Recap: Heat 118, Cavs 90 (Or, you can’t go home again, but you can beat the hell out of the Cavaliers)

December 2nd, 2010 by John Krolik

Overview: Former Cavalier LeBron James scored a season-high 38 points in three quarters as the Heat absolutely destroyed the Cavaliers. The final score was 118-90, and the game really wasn’t as close as the final score indicates it was.

Wow, LeBron James just completely destroyed us bullets:

So this is what it took. This is what it took for the Heat to look dominant. A weak defense, a hostile crowd, months of pent-up hatred. That’s what turned the Heat into the bullies the rest of the NBA feared they’d become.

Miami started the game off playing the same horrible offense they’ve been playing with all season — LeBron watching the ball, Miami being content with setting Carlos Arroyo with open looks, a complete lack of spacing, and the ball being casually rotated around the perimeter until there were about six seconds left on the shot clock. For a second there, it looked like the Cavs might have a chance.

Then the Cavs’ horrible defense shone through and began to give the Heat easy lanes to the basket and James Jones wide-open looks from beyond the arc. The latter was particularly awful — it wasn’t like there was penetration or Jones was moving, but the Cavs would continually load up on LeBron or play that “Spider zone” and completely forget about Jones beyond the arc. LeBron spent much of the first half deferring to his teammates, but he was able to set his teammates up with some easy looks at the basket and hit his first couple of jumpers, which has almost always spelled doom for his opponents.

Things were looking bad at halftime, but it was the third quarter when things really got ugly. LeBron started the half off by moving without the ball to get a layup and driving to the hoop for another one, and then he went into complete screw-you mode. The Cavs weren’t even giving James easy looks, but he was absolutely determined to hit every shot he put up and he did. He’s that talented. When the Cavs did lock James up, he found a teammate for an easy score. The Heat scored 36 points in the third quarter, and all but eight of those points were scored or assisted by LeBron. The Cleveland crowd awoke something in LeBron tonight — there was no way the Heat were going to lose this game. None whatsoever.

This is the Heat team people expected to see. The Heat still aren’t playing beautiful basketball (the Heat got “only” 36 points in the paint, and 80 of their 118 from the paint/the three-point line/the free throw line), but on Thursday night the best basketball player in the world showed up, and he had friends with him. This wasn’t a team that expected to show up and overwhelm their opponents despite sleepwalking through its sets. This was a team with something to prove. Wade didn’t work with LeBron much, but he was aggressive, made some nice cuts off of LeBron in the half-court and passes to Lebron in transition, and finished with 22/9/9 on 10-16 shooting. Bosh wasn’t dominant, but he took it strong a few times and kept the floor stretched with mid-range jumpers. Joel Anthony made his one shot and kept the Cavs from getting easy layups. James Jones and Mario Chalmers made their open threes. Big win for the Heat. We’ll see if they can keep it up when they pick on teams their own size.

One thing that stood out for me was that LeBron isn’t comfortable being hated. He looked genuinely thrilled to see Andy again and give him a pre-game hug, and he spent most of the game’s dead time chatting up Boobie or his former assistant coaches. Those guys in the stands don’t really know me. You guys do. We’re cool, right? Isn’t this wild? He had plenty of chances to show up the crowd, who at one point went after his mother, and never did. He didn’t flex after and-1s. He didn’t acknowledge the crowd with any gestures. He didn’t ask to go back in in the fourth, which would have been the ultimate “screw you.” He didn’t dance. In all honesty, he was much more reserved than he was when the Cavs would blow somebody out.

He was animated, and plenty of people will say he was being disrespectful, but he was not embracing the villain role in Cleveland. He just wanted to force everybody to respect him again. I very much doubt it worked — after all this time, LeBron still doesn’t understand just how deeply he hurt the 20,000 people that showed up on Thursday night. Remember in Taxi Driver when Robert De Neiro almost kills Albert Brooks for shooing him away from the girl he creeped out, or the scene in Fight Club when Edward Norton beats the living hell out of Jared Leto because he thinks Tyler Durden doesn’t like him any more? That’s what this felt like? LeBron is confused, frustrated, and good at basketball. How can you like them and hate me? I can beat them up! He doesn’t get that loyalty isn’t a choice for the fans at the Q.

Offensively, the Cavs had nothing for the Heat — a few contested threes from Boobie was the closest thing to an offense the Cavs could muster. The Heat were too fast, too strong, too active in the passing lanes, and it didn’t take long for the Cavs to get demoralized.

These were the Heat we all feared. When the Heat play like this, no team can beat them, especially if they have the kind of limited talent the Cavs do. This was also the first night the Heat really played like this, and they still have to prove themselves with another win over a plus – .500 team. This was the night Miami said “enough with the excuses, we are too good to do anything other than embarrass teams like this,” and that started with LeBron. The Eastern Conference Semis didn’t bring that LeBron out, at least not in game five. The pressure of being the most-hyped team in NBA history didn’t bring that out. Early-season panic after some bad losses didn’t bring that out. 20,000 angry people and a porous defense did. The Cavs may have awoken a sleeping dragon tonight. If that’s so, the rest of the league is in trouble. Or maybe LeBron and the Heat will revert right back to their early-season form if there isn’t an untalented team whose fans have the insolence to challenge their greatness. Until later, campers.