Next Time, A Title Will Be Expected

By Bud Shaw
Updated: June 15, 2007

The Finals CLEVELAND — Getting swept won’t do the next time around, not unless the every 37-years grind continues.

Unless the next appearance is in 2044 and the feel-good story of the team is the aging Bryce Maximus James trying to accomplish what his dad never did, there won’t be an appreciation for just having arrived in the NBA Finals.

This was novel, almost innocent, something most people will cherish even given the sledgehammer San Antonio applied over four games.

This was house money the Cavs were playing with in going this far for the first time. Nobody thought they’d be here, not two years into Mike Brown’s offensively challenged tenure, not with LeBron James at age 22, not with Larry Hughes (even healthy) so unconvincing in the role of Robin.

But staring at the empty place where those four chips were after last night’s 83-82 loss — all of them gone as quickly as a gambler can drain another gin and say “Hit me” — had its moments of undeniable anguish.

They weren’t ready to play in Game 1 and Game 2. The hangover of celebrating the Pistons stuck around. So new to all this, they didn’t even recognize it.

When the Cavs return — and that should be sooner than later with James so young and with no credible dynasty looming in the East — the expectations will be as palpable as the excitement was this time.

First and foremost: an offense that doesn’t only involve watching LeBron James (10-for-30) shoulder Atlas’ load.

“Their changing defense was something we as a team didn’t adjust to very well,” Mike Brown said in one of the great understatements of the playoffs.

When Drew Gooden scored and was fouled on a backdoor cut in the third quarter, it looked as if the Cavs had reinvented the wheel.

Brown wants an offense capable of winning when the pace pushes the score into the 100s and, he said Thursday, can hang with a team that grinds it out in the “high 80s.”

The 80s? That looked like Globetrotter territory for the Cavs in this series.

Twice in four games they didn’t get out of the 70s. Only Damon Jones’ meaningless three at the buzzer got them into the 80s Thursday.

They played almost 90 minutes of second-half basketball in this series without holding a lead. The one they got Thursday they quickly squandered.

San Antonio owned double digit leads in every game, evidence of the mismatch this NBA Finals quickly became.

In part, that happened because the Spurs didn’t let James go off like a July 4 bottle rocket the way Detroit did.

The Spurs don’t commit to running defenders at James as soon as he touches the ball. They rely on Bruce Bowen to force James to pick a lane and then they try to blindside him.

In the second quarter, Eric Snow led the Cavs in scoring. That’s not a recipe for anything palatable in the playoffs.

The offensive shortcomings seemed already forgiven by the fans who cheered the Cavs as they left the court. They’ll remember instead the sweep of Washington, closing out the Nets on the road, four straight over Detroit, another banner — finally — for the rafters.

“The experience we went through in this journey was invaluable,” Brown said. “It’ll help us in the future.”

In the future, if all goes accordingly, the expectations will be as great as the affection was this time.