Game Notes: Cavs at Lakers
Where dislocated ring fingers happens.
So there I was, your humble young reporter intrepidly going to what was sure to be an epic showdown between the League’s two marquee stars at the heads of two of the League’s best teams going head-to-head on national television in a playoff-atmosphere packed house at the Staples Center. How did it all go down? Read on to find out.
– Allow me to make this absolutely clear: This game was NUTS. Off the court, anyways. The place was absolutely packed. I got to the arena a good two hours before tip-off, and the area outside the stadium was already going off. You could just feel it in the air. It seemed like everybody had their yellow 24 or navy 23s on.
– I got seats not in the best media section (center court and up) or in the “internet media tables of exile” (behind one basket), but in a third media section up in a corner. I was about to complain when the guy next to me points out that there are a significant amount of media people packed at the absolute top of the stadium. So it could have easily been much, much, worse. (Props to Ryne and Susan.)
– The media room was stuffed to the gills—allow me to just say that sitting down to a dinner table and hearing Doug Collins talk hoops strategy in person is really, really trippy and awesome.
– Oh, and if you think Craig Sager’s suits are an act for the cameras, he was wearing bright-blue shoes to match the coat, which the camera can’t pick up. I’m thinking that’s just how the man gets down.
– You know what players you talk to when every media member in America not covering the inauguration is at the game? Whichever ones are nice enough to speak with you.
– Cavalier rookie J.J. Hickson, who was thrust into the rotation by Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ injury and has struggled while showing outstanding bursts of athleticism, believes that his increased playing time has brought him confidence and a comfort within the Cavaliers’ system. He’s also learned that in the NBA, you’re going to get burned if you take even a single possession off, and that the experience he draws on to play in a big game like this one with only a single year of college under his belt comes from the Cavalier veterans like Ben Wallace, LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Inspired by my ability to make him look inward and evaluate the experiences he’s had in the rotation and how to best move forward, J.J. puts up 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks on 4-5 shooting and 5-5 from the line in only 19 minutes of play. No need to thank me, J.J. It’s just what I do.
– Daniel Gibson, when asked how his role on the team is likely to change with the injury to Delonte West, says it won’t affect his role as they’ve been more or less interchangeable, although he believes he will perhaps have to do a little more scoring. When asked how and why he expanded his game after signing a big extension in the off-season instead of resting on his laurels, he says he’s still trying to play with that chip on his shoulder and that he hopes that contract is a building block for him.
– Cavalier coach Mike Brown actually didn’t know about the Cavaliers’ five-game winning streak against the Lakers coming into this game, which I found kind of awesome.
– Then it was time for LBJ to talk to the media. Now, LBJ doesn’t normally speak to the media before games, but because it was the Lakers and it was on TNT, LeBron was strongly advised to take questions. After seeing about 40 people crowd into a semi-circle around his locker, I can kind of understand why LBJ normally doesn’t. Being as to how I started writing about basketball on a Cavaliers message board and LeBron is my favorite athlete of all time, I very much wanted to get a question in. In the mob, it was looking very much like I would need at least six more inches of height and 10 more years on this planet to have a prayer of getting a question in. About 75 percent of the questions are about LeBron’s defense, which a media topic du jour this year, especially since Jeff Van Gundy spent the recent Hornets-Cavaliers game ranting about LeBron’s defense like a father talking about his son who had just gotten into Amherst.
– After trying and trying again, only to fail, to get a question in (everyone is more confident than I am, and also I kept freezing up and forgetting what to ask), the man says, “Last question, guys.” It is at that moment I say, To hell with this. I have worked a year and a half of my life for this. I am young enough to still care about this. I am getting a question into LeBron James, and all of you can just DEAL WITH IT. And in my most confident, “Despite these boyish features and lack of ability to legally drink, I am a legitimate journalist AND SHALL ME RESPECTED AS SUCH” voice, I started to ask LeBron a question at the same time as a reporter on the other side of him did. LeBron looked at me, and implored me to finish the question while ignoring the other guy. Take that, probably-respected member of the journalistic community.
– Oh, I asked LeBron how, as a player and a team leader, he keeps everyone in the locker room thinking of the game in terms of “Cavs vs. Lakers” instead of “Kobe vs. LeBron.” LeBron disdainfully answered that that never enters his mind, that this isn’t tennis or golf, that this is a team game, and that even though him and Kobe get most of the limelight, you have to remember at all times that this is a team game and you don’t win anything on your own. Okay, so I’m not quite David Frost yet. But it was just over two years ago that I logged onto a Cavaliers message board because I couldn’t find enough news about LeBron. Tonight, I got to meet him as part of my job. It’s pretty cool.
– The Staples center was NUTS tonight. Absolutely electric. Any observation of the game has to start with how loud and bloodthirsty this arena was.
