Cavs aim to keep swagger after D-Rose dagger

CHICAGO -- The Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room could have been a den of despair after Derrick Rose's 26-foot bank shot at the buzzer left the city of Chicago bouncing around in basketball-induced euphoria Friday.

There could have been the ghost of Craig Ehlo floating through the corridors of the United Center, a.k.a. "The House that Michael Jordan Built," some 26 years and a day after Jordan added "The Shot" to the Cleveland pro sports lexicon.

There could have been a hint of panic starting to permeate the scene, with the 99-96 loss in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series dropping them down 2-1 with another road game looming Sunday.

Instead, in the corner of the locker room, LeBron James, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert -- half of the Cavs' eight-man rotation -- headed for a team meal to cap the evening, chatting about the food they were going to eat, drinks they were going to drink and cards they were going to play.

And rather than recall how Rose-on-Thompson had just the slightest taste of Jordan-on-Ehlo to it, that thought probably never entered into their minds. Heck, Kyrie Irving, Matthew Dellavedova, Thompson and Shumpert weren't even alive when that series happened.

As James said after Game 2 when asked about how his team deals with playoff pressure: "We're so young, the guys don't even know. ... They have no idea. They just love to play ball. They don't know. And that's great."

Whether it was blissful ignorance on display after Game 3 or simply a cool confidence taken as a cue from their leader, James, you wouldn't have known that one of the most improbable game-winning shots in the history of the NBA playoffs just went against them.

When Thompson finally got dressed and exited the corner conversation to speak to the media that had huddled in front of him, James and Smith studied him when he was asked about Rose's last-second heave.

"It's just a tough-ass shot," James said to Smith before Thompson began his answer. "Shoot it again, he misses," Smith replied.

There was further talk around the Cavs' locker room that Rose's shot actually only went in because of how well Cleveland defended Chicago's final play. The Cavs switched the screen the Bulls used to free Rose up along the perimeter, putting the 6-foot-9 Thompson on the former MVP for the final shot. Only with such a big body in front of him did Rose adjust his trajectory on his release so much to create the angle to make the bank. Had he been guarded by someone smaller, or if the closeout by Thompson hadn't been executed so well, Rose probably would had taken his usual more line-drive type of jumper that wouldn't have hit the glass and have had less of a chance of going in from that far out.

Not that the Cavs were completely dismissing everything that went wrong for them in Game 3 -- they were outrebounded 54-39, outscored in second-chance points 18-7, in points in the paint 44-28 and in fast-break points 23-17 -- but they refused to be devastated by one shot and have that moment weaken them for what's ahead.

"I think for me as the leader of the team, I just told him in the locker room that whatever happened tonight you leave it in this locker room and when you walk out you start focusing on Sunday," James said after his 27 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds weren't enough to get past Rose’s 30, seven and seven. "We're going to get a good meal when we leave here, we're going to enjoy each other's company, we're going to prepare tomorrow and we're going to get ready to play on Sunday."

Cavs coach David Blatt sang a similar tune.

"I said they played their hearts out and no complaints to anyone," Blatt said. "One-basket game."

Blatt wanted to prove just how unfazed he was, declaring to reporters after questions ceased just a couple of minutes into his postgame news conference: "That's it? That was pretty easy. If we were in Israel they'd have me on a stake."

Maybe it's bravado as a group. Maybe it's naiveté. Maybe it's already having gone through enough drama in 2014-15 to pack three seasons and still standing. Maybe it's knowing that just like Rose's shot had no business going in, the Cavs' probably had no business even being in the game with Irving so limited by a sore right foot that he went just 3-for-13 from the field with zero assists. And on a night that James, despite another near triple-double, also coughed up seven turnovers and shot just 1-for-7 from 3.

Whatever it was, there was nothing in that locker room that made you believe that bank shot broke the Cavs.

"I already know how we're going to respond, the same way we did in Game 2," James said, referring to the Cavs' only win in the series so far. "Whether or not that results in a win, we don't know, but I think ... I don't have any doubt of how we will play on Sunday. We're going to give ourselves a chance.

"I think that time has kind of passed right now, as far as me wondering what type of reaction the young guys will bring to the game. They're fighters."

The Cavs know they still have some punches left in them. And they know the odds of them bouncing back in the series have to be better than the odds of that shot by Rose banking in.