With the Cavs missing their starting frontcourt duo and forced into starting Lorenzen Wright, the Cavs used lockdown defense, a barrage of three-pointers, and most of all an absolutely dominant performance from LeBron James, who posted his second triple-double of the year, to propel the Cavs to a second-half takeover and a comfortable double-digit win.
-LeBron was freaking ridiculous. Tonight, we got LeBron as a requiem in three movements, all of which I’ve come to be familiar with throughout the year:
1. “Let’s get everyone involved and take the shots when they’re there and play good happy fun time basketball”
This is what you generally see in the first half this year, with Mo handling the ball and initiating the play with Mo running a screen-roll or ISOing big Z on the low blocks, with LeBron getting the ball running off of weak-side screens and looking to set up Delonte from the deep elbow, Mo in the corner, Z for a mid-range J, or Ben or Andy as the roll man, with LeBron testing out his deep jumper, finding a seam and getting through it for a dunk or layup, and seizing fast-break opportunities where they come.
LeBron was trying to run the offense responsibly in the first half and stuck to the script for the most part, but Z’s passing, screening, and mid-range J, as well as (really), Ben’s basketball IQ, activity, passing, and ability to set screens (again, I’m serious), are hugely important to that offense, and JJ and AV’s overlap in offensive talent and Lorenzen Wright and Wally Z’s out-and-out terribleness made the normal offense look like a mess in the 1st half.
(Solution: I guess Wally’s been pretty soldi guarding fours, but just put Sasha in at the three and plug LBJ in at the four. It is CLEAR he’s more than capable of playing there for stretches of time, and Sasha’s actually been playing well. Hell, I’d rather see Tarence Kinsey out there than Lorenzen Wright.)
2. “I am LeBron James, the chosen child of Akron, and I have come to destroy your rims, silence your crowds, burn down your villages, defeat your finest warrior and pillage your stores of mead, and then make a shoe commemorating the occassion.”
We saw some of this near the end of the second quarter, where LeBron was absolutely strangling Rudy Gay on defense and flying around the court with the ball at 10,000 miles an hour on offense, grabbing the pall and pounding it while trying frantically to crash his way to the basket or firing up a crazy off-balance shot and trying to just intimidate the ball into going in, as well as arguing with absolutely every call-you KNOW LeBron’s pissed when he gets T’d up after getting a dunk.
Then in the second half, LeBron came out to destroy, just using a simple pick-roll in the middle of the floor and flying straight through the Grizzly D over and over again for either a layup or two shots. This was absolutely unfair. There was one play where LeBron got around the show and Hakim Warrick rotated to the middle to cut off the penetration, leaving Andy open under the hoop, but then LeBron just said “You know what? Screw Hakim Warrick,” and went DIRECTLY THROUGH HIM for an and-1. LeBron scored 30 points tonight. You know how many jumpers he made? One. In the first quarter. Everyone in the building knew where he was going, and then he just did it anyways. Amazing. Dominant.
3. “We’re going to win this game, I’m 24 years old and the best player on the planet, I have $100 million dollars in the bank, and I have a gold medal and Warren Buffet’s cell number. Let’s find out what we can pull off.”
In the fourth quarter, if the Cavs are down or up by less than 10, LeBron is in kill mode. If they’re up by 20 or more, he’s generally on the bench. But if they’re up somewhere between 10-20 points, he becomes a human heat-check, just running around and seeing what he can and can’t do on a basketball court. This is where you start to see in-rythym 30 footers, off-balance drifting jumpers, crazy around-the-head passes, and the occasional half-court shot to attempt to add an and-1 to an intentional foul. (The best example of this is where LeBron just kept drilling threes in the fourth quarter to get him to 50 points at Madison Square Garden.) Tonight, LeBron was playing the last half of the fourth quarter to get the assists he needed for the triple-double, plain and simple, going down and trying to make home run passes every time, only to have many of them fumbled by Wally, finally finding JJ Hickson with a beautiful behind-the-back dime for his 10th assist. You can call it stat-padding (although usually LeBron’s 4th-quarter flights of fancy serve only to drive his efficiency marks down), or whatever, but it’s more of a reflection of the sheer joy LeBron still gets out of playing basketball and an attempt by LeBron to figure out just what the limits of his talent are.
We’re already at 850 words, so I’ll keep it short for everyone else:
-Cavs not named LeBron from beyond the arc: 11-16. It’s hard to lose when you get 33 points on 16 shots. And Boobie’s found his road stroke again! Huzzah!
-J.J. continues to impress, showing a nice dribble-drive for a finish on Hakim Warrick and even a soft 20-footer with a stroke that, paradoxically, looks much smoother than his free-throw stroke.
-Wally continues to be fairly terrible-you know you’re a defensive liability when Darius Miles is not only scoring his first points in years on you in years, but is getting Iso sets called for him because he can burn you so easily. Lest we forget, most people thought Darius Miles was medically unable to play in this league before he showed himself to be that much quicker than a rotation player on the league’s best team. And double-lest we forget, the main reason Wally is getting minutes when his shot isn’t falling is because of his post defense.
-Nothing really notable from Andy tonight-he really benefits from the space Z and Ben’s bball IQs give him to operate.
Notes and Errata:
MIA: Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo and Rudy Gay, combining to go 8-27. Chalk that up to the unheralded D of Delonte and ridiculously heralded D of LBJ.
Hakim Warrick would be about the perfect fit to get Wally’s minutes. Alas. And I like Cavs rumor-subject in the pre-Mo era Kyle Lowry’s game, too.
Who peeped D-Miles’ midpost game? It was straight pretty, and the kind of thing that would help another high school player on the floor become an even better scorer, which is freakish to think about.
YouTube Song of the Night: “LeBron Hammer” by Buckethead
Because it exists, that’s why. And if you believe some accounts which this site does not support except for the purpose of this metaphor, than LeBron is absolutely Buckethead-incandescence for hire. And Kobe is so totally Axl Rose. Peace.