NBA: Cavaliers hoping to duplicate Cleveland's own comeback

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game 2 of the NBA Finals on June 5, 2016 in Oakland, California.
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game 2 of the NBA Finals on June 5, 2016 in Oakland, California. PHOTO: AFP

CLEVELAND - In one of the more remarkable comeback stories of contemporary US history, the city of Cleveland has reversed decades of decline and decay to become a brash American hotspot with a youthful swagger.

Construction cranes dot the downtown landscape as new condos and hotels rise all round, albeit not nearly as many as in Singapore. The vintage halls of the country's second largest theatre district have been lovingly-restored. T he Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has become a magnet for tourists from round the world. And the restaurant, nightlife and cultural scenes are thriving.

Even Hollywood brings its cameras here to film blockbusters like the Avengers, Captain America and the upcoming Fast 8. And 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 series in Oakland has turned the rematch of last year's two NBA finalists into what looks like more of a mismatch.

"It was embarrassing," was the consensus of everyone you dared mention Game 2 to after the 110-77 loss.

Or as Cleveland's newspaper, The Plain Dealer, put it in a series of headlines: Terrible Two. Blowout by the Bay. James, Witness to a Rout. Cavs Down, Likely Out.

Indeed, the Cavaliers must now forge a comeback as miraculous as that of the city itself in order to win its first-ever NBA championship title this year, and its first national sports title since the Cleveland Browns won the national football championship in 1964.

"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 (June 7) after practising at the Q, their hometown court. "We can't afford to go down 3-0 - to any team, especially a team that went 73 and nine in the regular season."

The Cavaliers now have to win the next two home finals games in Cleveland on Thursday and Saturday mornings Singapore time, one on the road in Oakland next week, then a fourth back in Cleveland or Oakland, against the reigning world champions.

Making that task even more daunting is the uncertain status of one of the big three who helped lead the Cavaliers through a stellar run through the NBA play-offs to the Eastern Conference championship. Kevin Love was floored by Harrison Barnes' elbow to the head in Game 2 and did not practice on Tuesday.

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."

Fortunately, natives and long-time residents have another name for their city, one they say even more proudly after the debut of a new ESPN documentary film about the sporting woes of Cleveland: Believeland.