TORONTO — The Finals are finally over for the Cavs.
You realize they didn’t end with Kyrie Irving’s shot, LeBron James’ block and Kevin Love’s smothering D on Stephen Curry on June 19.
They carried on all summer, through massive parades, and oysters with Larry (the trophy), and workouts in Santa Barbara. And then an emotional, Cleveland’s never-seen-anything-like-it ring ceremony on Tuesday night at The Q.
The chill and brisk winds of a new season smacked the Cavs in the face Friday night in Toronto. When Cleveland’s plane landed Thursday afternoon, light snow was falling. When the Cavs took the court at Air Canada Centre, there was of course no fanfare, no celebrations of a magical season, no championship rings or banners to distract.
The inch of water flooding the visitor’s locker room the last time the Cavs were here, after clinching the Eastern Conference finals in May and celebrating by spraying water everywhere, was gone.
Just the hungry, angry Raptors with a score to settle.
And the Cavs didn’t let them do it. Count their 94-91 win in Toronto as the first sign of “growth” in the 2016-17 season, with the Finals finally in the Cavs’ rearview mirror.
Irving’s 3 makes Cavs winner, again
“Last year we would’ve lost this game,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “Things are not going our way and we figured out a way to win. I commend our team for that.”
The Cavs won on Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer with 44.3 seconds left. Yes, Irving’s shot immediately conjured memories of Game 7 of the Finals, when Irving stepped back over Stephen Curry with the shot-clock winding down and buried a 3-ball with less than a minute left that sent Cleveland to the winner’s circle.
But the stakes are a little lower in October than they are in the Finals. And Irving’s game winner Friday was about more than just sparking a fond memory or two.
“A lot of growth,” said Kevin Love, who scored 18 points to go with 10 rebounds. “I mean, Kyrie, he had a great game, and then in the fourth quarter he missed shots he always makes. And he stuck with it and sometimes it takes just a couple plays in one quarter. Tonight it was one play down the stretch. He had a great game and he ultimately made that big play for us that put us over the top.”
For the second consecutive game, Irving led the Cavs in scoring — this time with 26 points. But he was just 2-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter with three turnovers. One came with .3 seconds left when the Cavs felt Irving was fouled by Patrick Patterson. The refs disagreed and the Raptors got the ball out of bounds one last time, but Kyle Lowry’s wild 3-point attempt wasn’t close.
It’s those first nine shots and two turnovers in the fourth that Love was referring to. It was those same mistakes, Lue said, that would’ve drowned the Cavs at this time a year ago.
The Raptors’ first lead in the game came with 2:37 left, but they mustered just one basket the rest of the way.
“I think that was a good test for us,” said LeBron James, who assisted on Irving’s 3-pointer and finished with 21 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. “It’s fun to have games like that throughout the regular season.
“We experience games, we experience one-possession games, we experience two-possession games, going down late in games. We’ve been down and we’ve been up, and we are a group that’s continuing to grow. And tonight was another case of that.”
James played some center Friday with Channing Frye missing because of the death of his mother. But James and Lue said it was an uneven performance for the team with James out of position — they both pointed out they hadn’t really worked with that lineup in practice.
The broader point is the Cavs have arrived at a place where they’re trying James at center, and testing Iman Shumpert at backup point guard. They’re playing back-to-back games (tonight they host Orlando) and, yes, seeing snow.
Cavs’ banner night belonged to all
There are injuries and trials. Quick turnarounds and snow. One more 2016 Finals celebration is coming when the Cavs visit the White House soon.
Otherwise, that warm, glorious feeling generated that fateful night in Oakland is now gone. As it should be.
“It’s been in the rearview mirror for me,” Irving claimed. “Once I got my ring and once we initially started off the season, I basically said that this is an end to a great journey that we had last year, winning the championship and now we got to start off this year with an even deeper mindset, focus and make sure that we hold each other accountable every single game.”