Game Notes: Cavs at Knicks
LeBron trips the dub fantastic. Or something.
by Russ Bengtson
Let it be known right here that I called it. Roughly 45 minutes before tip-off, I uttered the words “50-point triple-double” and “LeBron James” in an order that implied one would get the other. ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, The Other Machine, can attest to this. Not that you wouldn’t believe me.
Of course, this was not something drawn from thin air. There was Kobe’s 61, of course. And the fact that LeBron had dropped a 50/10/8 in the Garden less than a year ago. Was it possible that LeBron would try and beat Kobe’s newly minted scoring record? Of course. Could he do it? Probably. (The Knicks play defense like it’s their job—in other words, they go through the motions hoping it looks like they’re actually doing something.) But it seemed more likely that LeBron would go the team-oriented route. Besides, if he really wanted to one-up Kobe, he’d just rebound the first miss and walk off the court, done for the night.
The hyperbole has been well hyperboled at this point—with this one game, LeBron became the first opposing player since MJ to drop 50 twice at the Garden (MJ only did it twice, and LeBron’s um, 24) and the first since Cap to post a 50-point triple-double.
Here’s the thing—Madison Square Garden circa 2009 has become the perfect storm of basketball accomplishment. It’s truly the Mecca, where superstars make once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimages. First there’s the building itself, the Last Real Arena Left. Then there’s the team that occupies it, a run-and-gun bunch who produce extra possessions for both sides, defend diffidently, eschew double-teams, and may as well have “SCORE ON ME” signs taped to the back of their shorts. One wonders what will happen when the Celtics arrive tomorrow. Will Kevin Garnett post a 40/40? Will Paul Pierce hold himself scoreless in the first half, then explode for 50 all in the final 24? Will Gabe Pruitt play?
The more cynical of you (and Ryan Jones) will probably think I’m downplaying ‘Bron’s achievement after going on about Kobe. And perhaps you’re right. But it’s not intentional. Both performances were, pardon my French, f*cking incredible. And despite the fact that last night ended with a 1:30 a.m. trudge across a 13-degree parking lot to a freezing-cold minivan, I’m just happy I was there to see them both.
(Note: I ran out of paper during the previous game—not because I took so many notes, but because the two reporter’s notebooks in my bag contained six and one blank pages respectively. I wound up writing postgame notes on the back covers of each. So on Tuesday, despite the snow, I ventured out to Staples and bought six new notebooks. Which I then failed to put in my bag. So these notes were all taken on the back of quartered copies of Tim Thomas’s media guide bio.)
I’ve never gone and listened to Mike D’Antoni pregame before, so I figured it was high time I did. The first question is (shockingly) about how he plans to slow/stop/distract LeBron, and he responds “we’ll guard him with the whole team.” Good answer. “He’s 6-9, 250, probably the quickest guy on the floor.”
Someone asks whether he’s worried whether ‘Bron will try and break Kobe’s mark. D’Antoni chuckles. “We might have set the bar so high he won’t even try.”
About all those fans cheering for Kobe and chanting “MVP” at him: “I think New York, and a lot of other places, want to see the best in the world. My job is to make the Knicks so good they’ll be cheering for us—we’ll be the best on the floor.”
On the Garden itself: “It’s still a special place. The best players want to perform the best they can here. Give it the best shot they have. There’s a special aura here.” As for it being an asset in attracting future free agents, one of whom may or not be playing tonight, he adds “generally speaking, yeah, it’s an asset we have.”
“Are the Cavs as good as Boston?” Pause. “Yeah.” There’s more to that answer, but nothing worth getting into.
Someone asks whether it’s annoying to have to answer questions about two years down the road when there’s a season going on, neatly ignoring the fact that they themselves are asking about two years down the road: D’Antoni laughs again. “Well, you guys don’t work too hard, you just want an easy story.” Touché. Exeunt coach.
LeBron has a pair of those Beats By Dre headphones, of course, but his are in Cavs colors with his number on them.
