On a veteran-laden team filled with consummate professionals, the squad’s true sage remains James Jones – the man they call “Champ.”
Like teammates, LeBron James, Kyle Korver and Dahntay Jones, this is Jones’ 14th season in the league. In exactly half of them – consecutively – he and James have reached the NBA Finals, including this year’s title defense that tips off on Thursday.
So, as the Wine and Gold gear up for the trip out West – entering their third NBA Finals in as many years, Cavs.com continues our annual tradition of tapping into the thoughts of the team’s intellectual leader in Champ’s 2017 Finals Blog …
You never get tired of reaching the pinnacle of NBA competition in the Finals. But, now, in my seventh straight trip, I think about my first Finals appearance.
I was in Miami and I had been in the league for seven years. I had gone to the Western Conference Finals once (with Phoenix), had gone to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Pacers. So I had been right there.
And I had a chance to see that there wasn’t that big of a difference between losing a series, 4-2, and winning a series, 4-2. There’s such a fine line. There’s just a few possessions that separate you from getting to the Conference championship and reaching the Finals.
So that first year in Miami, I was excited. But it didn’t seem as far-fetched as it might have seemed when I was coming into the NBA as a rookie or when I was in Portland and we didn’t make the Playoffs. It was something that I thought it was attainable.
So it actually helped me kind of ‘embrace’ that and not get too caught up emotionally in my first Finals as much as I would have expected.
You’re probably going to see the same thing with guys like Kyle Korver and Deron Williams.
Fortunately for them, they’ve had long careers, they’ve been in the league a long time, they’ve won a lot of games. And they’ve been in a lot of pressure moments.
So, for them, I think it’s more fulfilling than anything. But it won’t be a situation where they’re in awe – like the moment is too big for them.
I think, if anything, it’s the moment they’ve been waiting for their entire career.
And I think reaching this level is almost, I guess you could say, a relief.
Because to stick around the league as long as they have – as long as we have – you do it for one reason: to win. Because losing, when you’re older, just means that your team is ready to rebuild. So, you always want to be moving forward.
So, for Kyle and D-Will, I’m sure it’s a weight off their shoulders and an opportunity that they’re going to relish. Because this is the epitome of NBA basketball. This is what every NBA player dreams of.
Having veteran guys like that and accomplishing what we have – individually and as a team – makes us a confident bunch.
I tell my teammates: I don’t believe in much – but I believe in us.
And I think that’s the mentality that we have. It doesn’t matter what pundits say; it doesn’t matter what anyone outside this group thinks.
We trust in each other. We believe in each other. And belief is a magnificent thing. If you get enough guys believing in something, it will come to fruition.
That kind of confidence is part of the reason we’re such a good road team.
Guys on this team, what they’ve done their whole lives is play high-level basketball – at home and on the road. They’re the best at what they do. So, no matter what their teams look like or how well their teams are faring, they always have a home crowd supporting them and a road crowd going against them.
You talk about LeBron, you talk about Kyrie, you talk about Kevin or J.R. or Deron or Shump – throughout their career, in some arena, they’ve been the guy that the fans hate.
And I think, without a doubt, that invigorates our guys – just a challenge that they’ve now become accustomed to.
The toughest thing is to play in front of an empty road crowd. That’s when it becomes more about us than any external factors.
When that’s the case, for us, it just becomes: play the game of basketball, execute at a high level, do what you do and respect your teammates behind you. Do your job so they don’t have to come in and do it for you.
In terms of executing at a high level, there isn’t anyone around doing it any better than LeBron.
I see the greatest player in the game getting better.
I don’t understand why people would ever think that the longer you play this game, the better you’ll become. Because so much of what our sport is centered around – or at least what people think it’s centered around – is pure athleticism. And that once your athleticism declines from its peak, that it means you must decline.
But LeBron understands: there are way more efficient and effective ways of doing things than simply using brute force. He uses it when he needs to; he picks his spots.
But now, more so than ever, when it becomes about using his skill or using his size and his speed, he’ll defer to his skill. And that’s what’s allowing him to perform at this level.
Some pundits are relating this year’s matchup to last year’s Finals – or maybe even our 2015 run. But the past has zero to do with what’s going to happen over the next two weeks.
We’re all older. It’s another year. The calendar has turned.
The only thing we care about is the team that we put on the floor and the game that we’re playing that night.
If the Playoffs teach you anything, it’s that every play is a different play. Not every game. Every play is a different play.
And you have to move on, because you only get seven opportunities – seven games at most – to do what people call the impossible.
So we have seven chances. And we like our chances.
Before I wrap up, fans have asked me about the follow-up dunk in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals – the one that sent my teammates into a frenzy on the bench.
I hadn’t dunked in maybe 11 years before that. It just happened. It was just a reaction. I didn’t even know it was coming.
That was fun. Things like that I enjoy, because I think my teammates get some pleasure from seeing me out there having fun. Because they know I’m all work, I’m all business. So when they see me out there having fun, it gives us a break from the onslaught of focus that I try to bring to the game.
I love these guys. It’s like brothers having fun and enjoying each other’s company.
This team is quite a bit different than the Finals teams in Miami.
There’s a different age group. We’re staggered as far as our age and our maturity levels and our experience.
But it’s refreshing, because you get a bunch of different vantage points. There’s a greater variation of backgrounds and characters. We’re all at different stages and different levels and it makes things fun because you can learn something every day from a guy who’s above you or a guy who’s behind you.
But at the same time, we’re all just big kids out there playing the game of basketball.