LeBron James had fallen just short again, losing more grip on the ultimate goal as his season was suddenly on the line.
Despite another herculean effort from their superstar that included 40 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 5 of the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in Oakland. Losers of two straight since Steve Kerr made a series-altering lineup change, the Cavaliers were reeling – and would face a do-or-die Game 6 some 48 hours later more than halfway across the country.
James was no doubt thrilled to be going home. Oracle Arena is the league’s most hostile environment, after all. Quicken Loans Arena, though, is the venue that could best give the Warriors’ a run for its money, and would certainly be in a frenzy with Cleveland on the brink of elimination.
But flying from California to Ohio by itself is liable to exhaust travelers, and the Eastern and Western Conference Champions wouldn’t even get a full day to recover from it – let alone an incredibly intense Game 5 – before taking the floor again. That was an advantage for Golden State, however. The Cavaliers never boasted the depth of their Finals foes, and were left exhausted by the permanent absence of Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving.
Then there was the onus of James, who’d taken on a bigger burden than the league had ever seen before to pick up the slack of his injured teammates. How could he possibly be expected to fly 2,000 miles the day after a game, then turn around to play perhaps the most important contest of his career the day after that?
If last June’s Finals had been played one year in the future, James would not have been asked to try and pull of that impossible feat. According to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, the NBA will schedule at least two days between Finals games that involve travel from this point forward.
That doesn’t do Cleveland much good now, of course. Still, James and company will surely be heartened by the fact that the league made a change after one became so obviously necessary earlier this summer.
This is a win from the media perspective, too. Covering the Finals is a bear, and that’s before taking any travel into account. Expect coverage of basketball’s most important series to get better going forward; journalists will finally have the time to put as much work into their stories as the subject matter deserves.
But that, obviously, is firmly on the periphery of what this means for the players. The game should be played at its highest level on its biggest stage, and this adjustment will go a long way toward ensuring teams have the best opportunity to perform at their peak when they need to most.
[Via Diamond Leung]