Basketball: Cavaliers eye comeback to match Cleveland's own

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (right) and J.R. Smith practise at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland ahead of Game 3 of their NBA Finals series with the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers will hope playing at their home court will prove an advantag
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (right) and J.R. Smith practise at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland ahead of Game 3 of their NBA Finals series with the Golden State Warriors. The Cavaliers will hope playing at their home court will prove an advantage in their attempt to reduce their 0-2 series deficit. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Now or never for James and the Cavaliers in Finals as city craves end to sports c'ship win drought

In one of the more remarkable comeback stories of contemporary United States history, the city of Cleveland has reversed decades of decline and decay to become a brash American hot spot with a youthful swagger.

Construction cranes dot the downtown landscape as new condominiums and hotels rise all round. The vintage halls of the country's second-largest theatre district have been lovingly restored. And the restaurant, night life and cultural scenes are thriving.

Even Hollywood brings its cameras here to film blockbusters like the Avengers, Captain America and the upcoming Fast 8.

The Republicans are riding in with their political party convention next month to crown Donald Trump their party's candidate for US President, an event that should put the name of Cleveland on lips the world over - at least for a week.

Before that, however, basketball superstar LeBron James had hoped to put the icing on Cleveland's revival cake by satisfying the city's hunger for its first major sports championship in more than 50 years.

But a dismal performance against the Golden State Warriors in the first two games of the best-of-seven National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals has turned the rematch of last year's Finals into what looks like more of a mismatch.

LITTLE MARGIN FOR ERROR

Obviously, it's a do-or-die game for us.

LEBRON JAMES, Cleveland Cavaliers star, on his side's Game 3 Finals showdown against the Golden State Warriors.

"It was embarrassing" was the consensus of every Cleveland resident after the 77-110 Game 2 loss. The Plain Dealer, the city's newspaper, put it in a series of headlines: Terrible Two. Blowout by the Bay. James, Witness to a Rout. Cavs Down, Likely Out.

Indeed, the Cavs must now forge a comeback as miraculous as that of the city itself in order to win their first NBA title, and the city's first national sports title since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 national football championship.

"Obviously, it's a do-or-die game for us," said James, who was born just a 30-minute freeway ride away in Akron, at a press conference on Tuesday after practice. "We can't afford to go down 0-3 - to any team, especially a team that went 73-9 in the regular season."

Making that task even more daunting is the uncertain status of Kevin Love, who did not practise on Tuesday after being floored by a Harrison Barnes elbow to his head in Game 2.

The fact that he may not be cleared through so-called "concussion protocol" to play in Game 3 was not lost on James during the press conference.

"We're down 0-2 and we can't afford to look and say, 'Wow, Kevin's not playing'," he said. "We have to man up because it's a must-win for us."

It all seems bleak for the Cleveland faithful as they brace themselves for another fruitless sporting season.

Yet, just as they witness the unlikely rebirth of their beloved city, they are optimistic that their basketball team are able to at least defend home court by winning the next two games.

As they proudly declare of another name for their city: This is Believeland.


CLEVELAND V GOLDEN STATE
Game 3: StarHub Ch202, 9am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Cavs eye comeback to mirror Cleveland's own'. Print Edition | Subscribe