The shoes Al Harrington wore to the game are in front of his locker—white patent leather Protegé hightops. A close look reveals his own face on the tongues. This is amazing. A spirited discussion on the subject takes place with New York Times beatwriter Howard Beck, touching on subjects as varied as face-inscribed loafers and Stephon Marbury’s ill-advised Starbury head tattoo. The inevitable moral that comes out of it all is this: ‘Tis better to have your face on your shoes than your shoes on your face.
Someone at the Knicks has put together a proper highlight reel for tonight, one that includes not only Pat and Clyde and Earl, but ‘Nard and Red Holzman and even a mustachioed Phil Jackson. Ostensibly this is to honor Willis Reed, who’s at the game…in section 124. Just a thought, but if you’re playing a team that features the most-desired free agent in the history of history, maybe don’t stash your heroic Hall of Fame center 25 rows up.
There are an awful lot of LeBron jerseys in the building. He’s introduced first, and receives a loud (if varied) reception.
The Knicks are again introduced to belching smoke/steam and the dulcet sounds of Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs.
LeBron’s talc toss is received with oohs and aahs usually reserved for something like David Blaine locking himself in a microwave oven for 37 weeks.
Ben Wallace and Jared Jeffries are guarding each other. This doesn’t seem necessary, all things considered.
The Knicks open things up with a defensive three-seconds, just to see whether the refs are paying attention. They are. A Zydrunas Ilgauskas deep J makes it 3-0.
Al Harrington is f*cking shooting, and Al Harrington is throwing up a f*cking airball.
LeBron gets David Lee on him on a switch, and goes into a jamalcrawfordesque crossover routine before driving and missing a baseline fallaway.
*insert Knicks offensive ineptitude here*
The Big Z throws an alley-oop to Ben Wallace, who redirects it to LeBron for a corner 3. Yes, a LeBron 3 is a higher-percentage shot than a Ben Wallace layup. 6-0.
*insert Knicks offensive ineptitude here*
LeBron loses the dribble, picks it up underneath, and dunks all over poor Jared Jeffries. 8-0.
LeBron rebound…LeBron jumper. 10-0. The Knicks call time to discuss the possibility of folding the franchise or moving to Seattle or something.
Hey, the Knicks get on the board. David Lee with a layup with 8:32 left in the first. Good thing the Knicks aren’t one of those teams who stand until they score.
Bron gets Lee on him again, does the crossover thing again, drives again, misses—and there’s a late whistle. Foul on Q. Disbelieving boos fill the air as LeBron heads to the line. Oh well, guess they’re better than MVP chants.
Things happen. LeBron has 11 points with 6:35 to go, putting him on pace for something like 93 points.
Wally Szczerbiak hits a 23-8 two. That shot would kill me if I was a coach.
Ben Wallace backs down Jared Jeffries, who tries the ol’ pull-the-chair out trick. Wallace flips the ball over his head as he falls backwards, and the foul is called on Jeffries. I wince as Big Ben puts up his first free throw, but it’s perfect. The form, the result, everything. Just beautiful. The second one is an airball.
Boobie Gibson checks in, and Q IMMEDIATELY posts him up. He misses, but Lee is there for the follow.
Bron, guarded by Wilson Chandler, blows right by, is fouled. Two more.
Bron gets Lee on him yet again. Again he goes into the dribbling routine. It’s pretty clear they’re talking to each other. Bron gets the last word with a stepback 3 from straight away. Sheesh.
Nate Robinson gets Lee an open dunk on the other end, then Bron gets Lee on the perimeter one more time. And scores again. That’s 18.
LeBron drive and kick for a Wally 3? Yes. LeBron pair of free throws? No. And no. Straightaway J over Wilson Chandler at the quarter buzzer? Yes. End of 1, Cavs 34, Knicks 24, LeBron 20.
Mo Williams is in for LeBron to start the second. All the celebrities leave with instructions for their personal assistants to call when LeBron’s back. Just kidding. I think.
Speaking of celebs, it seems like ‘Bron draws a better crowd than Kobe. There’s Chris Rock and Jay-Z and Sean Combs and Adam Yauch and Chris Robinson and Ciara and Spike Lee and Scary Spice and half the Rangers and all sorts of other people.
