UVA alum Joe Harris headed to NBA Finals

joe harrisCleveland finished off a four-game sweep of the #1 seed Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals with a blowout win on Tuesday night. It was such a blowout that little-used rookie Joe Harris got in with six minutes to go, enough time for the UVA alum to score seven points and dish out an assist while running the offense at the point.

The win pushes Cleveland into the NBA Finals, and continues what has been a most interesting 11 months for Harris, a second-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, who as a second-round selection wasn’t even guaranteed a job.

And the job that he was hoping to earn through his play in the summer league was with a franchise still forlorn from the departure four years earlier of megastar Lebron james, who took his talents to South Beach in 2010 and led the Miami Heat to four consecutive Finals appearances, winning two NBA titles.

In an instant, James was back in Cleveland, and Harris, once a Cavalier, always a Cavalier, was on the stage with rock stars, James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, who was recruited to be part of the effort to bring a championship to Cleveland.

Harris logged 51 appearances, including one early-season start, averaging 2.7 points per game in 9.7 minutes per game, getting a season-high 16 points (in a season-high 32 minutes) in a 95-92 loss to Phildelphia on Jan. 5, in a game that James missed due to injury.

He also had a pair of double-figure scoring efforts against the Hawks, scoring 13 (on 4-of-7 shooting) in a 109-101 loss to Atlanta on Dec. 30, and 12 (on 4-of-6 shooting) in a 127-94 win on Nov. 15.

His playing time diminished as the Cavs made their stretch run, and Harris spent some time in the D-League, the word from the Cavaliers being that it wasn’t a demotion, just an effort to keep Harris on the right track developmentally.

The plan seemed to work to that end, as Harris averaged 14.1 points per game in his 11 D-League appearances, shooting 39.1 percent from the field and stuffing the stat sheet as he did in his years at UVA, averaging 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.

His sharpness was evident Tuesday night. The game was well in hand by the time Harris got in, but the Cavs reserves played like the outcome was still in doubt, scoring on seven of eight possessions in one stretch in the endgame.

Harris, of course, doesn’t figure to play any kind of role in the Cavs’ first Finals appearance since 2007, barring an unforeseen rash of injuries. In the unlikely event that he were called upon, though, he looks ready, if nothing else, to mop up, and mop up well.

– Column by Chris Graham


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