– Derek Fisher, in his role as the NBA’s designated decent human being, gave a pregame speech commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. on the holiday we have set out for him.
– Kobe starts the game on LBJ. LBJ starts on Vladimir Radmanovic.
– Ben Wallace quiets the crowd early by pulling down about 14 offensive rebounds in two possessions.
– Kobe ultra-quiets the crowd by dislocating his right ring finger.
– LeBron is PUMPED out of the gate, hitting a pull-up 3-ball and absolutely filthy turnaround fadeaway ridiculous 18-footer over Andrew Bynum.
– The Cavs control the quarter, but 2 late turnovers lead to a Sasha Vujacic 3 and the Lakers steal a 26-24 lead, causing the crowd to go BANANAS.
– With the Cavs down in the 2nd quarter, Wally Sczerbiak runs off 7-straight points, and with Sasha Pavlovic hitting everything he looks at the Cavs manage to get a lead. Go figure. About time overpaid white people had some success.
– The stars of TNT’s “Trust Me,” STARRING ERIC MCCORMACK AND TOM CAVANAUGH, THE GUY FROM “ED,” PREMERING ON TNT NEXT MONDAY, BEFORE AN ALL-NEW EPISODE OF THAT SHOW WITH TIMOTHY HUTTON WHO IS STILL RIDING THE MOMENTUM FROM HIS ACADEMY AWARD AT 15 YEARS OLD, are in the building. Huzzah.
– After the first half, LeBron hasn’t gotten into the paint at all, but has hit a few tough jumpers and has 10 points on 11 shots. Kobe has been ridiculously passive, but has 5 points on 5 shots and 6 assists.
– WHY ARE YOU STILL CHANTING M-V-P, LA? Is it to celebrate that he is the MVP, or to say that he should win MVP again? Either way, it’s easily the most annoying fan behavior in professional sports right now. I will 8-clap before chanting MVP during meaningless 1st quarter free throws.
– The Cavs held a slim lead after the half, but almost everyone in the stadium could see that they’d been clearly outplayed and had gotten away with only 10 points in the paint due to 11 L.A. turnovers in the half.
– In the second half, the Cavs basically had their tenuous grip on the game broken by the Lakers, and they never quite looked back.
– With 9:19 left in the 4th quarter, Kobe follows up a ridiculous fadeaway from the right side with a ridiculous fadeaway—plus the foul—from the left side, and the building just EXPLODED. Blood in the water now.
– Hey, next to me is Sean Zarzana, chiropractor/trainer/Andrew Bynum’s positional coach!
– When asked about why Bynum’s struggled a bit this year, he says the knee is at 100 percent, totally, but a lot of the summer was spent on rehab instead of basketball, and he’s struggled to catch up. He’s having trouble adjusting to his post-Gasol role on the team. Although we both note that Bynum’s done an excellent job defensively tonight—LeBron’s been in check, and since LeBron’s always going to be able to get by the guy guarding him, the real responsibility is on the help guy, and Bynum’s kept LBJ from getting in the paint all game.
– After a Bynum power-dunk in the post, Zarzana happily fist-pumps and shouts, “That’s right! Drop-step, Big-step!” The dunk got taken away due to a defensive 3-seconds, but it was still cool.
– Kobe gets a fast-break alley-oop to Ariza, Cleveland timeout, score 89-73, crowd going insane, game feels over.
– Well, look at that—Cleveland breaks off an 11-0 run to make it 91-82, Lakers take a timeout.
– Lakers get it back together, Ariza hits a three, 98-85, game essentially over, tacos for all.
– With 31 seconds left, human victory cigar Sun Yue checks in.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown actually came out and said what I was planning to write for my deep analysis—the Lakers outplayed them in both halves, but in the first half, they just made shots to cover up their deficiencies. The Cavs were punished all game by Gasol and Bynum. Brown then noted that the Lakers had 27 points off of 14 Cleveland turnovers, which was actually a great observation. He basically did our jobs and summed up the key factors in the game on the way from the floor to the locker room. I’m not sure if that makes me like him or hate him.
Phil Jackson offered that he thought that LeBron and Kobe got “caught up in the man-on-man drama of the game,” and it caused Kobe to break from the plan and force some jumpers which led to Cleveland’s 11-0 run, but other than that they executed very well.
It’s gotta be said that the dislocated finger was really affecting Kobe all game—he was extremely reluctant to dribble with his right, and finished a wide-open break with a weak lefty dunk. His managing to still be effective (it wasn’t his best shooting night, but he didn’t finish terribly from the field and got 12 assists) without his strong hand is a testament to just how good Kobe is.
Well, that’s it. Strangely anticlimactic. But that’s the great thing about this league; for every super-match that doesn’t live up to the hype, there’s a nail-biting 3-point buzzer-beater shootout like the little-watched game this afternoon between Indiana and New Orleans. Love the players, but revere the game. See you next time.