Nate throws an outlet to Wilson Chandler that would have maybe worked if Wilson were Usain Bolt. He isn’t.
OK, let’s jump ahead to 9:14 where—coincidence!—LeBron checks back in.
Tim Thomas hits a pair of free throws to bring the Knicks to within 8, and LeBron answers with a layup as if to say, “no, we’ll stay with the double-digit lead, thanks.”
All of a sudden, Al Harrington bursts into flames. Duhon’s throwing him the ball and clearing out, and he’s taking on all comers. It’s like he’s playing against his own defense.
(Aside: From the stands, Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson look interchangeable. They have the same uniform obviously, but they’re also roughly the same height and both wear white wraps on their left elbows. And they wear No. 1 and 2. They’re like little basketball Oompa-Loompas. These are the things I think about during games.)
Meanwhile, Al Harrington has eight points in the last…well, not much. And a Danilo Gallinari trey cuts the Cavs lead to one with 3:57 to go in the half.
LeBron hits a pullup over Harrington with time running down, but the Knicks come right back with a Duhon three with 3.7 seconds left. You don’t have to be Nostradamus to guess what happens next: LeBron catches the inbounds pass and fires it all the way ahead to Ben Wallace who gets an easy layup as time expires. Cavs lead 57-52 at the half, and Bron has 28, 5 and 5. Halfway home.
Can’t help but notice there’s a morbidly obese guy sitting next to the press section wearing a MIGHTY HEALTHY t-shirt.
Al Harrington resumes right where he left off, by f*cking shooting. That’s 21 for Al. Menawhile, LeBron scores his 30th point with 11:10 to go in the third. Hey Kobe, tell me how my stat line taste.
Al Harrington orders up a three, and Bron answers with a fadeaway. Gunfight at the MSG Corral. Jared Jeffries misses a long jumper, and LeBron answers that too. What the hell. That’s 34 with 10:06 left.
Al Harrington, who hasn’t shot the ball in at LEAST a minute, hits again. He’s got 26. And, after a brief period of non-Harrington shots, he hits another triple. 29.
LeBron misses a “what the hell” three over Lee, then finds Mo and Wally for threes on successive possessions. 7:19 to go in the third, and he’s got 34/7/8. These things happen, I guess.
Bron is isoed up top with Q, and he throws roughly 37 little jab steps, grinning like a maniac the whole time. He rotates the ball to Wally, who slides it to Mo, who’s still holding it when the 24-second buzzer goes off. As an offensive philosophy, it doesn’t quite work.
Bron picks up his eighth assist with a pass to a wide-open Big Z. Would have been nine if Ben Wallace could convert a simple alley-oop.
Bron drives baseline, is fouled, jumps over the first row, and seems to be heading for the cheap seats (perhaps to say hello to Mr. Reed) before he’s snagged by the jersey by an alert Malik Rose. Hits both, has 36.
Nate gets to the basket twice in a row to cut the Cav lead to four, but third time’s a charge.
Al. Harrington. Again. He’s got 31, the Cavs lead is two.
Boobie misses a three, Tim Thomas doesn’t, aaaaaand the KNICKS lead, 78-77. The sellout crowd is stoked.
Who answers? Right. Driving layup over Tim Thomas and the foul. That’s 39. And then Tim makes sure he squanders all the good will earned by the three by committing an offensive foul.
LeBron shoots the deep three and misses. He’s taken a lot of long jumpers either while moving or not squared up, and they’re not really working. Maybe he’s just bored.
Wally misses a wide-open three from right in front of Spike, and the Cavs lead by only four after three quarters. Spike furiously txts BFF Reggie to tell him all about it.
Bron assist, Boobie three. 85-78.
Bron drive, fouled, one of two, 40, 8 and 9. Sheesh.
Tim Thomas backs down Wally, gets blocked by LeBron. He then picks up his 10th assist with 10:01 remaining. Ten points and two rebounds to go. In ten minutes?
Wilson Chandler hits a corner three over LeBron out of a time out. It’s worth noting that Wilson Chandler is very, very good. He gets so much elevation and so much arc on his jumpers they’re impossible to block, and he’s got an incredibly soft touch.
