Classic Cavs: The Fifty Greatest Games in Cleveland Cavaliers History
Praise for Classic Cavs
“There’s no hotter ticket in town than one to a Cavs game at the Q. But if you’re not lucky enough to be able to pick one up for the mostly sold-out season, try the next best thing. The entertaining Classic Cavs: The 50 Greatest Games in Cleveland Cavaliers History takes you inside some of the biggest games in franchise history.”
-Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Classic Cavs will keep a winning season going...”
-Akron Beacon Journal
“I’ll admit that I first picked up Classic Cavs because its premise made me smirk. Half the people who saw me reading it made the same remark: “That looks depressing.” Not really. I’m thankful Jonathan Knight did this.”
“...Jonathan Knight has chronicled much of the good and some of the bad for the Cavaliers with Classic Cavs...”
-Westlake West Life
When the evening began, there was absolutely nothing special about it. By the time it was over, it would stand as one of the most memorable dates in the history of professional basketball.
The Cavaliers’ late 1970s slump had carried over to the new decade, and as the first month of 1980 came to a close, Cleveland was out of playoff contention with a 22-31 record. But with the resurgent Los Angeles Lakers in town, a surprisingly big crowd for a Tuesday night was expected at the Coliseum. Led by rookie phenom Magic Johnson and venerable center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles was about to begin a wildly successful string that would see the team capture nine conference titles in twelve years. They’d handled the Cavs by fourteen points in their first meeting two months earlier, and with Cleveland’s second-leading scorer, Campy Russell, out with an injury, and Jim Chones, the most dominant player in Cavs’ history, now playing for Los Angeles, there was little doubt the Lakers would complete the season sweep.
The Cavaliers started fast, grabbing an eleven-point halftime lead, but L.A. caught fire in the third quarter and took a lead into the fourth. Then it was Cleveland’s turn to rally with a remarkable run down the stretch capped by a jump shot by forward Mike Mitchell to tie the contest at 114 with twenty-nine seconds left. Regulation ended with the score still knotted and the teams plunged into overtime - neither knowing their night was just beginning.
The Cavs snuck to a 126-122 lead with nineteen seconds remaining, but Los Angeles guard Norm Nixon hit a jumper, and then forward Michael Cooper stole and pass and connected on a ten-footer to tie the score with seven seconds left. Cleveland failed to score on its final possession and the teams tumbled into a second overtime. Then a third. Then a fourth. Both teams persevered through countless momentum swings and onsetting exhaustion, but finally, in the opening seconds of the fourth overtime, the Lakers appeared to catch the tide-turning break. Cleveland center Dave Robisch, who was having a wonderful game, fouled out, leaving little-used substitute Bill Willoughby as the only option left to guard the seven-foot-four Abdul-Jabbar. And though Kareem was having a marvelous game of his own - winding up with forty-two points, seventeen rebounds, and eight blocks - Willoughby rose to the occasion and forever etched his name in Cavalier lore.