Pretend for a moment that the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers season is a big-budget motion picture. We have seen shocking plot twists (David Blatt fired! Anderson Varejao traded!) as well as an “it’s starting to come together” montage otherwise known as the first three rounds of the playoffs. Now, we approach the final twenty minutes of the film. The big bad team from the last movie, the Golden State Warriors, has returned and seems to have our heroes by the short ones. Cleveland trails three games to one in the championship round. The Cavs are on the road in Oracle Arena where hope goes to die. With the deck stacked against them, what hope do they have to climb off the mat and stay in the series? Lights…Camera…Basketball.
All times Pacific Standard Time
5:00 a.m.: LeBron James wakes up in his hotel. He stands and immediately proceeds to drink a glass of raw eggs because it’s a full on “Rocky” montage, people! This is not a drill. There’s James running past San Francisco’s famous trolley cars. Dressed head to toe in gray sweats he makes his way around the bay, dropping jumpers in playground courts and crushing one handed push ups. All the while a sick electric guitar riff fills the background. Numerous close ups of his incomprehensibly serious face indicate that he is in it to win it.
5:55 p.m.: Ty Lue enters the visiting locker room as players nervously mill about. The spirit of Normal Dale is present as he addresses the club, “There’s a, um, tradition in tournament play to not talk about the next step until you’ve climbed the one in front of you. I’m sure going home for Game 6 would be in your wildest dreams so let’s just keep it right there. Forget about the crowds. The size of the audience. Their fancy uniforms. Remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again, and most important don’t get caught up in thinking about winning or losing this game. If you put your effort and concentration in playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game. In my book we’re going to be winners.” J.R. Smith starts a slow clap. A few players join in. Then the whole team. The room erupts as the Wine and Gold take the court.
6:00 p.m.: Tristan Thompson walks out to center court for the tipoff and faces Andrew Bogut. The Australian growls, “I must break you.” He immediately wins the tip for the home team.
6:30 p.m.: The Cavs trail 28-19 after one quarter. They seem disorganized on defense and sloppy on offense. Coach Lue proclaims to no one in particular, “This isn’t a basketball game; it’s a circus.”
7:05 p.m.: Late in the second quarter, a staffer fails to clean up a slick spot under the Warriors basket. Kevin Love pulls down the rebound, but loses his footing and falls, knocking his noggin on the hardwood. The trainers come over and ask a few quick questions to determine his mental state. They inquire, “Who do you play for?” Love answers, “The United States of America.” While patriotic, it’s also inaccurate. He is shut down for the game.
7:15 p.m.: As the horn sounds for the half, Cleveland retreats to the locker room trailing 55-47. James looks up to see Draymond Green up in a suite not unlike the crooked owner from “The Natural.”
Halftime: The Cavaliers sit dejected in the locker room. They seem unwilling to even continue the contest. James addresses his team: “I know we’re down, but I’ve been in this situation many times before. We’re still in this thing; it’s not over yet.” It’s apparent his words are having no effect on his teammates. His temper flares, “Listen, I didn’t drag myself out of Miami just to get my butt whooped by a bunch of ugly Warriors. I ain’t going out like that. We gotta fight ‘em back. We gotta take it to them.” He finishes his speech to a snoozing audience. Taking the initiative, assistant coach Damon Jones produces James’ “Secret Stuff” (purple Gatorade) and provides it to the team under the guise of a transformative elixir. The club jumps up, ready for the second half.
Third quarter: The Cavaliers engage in a furious comeback. Smash cuts of an Iman Shumpert three-pointer, Kyrie Irving crossover, and LeBron James dunk populate the screen while “Cleveland Rocks” plays in the background. By the end of the quarter, Cleveland has cut the deficit to 78-76.
8:28 p.m.: With six seconds to go, Cleveland has the ball with the game tied 104-104. Lue calls timeout and gathers his team around him. He knows everyone expects LeBron to take the final shot and plans to use The King as a decoy. The team recoils at this plan, visibly uncomfortable. James looks Lue square in the eye and says, “I’ll make it.” Irving inbounds to LBJ at the top of the key. He goes to work on Klay Thompson before pulling up a jumper from the elbow. It smacks off the backboard and drops in to the cup. The crowd goes mild as we cut to the next scene – Game 6.
No one knows for sure who will win Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Draymond Green’s suspension certainly helps Cleveland, but the opponent is ferocious and the venue is inhospitable. Before tipoff, take a moment to appreciate the stakes: The Cleveland Cavaliers trail the Finals 3-1 to inarguably the greatest regular season team of all time. To come back from that, to win three straight games against a club that has not lost three straight games since November 2013 would be the greatest underdog-turned-champion story in the history of professional basketball.
That’s the story I want to see in the next seven days. That’s the kind of story movies are made of.