LeBron tries a fallaway, nope. And a Wilson Chandler layup brings the Knicks back to within two.
“LeBron. LeBron! It’s your turn!” “Oh, right.” He drives, Wilson Chandler elevates, and LeBron goes up to 102 and leaves him on six. Child’s play. Layup. 42. If he’d been playing like this all game, the entire Knicks team would have fouled out by the midway point of the third quarter and he would have scored 350 points.
LeBron blocks a Chandler layup attempt, a Boobie triple runs the Cavs lead back to seven, and Bron can go back to shooting long jumpers.
Or, he can go lie down on the baseline while a trainer treats him for cramps. Either way. Palace concubines come out to feed him peeled grapes and fan him with palm fronds.
Things happen. Bron checks back in with 6:09 to go, Cavs up five. He shoots a stepback jumper just to make sure it still works.
Al Harrington hits a free throw, Bron hits a pair. Al Harrington hits a three off a broken play, LeBron hits a six. Well, he WOULD have. Actually, he misses from in close, and Nate scores on the baseline to bring the Knicks to within one yet again. Obviously LeBron is sabotaging the game to make sure he can be the hero.
LeBron can get a driving layup over Tim Thomas anytime he wants one, and he wants one right now. That’s 46 with 4:04 to go. He hasn’t grabbed a rebound in roughly six hours, though.
Al Harrington comes right back over Bron for his 37th point, and Bron comes right back at Al for his 48th. Whatever you can do I can do better. Cavs up 100-97 with 3:27 to go.
I’ll give Tim Thomas this—he’s got cojones. He lays out LeBron with a brutal moving screen right in front of the Cavs bench, and Bron stays down for a moment. That’s five on Tim Thomas.
An aside to the lady who was furiously waving from her first-row seat whilst the dance team threw/shot/launched t-shirts into the crowd: If you can afford to seat your entire family in the front row of the Garden for Knicks v. LeBron, you do NOT need a free promotional t-shirt for your already spoiled kids. Sit down and stop embarrassing yourself. Please. (Sorry about the tense trainwreck there.)
David Lee hits a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game yet again. Mo Williams airballs a corner three, leaving the door open wide, but Chris Duhon commits an uncharacteristically bad pass turnover and LeBron drives past Lee for his 50th point with a minute to spare.
Under a minute. Harrington misses a three, Ben Wallace tips the board to LeBron, and Bron gets the credit. That’s nine. On the other end, he drives for a layup, sprawls into the corner, and stays down. Cramps again? The entire Cleveland coaching staff, all of Def Jam, the Nike Innovation Kitchen, Warren Buffett, President Obama, a UN task force, and the cast of ER come over to see whether he’s all right. Just for the hell of it, an impromptu “KOBE SUCKS” chant breaks out in the 200s.
Upon rising from the cramped, Bron hits a pair of free throws. He’s at 52. The Knicks call a 20 down six to figure out how they’re going to get LeBron his 10th rebound.
He gets it literally as time is expiring—rushing in from eight miles out of the play—and a huge cry comes forth from the sellout crowd of sellouts. Charles Oakley would like a word with each and every one of you, and that word is printed on his knuckles.
Final score, Cavs 107, Knicks 102, LeBron 52 and 11 and 10.
In the Cavs locker room, LeBron’s headphones hang from a hook in his locker, bumping hip-hop so loud that you can hear it across the room. I don’t know who it is because I’m old.
In the hallway, Mike Brown holds forth for what seems like hours. Possibly because it is. Heck, I’d do the same thing if I were in his position. I catch the tail end of an anecdote about how when he was a young assistant to Bernie Bickerstaff in Denver he tried to teach something to Antonio McDyess, and Bernie told him “you can’t teach a guy what he already knows.” Of course now Mike is the head coach of the 39-9 Cavs and Bernie is an assistant with the 22-28 Bulls. So there’s that.
LeBron is about as late as Kobe to the interview room, says many of the same things regarding the Garden and his accomplishments within. You can read a lot of them here—it’s after 1:20 and I’d like to get this posted today.
Bring on the Celtics.