Season's adversity helped Cavs get past Bulls

CHICAGO -- Kyrie Irving was in the locker room getting his knee checked for additional injury. Kevin Love was back in Cleveland with his arm in a sling. Tristan Thompson was on the bench, his left shoulder wrapped in ice. LeBron James was walking gingerly around the floor, grasping his back after a blow caused a spasm.

There are several different ways the mind can go in a time like this. There's room for pouting, excuse-making and frustration. At a different time, that might indeed have happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers; it's been a rough few weeks of breaks.

But this was an "I told you so" sort of moment.

When the Cavs were sitting there with a 19-20 record in January, they told you so. When coach David Blatt was under fire any number of times over the past six months, they told you so. When LeBron James went to Miami for a two-week rehab assignment, they told you so. When they made two major, midseason trades, when Love went down with a season-ending shoulder injury, when Matthew Dellavedova was deemed in over his head, when J.R. Smith got suspended, when James took off his headband.

There was all sorts of "I told you so" action within the stunned, silent United Center as the Cavs beat the Chicago Bulls 94-73 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-2 series win.

Even the smiling agents for Dellavedova and Thompson -- free-agents-to-be on a night when they earned themselves some cash -- milled around the Cavs locker room area in the same mood with the same phrase on their minds.

In a season and a series that has been emotionally and physically damaging, the Cavs' confidence through it all allowed them a moment of extreme satisfaction.

Eight wins in the playoffs is only the midway point if you're serious about this thing. It's certainly no time for proclamations and congratulatory speeches. With all the various forms of adversity the Cavs waded through during the unrelenting and less-than-harmonious season, by the time a few more unfavorable twists hit Thursday night they were all but desensitized to it.

"This has been a little tougher because of the injuries we've had and the hill we've had to climb," James said, reflecting on this team compared to the past four years, when his Miami Heat teams reached the conference finals.

"It's not a responsibility, it's a big opportunity. We've got a great opportunity here and we're trying to make the most of it." Matthew Dellavedova

"We're playing basketball with one of our best players not playing in Kevin Love. And one of our best players [Irving] is playing on one foot. We have no room for error. None of us. This is a different challenge."

To start the second half Thursday, the Cavs missed their first 11 shots and didn't score a point until nearly six minutes passed. During this time, they lost only two points from their 14-point halftime lead. This stretch of ugly basketball was oddly symbolic of how the Cavs got themselves through this series.

Whoa, was it messy, unplanned and unimpressive. And, yes, the inconsistent and underachieving Bulls played their role very well. Their stretches of horrid offensive execution in the series were terribly revealing of their limitations, especially after an offseason that was geared to correct these problems. Yet it was also quite symbolic of the Cavs' willingness to grind through misfortune -- they've been doing so for months now.

The bench ended up with 40 points and nine 3-pointers, the antidote they had to have with their front line so depleted. Dellavedova had better games at St. Mary's, where he starred in college, but he's never had a more important game in the NBA, as he scored 19 points in playing the last 33 minutes of the game straight through after Irving had to go to the locker room.

They ended with 53 rebounds to the Bulls' 32. Thompson had 17 of them. He had six more offensive rebounds; he had 24 of them in the six games in the series. He was promoted to the starting lineup midway through.

Iman Shumpert had 13 points, finishing a strong series in which he provided a huge scoring lift and took the burden of frequently defending Derrick Rose after also being promoted to the starting lineup. And dealing with a groin injury.

This is the stuff of how the Cavs won this series. It's also how they managed to recover from their terrible first few months of the season. By figuring out a way.

"It's not a responsibility, it's a big opportunity," said Dellavedova referring to the pressure of living up to the expectations to start the season. "We've got a great opportunity here and we're trying to make the most of it."

James was just 7-of-23 shooting in Game 6 though he did almost end up with a triple-double with nine rebounds and 11 assists. He shot just 39 percent in the series, one of the worst of his career in that regard. He had four more turnovers, running his total to 27 in the six games.

Irving's injuries basically caused him to be a wreck for three of the six games. He played only 12 minutes in Game 6 before leaving.

So many hurdles overcome, so many "I told you so's."

"I'm never an underdog," James said. "We have a great chance, that's what we're here for."