CHRIS GRANTLAND: MONDAY NIGHT WAS AN EXORCISM

The rafters shook and convulsed.  They stretched and twisted and squealed against steel bolts.  The floorboards howled and grinded against themselves.  The stanchons and the rims and the ground beneath the arena vibrated erratically with a groaning sound that shot counterclockwise against the crowd of desperate faces turned into a conflagration of screaming shrieking unholy possession.  This was Monday.

And Monday night was an exorcism.

TRISTAN THOMPSON RISES.  EVERYONE SEES. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cleveland is leading 93-92.  There are 11.0 seconds are left.  The ball is inbounded to J.J. Barea, but when the pick is set for him, he is met by Anderson Varejao, who has popped up almost 30 feet from the rim on the switch from the pick.  Barea drives, but Varejao slides down into the key with him.

Barea sees Kevin Love to his left on the wing at the corner of the three point line, where defender Tristan Thompson is one and a half steps inside the line.  Love wheels backward behind the line as Varejao swats at the ball.  Varejao is inches from slapping it away.  There is less than a width of a basketball between himself and Barea.  

Barea can feel the sweat and breath of electric Varejao on him.  It pulsates out of Varejao though the court, filling each line of paint, becoming grout between each wooden floorboard beneath them.  It rides up through the concourses, through the exits, down streets and avenues and across bridges and beneath the lakewater and to the top of buildings.  When Varejao inhales, paint is peeling back from street signs and streetlights swing back and toward the top of the key.

Barea abruptly throws the ball in the opposite direction, high and to the right of where Kevin Love is standing and where Love extends his right arm to retrieve it.  Tristan Thompson is already facing him.  He has been waiting.  Everyone has been waiting for Love to take this final shot. They are watching.

There are 3.8 seconds left as Love collects the ball and, in one motion, goes straight up, mechanical.  Cleanly and balanced, but with Tristan Thompson on his right, to his front, to his left, everywhere. 

He and the ball are the centerpiece, but faces shift and change.  They twist into minor demons, the 20 point blown losses to Phoenix, Atlanta, Indiana, Miami.  Manic, strange and foreign tongues scream the play by play of the third loss of a 26 game losing streak: 

It is suddenly December 26, 2010 and we are transformed momentarily, but in the same place and against these same Minnesota Timberwolves.  There is a light snow on the ground outside and it is cold and wind whips around the building, seeping in though cracks and open doors. 

The ghosts of Antwan Jamison, Anthony Parker, Mo Williams and Jamario Moon, of Ryan Hollins are rising from the ground, taking a first quarter lead against the Timberwolves on the strength of Williams' shooting and on the skill of back to back 3 pointers by the wisp of an ethereal Jawad Williams. The third quarter ends with the phantom Cavaliers leading 73-70.  Suddenly, there are ten seconds remaining in the fourth quarter after Jamison, matched up with Michael Beasley, takes the ball to the rim and takes the Cavaliers up 97-96.  They are wining.  There is a one point Cavalier lead seconds later when Beasley comes back, drives on Jamison, takes the basketball up, and… yes.  It happens.

There are 23 losses after this layup and they begin to play out in succession.  One after another.  By the time we are halfway though January, after the 112-57 loss to Los Angeles, the air is thick with spite and emphatic inevitability…

But Love's shot arches up over Thompson, meets the back of the rim and careens out.  It will forever careen out.  It is not 2010.  And 2010 is buried beneath us, less than a shadow.

Here, Jarrett Jack is on the floor cradling the rebounded ball at midcourt.  It is your beating heart.  

It is 93-92 Cleveland.

In this fog, Kyrie Irving has challenged for his first triple double.  In this fog, Andrew Bynum has played 17 minutes and scored double digit points, 10, with an explosiveness in his lateral movement that belies his suggestion before the game that he will never be what he has once been.  Andrew Bynum’s size and strength has already boxed out competitors who are still trying to tap out from a week ago.   Andrew Bynum’s shooting ability has helped to win this game.

C.J. Miles has transformed himself from the slow pitiful start to last season to be a powder keg off the bench.  Scoring 10 points in the first quarter of the game, it was Miles who threatened to put the competition to rest early Monday night.  Miles is something that happens as a team takes the next step, development of an individual, not completely expected, into something more.  His production off the bench, along with Tristan Thompson’s play in the middle of the court, has lessened the impact of the struggles of Anthony Bennett, who has yet to score after being selected first overall in the NBA draft five months ago.  Bennett will have his own demons to erase after four games of struggle, but it has not impacted the outcomes of games and there is nothing but room for him to level his play.

This is not the end game.  This is a progression.  And as the clouds swirled up and out and into the atmosphere, we bowed our heads in homily as we buttoned our coats and stepped out into the surprisingly chilly air.

 

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