Game Notes: Cavaliers at Knicks
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. So LeBron James, Russ Bengtson and Walt Szczerbiak walk into Madison Square Garden…
Due to a quirk in the scheduling, the Cleveland Cavaliers made their only Madison Square Garden appearance of the season last night. This is probably for the best, as there are only so many ways reporters can ask LeBron James “so are you signing with the Knicks as soon as your contract runs out or not,” and only so many ways he can answer while a) leaving his options open, b) clearly state that he’s a member in full standing of the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as c) that all that matters is winning, and the money will take care of itself.
(Aside: The most striking thing about the continued LeBronstravaganza is how ill-suited the Garden itself is for a star of LeBron’s magnitude. The Knicks haven’t had a national—let alone international—star since Patrick Ewing, and he was about as approachable as a grizzly bear. If LeBron does actually become a Knick, the nightly crush will be beyond ridiculous. Imagine the Rolling Stones playing CBGB for a year (um, presuming it was never closed and turned into a John Varvatos boutique), and you’d have a rough idea what LeBron-as-Knick would be like.)
Pregame, LeBron speaks in the multi-purpose room down the hall from the visitor’s locker room, which is generally reserved for coaches and superstars. He’s almost unrecognizable, looking like some sort of Mars Blackmon –slash- Urkel hybrid in black wool hat, thick-framed black glasses, plaid shirt, striped tie, black jeans and $1,000 Kanye West for Louis Vuitton hightop sneakers. Fingers and wrists gleam with rings and watch. The first question lobbed his way is, of course, about the Yankees. It’s a two-parter, though, coming back to the Knicks. The Knicks portion of his answer, delivered with a politician’s ease, is: “We all know the history of the Knicks. We all know what’s happened in this building and what the Knicks franchise has done for this league. As a fan, I think it would be great someday — or one day — when this franchise can be particularly good.” The answer has everything: interest in New York, deference to the home team, an unspoken implication that this is a team he could play for, an arena he could call home. Sigh. July 1st can’t come quick enough—not because I think LeBron will be a Knick, but because this will all finally come to an end.
It’s an ESPN game, LeBron’s in town, and the celebs are out in force. Penny Marshall is panhandling courtside, Wally Szczerbiak and his father Walt are hanging around by the Cavs bench (and up in media dining later), the World Champion (ugh) New York Yankees are represented by Joba Chamberlain, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez and his new best friend, Jay-Z. In slightly less celebutastic news, Chris Ford is scouting the game. Spike Lee, not in the building. If the Knicks weren’t so terrified of offending their hero, they would have put Braylon Edwards right in the front row.
In the LeBron-less Cavalier locker room, a complete Cavalier uniform lies neatly folded on Shaq’s seat, with sweatbands still in their packaging. A giant pair of shoes are parked in front. Nothing appears to have ever been worn.
Former Yankee Bernie Williams performs the national anthem on his guitar and totally fails to smash it and set it on fire at the end.
LeBron is introduced first, Shaq second. They’re cheered like the home team. The Knicks? Not so much.
LeBron starts things off with a jumper from the top of the key roughly 20 seconds in. The cheers and applause are slightly tempered by a scream of “I HATE YOU, LEBRON” from the 400 level. Hey, what do you know? There’s a real Knicks fan left alive!
(Incidentally, we’re up high for this one, where the internets fear to tread. The guy next to me disgustedly slams his netbook shut early in the first, and later falls asleep. Lang took a picture, even.)
LeBron goaltends a David Lee layup attempt, but the Cavs are still up quickly, 13-8.
Make that 16. LeBron buries a fallaway three at the end of the shot clock over Larry Hughes. Obnoxious. He’s got 7, 2 and 2. Fouls Hughes on the other end. His first. Talks with referee Joe Mauer. Probably about the weather. Maybe he tells HIM where he’s gonna sign this summer.
Another fallaway, baseline this time, over Hughes. Disgustingly filthy. Two pointer. Falls far. Net.
J.J. Hickson, who started, is out at the 6:27 mark for Floppy McFlopperson, I mean Anderson Varejao.
A Danilo Gallinari three makes it 18-15, and the Knick fan has something to cheer about. Mo Williams is short, which you can take any way you want. LeBron barrels down the sideline on a runout, into four Knicks, fouls. Pose. Time out.
Enter Al Harrington and Jared Jeffries.
LeBron miss FT, Varejao rebounds, resets out to Mo, who slides it to Bron, who quickly swings it to Anthony Parker in the corner for the three.
As part of the epidemic of white-on-white crime devastating the nation, David Lee is fouled by Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Delonte West checks in at the 4:39 mark and is conspicuously not frisked or wanded by the refs. He is, however, wearing a pair of Air Max CB94s, a Charles Barkley signature shoe that took inspiration from a straitjacket. Either this is an amazing coincidence, or Delonte has one hell of a sense of humor.
LeBron buries two more jumpers, and he has 14 points with 3:04 to go in the first quarter. He then assists on a Z corner jumper, and the Cavalier lead is 10, 29-19.
Cheers greet a CC Sabathia late arrival, who joins his teammates in the front row. His street clothes are as big as his uniform. Him and Tim Duncan should hang out sometime.
LeBron whips a pass from the perimeter to an unguarded Ilgauskas underneath for the easy layup, then hits another jumper. He’s got 16, 5 and 3, and the first quarter isn’t even over yet.
Darko! With 8.6 seconds. In for Lee. And the 2003 Draft showdown can really begin. For 8.6 seconds.
