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Joel Blank: There is one man in Cleveland who might get the Cavs back to the Finals

LeBron James got some much-needed help at the deadline. NBA.com

If the Cleveland Cavaliers do what I predicted they would do at the start of the year and win the Eastern Conference, there is one man and one man only to credit. Of course, most of you will say that man is LeBron James and you would not be wrong, to a certain extent. However, this year, there is someone that has been more important to the team and franchise than even the King himself.

In his first full year on the job, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman thought he had it made. He had the best player on the planet and a loaded roster of All-Stars and talented role players. Even after the departure of Kyrie Irving—in a trade that he was forced to facilitate at the request of owner Dan Gilbert—he had a talented team capable of being the best team in the conference and maybe the entire league. Regardless of how that trade would work out, he would have no pressure and no blame as it all happened and went down while he was still settling in to his new job and position. The owner pulled the trigger and all he had to do was orchestrate the pieces coming back. On paper it looked as if they got as good a deal as they possibly could have gotten and in doing so kept the team strong and capable of another trip to the NBA Finals.

Well, what a difference a few months can make? The Cavaliers were expected to struggle early in the season as they built chemistry and camaraderie getting used to their new pieces joining an already-established nucleus of playoff veterans. The struggle was real and in fact the reality check was, it never got better and in fact got considerably worse.With each passing day, it seemed as if LeBron was inching closer and closer to skipping out the door, while the rest of the team seemed to be bickering and in a power struggle of their own, trying to fight for enough playing time to get their individual numbers while completely disregarding any team goals or accomplishments.

On the day of the NBA trade deadline, with less than 24 hours on the clock, Altman was faced with the daunting and seemingly impossible task of transforming his entire roster. That, or face the very real possibility that his team would implode and his best player would exit stage left for greener pastures and the sunny skies of LA, Houston or another city. In professional sports, when teams and general managers know you are in desperation mode, their first thought is to try and rob you blind and steal your best players, while giving back nothing substantial in return. That was definitely the scenario for Altman in Cleveland and with that, it seemed even more impossible to believe he could pull off any substantial deals that would help turn the team around and give them a chance at another Finals appearance. Critics were waiting to pounce on the collapse of the Cavaliers, while the city of Cleveland and its entire fanbase braced for what looked to be the end of an era and the departure of their beloved native son.

It was make or break time for the young general manager, and to his credit he dug in and started swinging for the fences. By the time the dust had cleared and the deadline had passed, Altman was four for four with a couple of home runs and a few extra base hits. He was able to take six players who just did not fit the team and the culture and flip them for three young studs and one seasoned veteran point guard that has been through the wars of playoff basketball and knows how to facilitate for a team full of superstars. Gone were Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, who never really fit the Cavs culture or system, along with holdovers Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. Joining the Cavs were talented young players Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr from the Lakers, along with Rodney Hood from the Utah Jazz. Three very talented young kids, two of which had never sniffed the playoffs, let alone a chance to play for a ring. George Hill, who made appearances in the postseason with the Spurs and Pacers, also arrived in "The Land" shooting 45 percent from behind the arc.

If their first game together was any indication, the Cavaliers are going to be a force in the Eastern Conference once again and look to be as strong as ever. Sunday, the Cavs absolutely demolished the Boston Celtics and Kyrie Irving and in doing so sent a message to not only the rest of the conference but to the entire NBA that before all is said and done Cleveland will be heard from again, as they are once again having fun. Three of the four newcomers were in double figures and Nance Jr played 21 minutes scoring 5 Points, grabbing 5 rebounds and adding 3 assists. They played with passion, the bench was supportive and excited and LeBron seemed as happy and animated as he has been all season long. If that trend continues, the Cavs will have pulled off one of the most improbable and impossible mid-season transformations and turn arounds in league history. Trading six players at the deadline and getting better? Obviously a lot is still to be determined, but if it all plays out in Cleveland's favor, Koby Altman should be the one to get all the credit and he might want to consider a run for mayor. As KG once said, "Anything is possible!!!"

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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