By John Hollinger
CLEVELAND – Zydrunas Ilgauskas set a Cavaliers record for games played, and the Cleveland fans showered him with appreciation for it. As for the appreciation between Ilgauskas and the franchise he's represented for the past 13 years, that still seems in short supply at the moment.
First, the good news: Ilgauskas set the club record for career games played with 724 by checking in during the first quarter of Cleveland’s 107-90 win over Phoenix, and it was a genuinely heartwarming moment. He drew a rousing “Zeeeeeeeeeee” cheer from the fans when he got up to check in late in the first quarter, even while play continued, and it continued through his first two trips on the floor. He deserved it. Ilgauskas survived all the bad years, battled through five foot surgeries to become an All-Star, and through it all has been one of the most classy, likable players in team history.
“It was the closest I’ve come to tears on the basketball court,” said the 7-3 Lithuanian.
Those cheers continued any time he made a positive play, and Ilgauskas responded with his best game of the season. He finished with a team-high 14 points—the first time this year LeBron James or Mo Williams wasn’t the Cavs’ leading scorer—and added six boards in only 20 minutes of play.
But Z-Gate only got weirder afterward. He addressed the media with a short monologue and left without answering any questions, continuing a silence imposed since he got a DNP-Coach’s Decision in Saturday’s win over Dallas. That was the night he thought he’d be setting the record, and he’s been upset ever since.
“I was very disappointed,” said Ilgauskas, “that I didn’t play in the last game. I know I’m a good player and I could have been impacted the outcome. What made me more disappointed were some acts that followed … I’m not going to go in any details. I know when I got to bed at night my conscience is clear.”
Adding further intrigue, the Cavs didn’t make any commemoration of Ilgauskas’s record tonight. Owner Dan Gilbert said, “Zydrunas did not want individual recognition during the game for the important milestone he achieved and we honored that request, but the entire Cleveland Cavaliers organization certainly join me in congratulating and thanking the big guy and his family on this special evening.”
One suspects there’s more to this story than just a DNP-CD against a small-balling Mavs team, and whatever it is, Ilgauskas clearly remains wounded. Whatever the cause, it produced one of the odder record-setting nights you’ll ever see—one where neither the player nor the franchise seemed nearly as excited as the fans.