Worst to First
How the last ranked, 12th seeded Cavaliers made a historic run in the Seniors NYO playoffs
When a team finishes with the worst record in the regular season, morale and playoff expectations are usually pretty low. In the case of the twelfth-seeded, last place Cavaliers, they were also going against history as no twelve seed had ever even made the NYO semi-finals. The 2017-2018 Cavs, however, had other plans.
Round 1. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Cavs (3-8) faced the fifth-seeded Hornets (5-6). Led by formidable big-man, Ned Coleman, the Hornets had bested the Cavs 57-56 in the regular season. This match-up looked no different as Coleman continued to dominate the interior and the Cavs trailed the Hornets by seven late in the third quarter. It was then that that the Cavs discovered a new scoring threat: Walker Wolf. Cavs power forward Tyler Hare caught the ball at the top of the key, took two dribbles to the basket and kicked out a behind-the-back pass to Wolf who promptly knocked down a pivotal three-pointer. Wolf continued to have the hot hand: hitting four more clutch threes in the fourth quarter leading the Cavs to a decisive 70 – 58 victory.
Round 2. In the quarter-final game, the Cavs matched with the fourth-seeded Hawks (7-4). A team that exhibited elite guard play out of facilitator Buck Hall, the Hawks outlasted the Cavaliers 67-61 during their first match-up. However, Cavs point-guard Alec Wasserman stepped up to the challenge as he controlled the tempo on both sides of the ball. Wasserman finished the night with a double-double on 12 points and 10 assists. The Cavs grinded out another close win, beating the Hawks 65-62 while re-writing the NYO history books with a spot in the semi’s.
Round 3. In the final-four, the Cavs would face their toughest competition yet in the first-seeded Bulls squad (11-1). With eventual Coach of the Year Stewart Wallace at the helm, the Bulls topped the Cavs 55-51 when they first met. This time around, Walker Wolf drew first blood, knocking down two quick threes to start the game and helping the Cavs out to an early 12-3 lead. The Bulls kept the pressure on throughout with a stifling half-court press which resulted in four crucial late-game turnovers. With no time left, down 66-64, the Bulls narrowly missed an uncontested three-point attempt that would have won the game. Walker Wolf lead all scorers with 34 points.
Round 4. In the championship game, the Cavs would meet up with the second-seeded Spurs (11-2). The Spurs outpaced the Cavs 66-55 when they played just eleven days before. Led by coach Tom Richardson, the Spurs had a surplus of elite guards who could run the floor in transition and create a suffocating full / half court press. This game was a defensive struggle from start to finish. Hanging onto a six-point lead early in the in the third quarter, the Cavs leading scorer, Tyler Hare registered his fourth foul and was pulled from the game. In Hare’s absence, Cavaliers Robert Fowler, Carter Tocci, Matthew Mathias and Coleman Smith all stepped up to weather the storm and sustain the lead. As the clock wound down with the Cavs up 55-48, shooting guard Evan Elgison would ice the affair with a pair of clutch free throws. The final: Cavaliers 58 – Spurs 48. Cavs power forward Tyler Hare was awarded with the Player of the Game honors, finishing with 22 points.
Worst to First. The Cavaliers had done the unthinkable: taken a last place finish with the worst record in the regular season and turned that into a historic playoff run and an eventual Championship. The Cavs, led by Head Coach Michael Weathington and Assistant Coaches Noel Hardin and John Glenn , would finish the season 7-8.