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Climbing the mountain from down three games to one in a best of seven series is no easy task. It’s been done just 13 times in NBA history, most recently in 2020 when the Denver Nuggets conquered the LA Clippers. The Cleveland Cavaliers hope to be next with a comeback against the New York Knicks that would have to begin on Wednesday night.
The Cavs lost Game 1 of this series at home before winning Game 2 and dropping Games 3 and 4 in New York.
It’s a bad place to be. But it’s not the end, at least not yet.
“it’s not over,” Mitchell said after practice on Tuesday. “At the end of the day they have to beat us on our home floor. We got to go out there and protect our own court. I'm not here to say what happens in Game 6 and 7. It’s Game 5, that’s the message.”
For it to not be over, the Cavs have to win Game 5 Wednesday night at home. This season they won 31 games at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Winning one more time, even with their backs against the wall, isn’t some outlandish task. Neither is focusing on just one game.
In order for the Cavs to complete the 14th comeback from down 3-1 in a series, they have to focus on the day-to-day. Getting through Game 5 is the first step. It’s not worth looking past it, because as of now nothing past that exists in the realm of this season. The only tomorrow after a Game 5 loss would be exit interviews and the offseason.
“Teams have come back from a 3-1 lead. Obviously, it’s happened here,” Mitchell said, referencing the 2016 Cavs comeback against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. “But for us, it’s Game 5. I'm not worried about anything after that. It’s Game 5, tomorrow at 7 o’clock and just be ready.”
Mitchell hasn’t been behind in a series three games to one and come back to win it in his career. There isn’t a player on the roster for the Cavs that has that experience. What they do have is a head coach that has been part of one of these comebacks.
“A couple of us here, were on the staff in Houston and we were down to the Clippers 3-1. We lost the first two games at home by a combined almost 50 points. We went on the road to win Game 3, lost Game 4 and we went on to win five, six, and seven,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said on Tuesday. Both he and associate head coach Greg Buckner were on Kevin McHale’s staff with the Rockets that season.
While that doesn’t offer playing experience – it’s not as if Bickerstaff and Buckner can go out there and hit open jumpers – it does help with putting the team in the right place mentally to complete this sort of comeback.
“I think for our guys – and I was fortunate enough to be with Kevin McHale who had seen it all and been through it all, and he just impressed upon our guys that all you have to do is focus on one game. This is not in our mind and should not be a three-game thought process. All it is is one basketball game and we've proven that we can win one game.
“Take it game by game, with the thought of, all you have to do is the job that's in front of you. I think at that time our guys really bought into it and were able to come back and win it. That's the message that we've spread to our guys here is this is just about tomorrow and all it is, is one basketball game. We know we're capable of winning one basketball game.”
It is just one basketball game on Wednesday night. And if the Cavs win, they’ll just have to win one basketball game Friday night in New York. Win that, and it’s just one basketball game back at home again. That’s the thought process for the Cavs. There’s no choice for it to be anything but that.
“We just got to take care of our home court,” Mitchell said. “We gotta do what we do. At the end of the day, we're playing for our season. We've gotta get out there and fight. We've got one more game here at home at minimum. For us, just take care of this one game and that's it. Just one game.”