Columnist Todd Porter gives hope to the down-and-out Cavs fans.
For the better part of a half-hour Wednesday, the Cavaliers talked the talk.
On the brink of elimination by a team — San Antonio is that in every sense — Cleveland players talked about how the NBA Finals are not over.
But the Cavs never walked the walk. Their voices were low. Their shoulders slumped. Their posture poor.
They walked through off-day interviews with the look of lost puppies.
The Cavs should feel better about themselves. No one expected them to get here. The national pundits are down on the team and LeBron James.
Who else in the NBA could score 25 points, get eight rebounds and dish out seven assists in the NBA Finals and be criticized?
If this season proved anything, it showed LeBron is good enough, at 22, to get his team to the Finals without much help. It also proves he isn’t good enough — nor is anyone else — to win the championship by himself.
It’s time for LeBron’s cast to, ahem, rise up and be counted.
“We’re playing our last hand,” forward Drew Gooden said. “Our luck has to change, or the season is over. ... LeBron has done an excellent job of getting us here, carrying the load to get us in this position. You can’t take anything away from him.”
His teammates have. They’ve taken away help and support. They’ve taken away the chips on their shoulders.
Let’s say the Cleveland faithful knew the secret in September. Let’s say they knew the Cavs would get to the NBA Finals but get swept.
Who would have objected?
This butt-kicking is part of the process. San Antonio had to go through it. OK, maybe not to this extent, but the Spurs have had their spirits broken before.
But they kept building. They drafted Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They added pieces around them throughout the process.
“They have a dynasty already at work,” LeBron said. “I think Coach (Gregg) Popovich and that staff ... got the pieces here, and the pieces there to make that team a championship team. They don’t have the greatest athletes in the world. They don’t have the greatest shooters in the world, but they have, probably, the greatest team in the world.
“That’s what this sport is about. It’s not like tennis. It’s not like golf. You have to have one unit. You have to have everybody on the same page at the same time.”
Cleveland got to the NBA Finals on LeBron’s back. The Cavs are playing in June because LeBron is that good.
He has a supporting cast that is, at best, inconsistent — at worst, invisible.
Head Coach Mike Brown made the popular decision Tuesday and replaced Larry Hughes with Daniel Gibson.
Guess what the Cavs got from the 21-year-old rookie? The same as they got from Hughes. Gibson was 1-of-10 shooting Tuesday.
In all, Cleveland missed 50 shots in Game 3.
San Antonio missed 40 shots. That’s more basketball mortar than you’ll find all day long on a playground.
Now think about how good Cleveland will be in the coming years. Regardless of what happens tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, this is experience Brown can’t create next season when the team opens its brand new practice facility.
Gibson, LeBron and Sasha Pavlovic are 21, 22 and 23 years old, respectively. Brown is the NBA’s second-youngest head coach.
“They’re headed in the right direction,” Duncan said. “I think Mike has them on the right track.
“Of course, they use a lot of our stuff. They play the right way, and they have LeBron. They have a couple of other guys who are going to be very good for a lot of years here.”
Watch with an eye toward the future, but not the near future. The Cavs have no chance to win this series. They might pull out a win if the Spurs decide to take half the night off. They might get to a Game 5.
That would be a bonus.
The Cavs have pieces, but they need seasoning.
This is a puzzle, but the picture is looking clearer.
Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.