It’s hard being a Cleveland fan. The longtime suffering of the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers has made for many heartbreaking moments and a 51-year title drought.
But on Friday, the Cavs were able to ease that pain by defeating the Indiana Pacers, 95–92, and clinching a playoff spot. LeBron James contributed 29 points in the win after being listed as a game-time decision due to illness.
This is only the third playoff appearance for a Cleveland sports team this decade (the 2010 Cavs and 2013 Indians also made the postseason). To compare, New York teams have made 15 postseason trips over that same span.
“It feels great, clinching a playoff spot,” said forward Kevin Love, who has been a key contributor for the Cavs this year. “It was a big win on our home floor, you know. We have to protect the home floor.”
Protecting the home floor is something Cleveland has done well all year. Friday marked the 15th consecutive home win for the Cavaliers, who are 26–9 on the year at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs will almost certainly be the second or third seed in the East, a far cry from the teams of the last four seasons that went a combined 97–212.
But one of the only holdovers from those struggling teams has watched Cleveland’s success from the sideline due to injury. Still, veteran center Anderson Varejao remains optimistic about the Cavaliers’ shot at the NBA Finals.
“To me right now, we have a team that really has a chance to be in the championship,” said Varejao. He also praised the Cavs’ many trades, saying that they definitely “made the team better.”
Clearly, the catalysts to the Cavs’ success have been the “Big Three” of homegrown talent Kyrie Irving, off-season acquisition Love, and the legendary James. The team made additional moves to reel in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. Together, they have transformed the Cavs into a team whose chances, as forward James Jones put it, “are just as good as any of the elite teams in the league right now.”
“We’re excited about our team, how we’ve put it together, and how far we’ve come,” said Jones. “Every year you look at six to eight teams with a legitimate shot, and we think we’re one of those eight teams.”
It’s not often that the Cavs are a legit title contender. In its history, Cleveland has played in the NBA Finals just once, in 2007. They were soundly swept by the Spurs.
In true Cleveland fashion, though, fans have remained loyal. And that means a lot to guard Matthew Dellavedova.
“We know the history that Cleveland has,” he said. “We appreciate all the support in Cleveland, so we’ll try to [win a championship].”
Photo: David Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images