The road to the 2016 NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference will travel through Cleveland beginning this weekend. Monday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers overcame an early 10-0 deficit and beat the Atlanta Hawks 109-94 at Quicken Loans Arena to lock up the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
This marks the third time in Cavaliers franchise history that they will hold the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They may not be the best thing for LeBron James and company. The previous two times Cleveland held the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, 2009 and 2010, the Cavaliers did not win the Eastern Conference championship and advance to the NBA Finals.
In 2009, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic upset the heavily favored Cavaliers in six games. It could have been a four game sweep if not for James making a game winning three pointer at the buzzer in game two to even that series at a game a piece. Despite that shot, Orlando still had home court advantage in that series and won all three games in central Florida to advance to the NBA Finals where they would lose to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 2010, James and the Cavaliers were upset by the Boston Celtics in six games. The Celtics Big-3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were too much for James and the wine and gold to handle. The loss in game six was the final game for James in a Cavaliers uniform at that time as he made the decision to take his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat where he won two championships in four trips to the NBA Finals with his pals Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
Now that James has guided the Cavaliers to the best record and the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the third time, the third time needs to be the charm for the wine and gold and Cleveland needs to win the conference championship and return to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
“It’s nice to be able to accomplish things along the way,” James said following Monday’s victory. “I’m grateful for it and the guys have put the work in and the coaching staff. I think it’s great for our fans as well. We guaranteed ourselves more home games and if we’re able to play well, then our fans will get an opportunity to watch us.”
In the Cavaliers two previous trips to the NBA Finals, they finished as the number two seed in the Eastern Conference and beat the top seed in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals.
In 2007, the Cavaliers rallied from a two games to none deficit to upset the heavily favored Detroit Pistons four games to two. It marked the beginning of the end of the Pistons dominance in the Eastern Conference. James put the Cavaliers team on his shoulders and carried them to victory. James put up one his best performances of his career in game five at the Palace of Auburn Hills. James scored the Cavaliers last 25 points of the game himself to steal the victory in double overtime. A shell shocked Pistons team never recovered in game six and the Cavaliers celebrated the franchises first conference title and first trip to the NBA Finals. Reality set in as the Cavaliers were swept by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs in four games.
Last year we all remember the run the Cavaliers had. It started with a sweep of the Boston Celtics in four games. The series sweep did come at a price. Kevin Love was lost for the rest of the playoffs when he suffered a separated shoulder in game four at the hands of Kelly Olynyk.
Up next was the division rival Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose and the Bulls stole home court advantage with a game one victory at Quicken Loans Arena. After James and company even up the series at a game a piece the series shifted to the windy city and buzzer beaters were the story in games three and four. Game three, Rose hit a game winning shot at the buzzer to give Chicago a two games to one series lead. Two days later, James answered back with a game winning baseline jumper at the buzzer to tie the series at two games a piece. James’ game winner was the wake up call the Cavaliers needed as they would go on a playoff win streak. Cleveland would win game five in Cleveland and game six to clinch the series at the United Center and punch their ticket to their first Eastern Conference Finals in five years.
The top seeded Atlanta Hawks were next. Atlanta had a tough conference semifinal series against the Washington Wizards. Like the Cavaliers, the Hawks won the series four games to two but it took a lot out of the top seeded Hawks and it showed in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers completely dominated the top seeded Hawks. Cleveland took both games one and two in Atlanta and put the series away with two more wins in games three and four to win the Eastern Conference title and advance to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.
Cleveland’s six game playoff win streak was snapped in game one of the NBA Finals by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in overtime. The Cavaliers had a chance to win the game in regulation but this time the game winning shot didn’t materialize. Overtime was very costly for the Cavaliers, not only did they lose the game, they also lost Kyrie Irving for the rest of the series to a fractured knee cap. LeBron once again put the team on his shoulders in game two and carried them to franchise history, the teams first victory in the NBA Finals ever to even the series at a game a piece. The series shifted to Cleveland and James and the Cavaliers built a 20 point lead and held on to take a a two games to one series lead. The entire series changed in game four when former Cavaliers guard Steve Kerr, the Warriors head coach made a change to their starting lineup. Kerr would start Andre Iguodala over Andrew Bogut. The smaller lineup was effective as the Warriors would win the next three games and spoil the Cavaliers chances at the first NBA Championship.
The Cavaliers will face the division rival Detroit Pistons in the first round of the playoffs. The teams face one another in Wednesday’s regular season finale at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavaliers will likely rest James and other members of the starting lineup.
The Cavaliers are just 1-2 against the Pistons and could lose both meeting at home if Detroit wins on Wednesday night. Cleveland will likely begin their playoff series on Sunday because of a home game for the city’s Arena Football League franchise, the Cleveland Gladiators is scheduled for Saturday evening.