrigue is a damning indictment of the talent disparity underlying these Finals.
But let the record state: Hood was awesome Wednesday night. He finished with 15 points (7-11 shooting), 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks, and the crowd went insane on every make. He was able to create off the dribble, hit from the midrange, and provide the Cavs with a capable sixth man to stabilize things when J.R. Smith or George Hill had to sit. He wasn't always great on defense, but he was active, and most importantly, he wasn't Jordan Clarkson. "I'm very happy for Rodney," Lue said afterward. " He was aggressive attacking the basket. And he gives you a guy who can shoot the basketball from three and also put the ball on the floor. I thought he did a good job attacking tonight. Gave us a lot of momentum throughout the course of the game."
"Rodney Hood was Rodney Hood tonight," LeBron James added. "That was Rodney Hood, man. He was just aggressive from the beginning. Even though he missed his first three. He just continued to push and push. His athleticism and his length and his touch around the rim ... You know, it was more than just what he did for the team, I think for himself, that was just a huge moment. That was good to see. That was great to see, actually."
"It'd be a lot more satisfying if we won,'' Hood said of the night. "We're one game away from elimination. So it feels pretty good to play well, but at the same time, we need to get one two days from now."
Now, there are two directions you could take the Cavs conversation from here. On the one hand, there's plenty of room to mock any celebrations of a 15-point Finals performance that came in a crushing loss at home. Again, all Cavs skepticism is valid and more or less accurate. All of this is why LeBron might leave a month from now.
But if the Cavs are broken and this team is doomed going forward, it's also been sort of incredible watching them try to cheat death in the meantime. Because if there were ever a team that seemed like it had every reason unravel against a genuine contender ... I mean, come on. Remember how bad this team looked during the Pacers series? Or three weeks ago, when LeBron and Love were getting blown off the court by Terry Rozier and the JV Celtics?
At its worst, this Cavs team looked exhausted physically and mentally. The defense was a mess. The offense was hilariously unreliable outside of LeBron. Every new loss brought more speculation that everyone was sick of each other, and obviously, there were always LeBron rumors. But that really isn't how the Finals have felt. In a series where every fissure should be laid bare and every game should probably be a blowout, the Cavs have cobbled together enough to hang with the Warriors.
Cleveland's resilience has been every bit as impressive as Golden State's dominance. That may sound like faint praise, and I guess it sort of is, but this Cavs roster has no business making these games competitive. Most of the success is a credit to LeBron, but the rest of the team is fighting like crazy just to stay above water. And it's working. Game 1 was a classic. Game 2 would've been a 48-minute blowout had Cleveland not stubbornly hung around and chipped away at leads until Steph Curry went supernova in the fourth quarter. Game 3 was great from start to finish.
I don't know whether any of this is a consolation to actual Cavs fans, but it should matter to everyone else. Just as the first two games provided high drama and real heroics, Game 3 gave us one of the best Kevin Durant games I've ever seen. It was incredible. And it was only possible because this Cavs team—Hood, Kevin Love, LeBron on a bad ankle, Tristan Thompson—pushed Golden State and forced Durant to be legendary.
None of these performances will go down in history for Cleveland, and most of the details will probably be forgotten by next week. But that has its charms, too. For all the playoff highlights destined to go down in NBA history, there are others that you can only appreciate in the moment.