LeBron holds his dribble up top as the clock winds down and bangs a three at the buzzer. He then walks around the backcourt with three fingers held out until the cameras show up. It’s 40-21 Cavs after 1.
At the break, Teixeira, Joba, Melky, Cano, Sabathia and Rodriguez are introduced on court to thunderous applause, wild cheering and Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” At least the Knicks finally have another local championship team to exploit.
Bron starts the quarter on the bench, the Knicks are immediately called for a travel in his honor.
The Cavaliers are up 20.
We now jump ahead in the action.
LeBron and Shaq check back in with 5:35 left in the quarter, the Cavs leading 51-29.
Jordan Hill is actually in! Jordan Hill is actually on the board! Four quick points including an acrobatic layup that he probably should have dunked instead. Take that, Brandon Jenningsers!
Gallo utilizes multiple pump fakes to draw a foul on Varejao.
Anthony Mason, Larry Johnson and Charles Oakley are in the Garden together for the first time since…I don’t even know when. Maybe when Patrick Ewing’s number was retired? LJ looks trim and fit and healthy, while Anthony Mason looks exactly the opposite.
Jordan Hill again! Where’s the “R-O-Y” chant?
LeBron drives down lane, turns his back to the basket, tosses the ball over his head, misses everything, but is fouled. Hits both. That’s 21, 5 and 6, if you’re keeping track.
Wow, I really typed this: “Cavs break, Duhon lob to Hickson, yes, and 1, undercut by Chandler.” One of those things absolutely did not happen.
The Cavs lead 63-40 at the half. Cavs by 23! It’s a sign!
Mo, entry pass to Shaq, size extra-large dunk.
Shaq whips a crisp behind-the-back bounce pass to…Larry Hughes. Well, he used to be a Cav? Half credit.
Hughes scores in transition, the Cavs lead is cut to 65-47, time out, Cleveland. You know you’re bad when the other team is mad at only being up 18.
In what’s become a very interesting non-struggle, the Knicks play no D, and the Cavs have no O. Nothing’s got to give. It’s like waiting for Godot.
Lee stop and pop at top of key. Wet. Shaq halfheartedly steps out to contest.
LeBron gets called for an offensive foul, which is probably for the best as it keeps him from getting called for two travelling violations at once. This sets off a string of three Cavalier offensive fouls (one on West, another on LeBron) in three trips, which is downright remarkable, if not unprecedented. Mike Brown, ladies and gentlemen. His offensive playbook is available in the children’s section.
Harrington airballs a three from up top, and the boos start raining down. The Cavs are still up 20 and the natives are getting restless. On certain nights the Knicks may as well just go out there in their road uniforms.
LeBron splits a pair of free throws at the end of the quarter and has 29, 7 and 7. Cavs lead 77-58.
In the break, the Cavs coaches and players are divided into separate groups. Except for Delonte West, who stands with the coaches. One assumes they’re too nervous to tell him to go away.
Delonte on the drive, hits nothing but backboard. Is that what he drew up?
LeBron and Shaq start the 4th on the bench, and heck, they might end it there. Which isn’t what the fans or ESPN wanted, but a blowout is a blowout.
The lead is till 20 at 85-65 with 8:41 to go. LeBron’s got his shirt on, a towel around his neck and his warm-up pants snapped up.
LeBron and Shaq check back in with 6:02 to go. Delonte is called for a technical, and he moseys over to the bench with Z.
A Harrington three here, a Gallo three there, and the Cavs lead is down to 13, 91-78. This calls for a time out.
Coming out of it, Lebron commits some kind of a jumpstop travel turnover. Impressive. One would presume that wasn’t what was drawn up, but with Mike Brown you never know.
Hey, what do you know, It’s a nine-point game.
But that’s as close as it gets—and the final margin. The Cavs win, 100-91, LeBron finishes with 33 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. The adulation as he leaves the floor is like Gladiator minus the roses. (The Cavaliers score 40 points in the first quarter, 37 in the second half. Yeesh.)
Ah, coaches talking in the tunnel. I can’t get within 15 feet of Mike Brown. And as he (presumably) talks about the game, Shaq sneaks out the back before the locker room even opens.
LeBron sits at his locker, deep in thought, deeper in ice. His feet are in a floor bucket, his knees wrapped, an ice bag around his left hand. With apologies to the homie James Joyce, he’s a portrait of Patrick Ewing as an old man. He looks serious, nearly downcast, despite the victory. Looking down, he prods the outside edge of his right hand. He’s not talking, of course—that will happen later (much later) after he transforms back into Mars Urkel. For now, trainers and doctors and who knows who else gently manipulate his hand, discuss further diagnosis or treatment or whatever. The mass of media waits patiently outside his atmosphere, as if there were a force field separating us and him. Other Cavaliers dress in silence.
Much later. 11:18, to be exact. Multi-purpose room. LeBron sits in the same spot, wears the same outfit, answers the same questions. The first question, again, is about the Yankees. My, how far we’ve come. So hey, where are you going to sign this summer? Any interest in, you know, the Knicks?
“As a kid, I visualized playing for almost every team in the NBA. Right now, I visualize playing with a lot of guys. There are a lot of great individual basketball players that I would love to be alongside of and contend for an NBA championship. At the end of the day, a max deal doesn’t really matter. It’s all about winning to me. When that day comes next summer…I want to win. If I feel like the team is capable of winning, then I’ll make my decision on that.”
So it ends. And so it begins.