There was something strange about last night’s Cavaliers-Wizards’ playoff game. For starters, I was there. Never as a fan, never as a member of the media, and never as a painted-chest lunatic had I ever been to a professional playoff game.
It was a special day, and what’s a special day if you can’t share it with everyone, right? So here’s a bit of a rundown:
-My friends pick me up at 5:30 p.m., a good 90 minutes before start time. My one friend (for the sake of the article, we’ll call him Nihar. Because, you know, that’s his name) decides to annoy me by putting on some Howard Stern. I can actually feel myself getting dumber until he finally changes to pregame. For this, I’m grateful.
-Now, normally, the trip downtown takes about 20 minutes. But it actually took almost 90 because of the insane traffic. The Indians were also playing, and the downtown moved traffic moved as smoothly as a Last Call with Carson Daly monologue. On the upside, it allowed my friends to discuss Neil Young’s new anti-Bush album. My take: Young wants attention.
- The Artist formerly known as Gund Arena looks quite different these days. For starters, the seats are now wine, to match the Cavs’ color. This replaces the light blue seats that were in the arena for 10 years. Personally, I like the change. While I don’t doubt the intimidation factor of light blue (just ask the Mariners of the 1980s) the wine at least eliminates the clash between the court and seats
-The Cavs are introduced, and I’m already hoarse from chanting “MVP” at LeBron James. I tell this problem to my friend Vivek, who says he has also lost his voice. This is contradicted by the fact that, well, I can hear he hasn’t.
-Quicken Loans Arena (as it’s now called) is as loud as I have ever heard it, and it has an effect: The Wizards are sloppy early, and the Cavaliers jump out to a 23-8 lead. An interesting note is that the Cavs have a scoreboard that not only states the official score, but also the difference. For instance, the Cavaliers were + 15 at this point. I assume it was added for the kids in the crowd who can’t count. As the game continues, I realize it’s up there for me, since I keep looking to it instead of the board. Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert has actually made me lazier at math, something any teacher who had me in high school would not have dreamed possible.
-The Cavs’ 15-point lead is erased with an 18-0 Wizards’ run. This period of the game is about as much fun to watch as The Wedding Date, though the movie wins out because Debra Messing is adorable in it. Anyway, after a 3-pointer by Arenas at the end of the first quarter cuts the Cleveland lead to 23-21, the polite gentleman behind me slams down part of his plastic megaphone on the back of my chair, shattering it. I only mention this because a piece of it ends up on my lap. I don’t ask him if he wants the piece back.
-LeBron isn’t really on his game tonight. At different points of the game, he air-balls a 3-pointer, misses a slam dunk, and throws a pass that was so off the mark it could have doubled as Jimmy Carter’s presidency. The Cavs fall behind in the second quarter, but regain a 1-point lead at the half.
- There was some act at the half with dancers who change outfits every five seconds. I know there’s a joke there somewhere, but darned if I can find it.
-The third quarter is back and forth. LeBron is forced to leave the game after picking up his fourth foul on a charge. I’d call it a ridiculous call, but …well, it was a ridiculous call that may have just cost the Cavs the game. I mean, just because a guy flops doesn’t mean he had position, right? So because of that, the Cavs have to play without their best player and who knows how that changed the game. I mean come on, this is the NBA playoffs. Suddenly Cleveland gets in and they suspend the star-treatment? Michael Jordan could take nine steps and the officials never called anything. Geez.
-While LeBron struggles, Drew Gooden impresses. He finishes with 24 points, making 11-or-12 shots. It’s fortunate, because Zydrunas Ilgauskas misses 10 shots in the game. Still, the Cavaliers lead by two heading to the fourth. Vivek and I kill time between quarters by reciting Mystery Science Theater zingers. If that doesn’t make us cool, I don’t know what does.
-The fourth is basically a mess. The Cavaliers cannot stop the Wizards’ big three. They fall behind by eight with less than two minutes left. Nihar puts his coat on and scowls as if he’s being interrogated by Jack Bauer. Still, the loss has a familiarity to it. We are from Cleveland, after all.
-Still, the game is not over. Cleveland rallies to get to within three with under 20 seconds left. LeBron (26 points) paces around the 3-point line. As Vivek, Nihar and I wait for him to launch the tying 3-point shot, James looks and … PASSES? He goes inside to Anderson Varejao (0 points) with nine seconds left. Anderson looks to have a clear lay-up, but the “Only in Cleveland” syndrome finally kicks in and he’s stripped by Arenas. As 20,000 fans (wrongly, as it turns out) scream for a foul Varejao interprets it the wrong way and fouls Arenas. Game over.
-I accept the defeat of my team in stride. Sure, screaming at the top of my lungs about the officiating may not have seemed all that classy, but it made me feel better. After all, I had heard the Indians and Red Sox were tied, so perhaps some late-inning magic could save the day for my hometown. Then a man walks by and informs me that Manny Ramirez has hit a 3-run homer in the eighth, so “they’re going to lose too.” I sigh and focus on the new Miami Vice movie that’s coming out.
- So the introduction to live playoffs ends on a sour note. Still, my voice is gone and the series is tied going back to Washington. What, you expected something positive? My team lost.