LBJ Content To Win Scoreboard, Not Scorebook
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James had the hammer raised on his former team Tuesday night, the chance to inflict another lasting scar with the sort of record-setting performance that would hang on the books for years.
Maybe it was mercy, maybe it was maturity and maybe there was just some pride from the injury-ravaged Cleveland Cavaliers. It was hard to figure exactly what happened, but James uncharacteristically stood down and perhaps allowed a chance at a record to pass and left satisfied that his Miami Heat took a 100-96 victory.
Everything was set for James to make a run at his recently established career record of 61 points that he set just two weeks ago. He was having one of his classic shooting nights, where his in-rhythm shots slice through the net with precision and his forced shots bank in off the glass or catch the side of the rim and curve through.
These sorts of nights seem to happen once or twice a year for James, usually on the road, and always when he's making 3-pointers. When Dwyane Wade is not playing, and he wasn't Tuesday, it's frequently a total green light for James to stretch out his heat checks and let it go. Tuesday the Cavs were even missing his primary defender, Luol Deng, who was out with an ankle injury.
When James made 10 of his 11 shots in the first quarter and five of them were 3-pointers it appeared the Cavs had run into a perfect storm, and James may just have a game for his mantle coming. That was the mood rising from the din after he headed to the bench with 25 points at the end of the first quarter, members of the crowd looking at each other with frustration and disbelief interspersed with partially swallowed smiles.
James, who possesses a flash-drive memory, easily remembered Allen Iverson scoring 54 points on the Cavs back in 2001 when he was a teenager in nearby Akron. It was a vendetta that night, Iverson upset the Cleveland crowd had mistreated him in his view in an earlier visit and he was determined to make a statement.
Iverson's angry night still stands as the Quicken Loans Arena record and it was so within James' grasp. James himself carries the date Dec. 2, 2010, around in his head like a family member's birthday because of the rancor he encountered in the building in his first game back after signing with the Heat. He mentions that date numerous times a year, usually when brushing away someone insinuating he'd run into a hostile crowd that particular day.
He referenced that date again Tuesday, in fact. But James doesn't seem to have the same desire to strike back as Iverson. If nothing else, James played almost 400 games in his life in the building and never eclipsed 50 but was halfway to that number just 12 minutes in.
"With that type of start, you see if you can go for 70," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's just human conditioning to think like that."
And it's human conditioning for the coach to let his player try. Instead of sitting James to start the second quarter as normal, Spoelstra sent him to the floor to continue the streak.
Then something odd happened. James backed off. He started passing up open driving lanes. He started looking for teammates inside. He started calling plays for teammates, especially looking to get Ray Allen some open looks. He eased off the pure attack mode he seemed to be reveling in only moments before.
"When I started the game off, I felt like I could have went for 50 or 60," James said. "But you can't really dictate what's going to happen."
Most of the time in that spot James sure tries. He chased his first 60-point game with vigor against the Charlotte Bobcats and didn't stop until he got there. Against his former team, his former coach and in front of his former fans who still roundly booed him at times, he didn't seem like he wanted to dictate anything but the flow of the offense.
James would take just eight shots the rest of the game, which is simply incomprehensible after one starts 10-of-11. He took just three shots in the entire second half when the Cavs, who were also without All-Star Kyrie Irving because of a biceps injury, were pushing back and trying to pull an upset.
Just imagine how many shots Iverson might've taken had he started a game 10-of-11, much less a game in Cleveland during his prime.
James did reach the 40-point mark, getting there with some late-game free throws when the Cavs starting intentionally fouling him to stop the clock to keep comeback hopes alive. In all, he had 43 points on 14-of-19 shooting. It was barely above normal: James averages 17.5 shots a game and most of the time he's sharing the load with Wade.
"He's not a selfish player, never has been," said Chris Bosh, who was the Heat's main offensive weapon in the second half as he scored 12 of his 21 points despite a little scare when he twisted his right knee in the third quarter.
"He's still had , that's pretty good. Some guys probably don't have the maturity to handle that but he did a pretty good job of playing a complete game."
During the second half the Cavs did alter their game plan to try to prevent James from lighting them up further. They denied him the ball, even when he tried to get it 25 feet from the basket, and tried different defenders including big man Anderson Varejao on him. Occasionally they brought double teams to force the ball out of his hands.
Taking just three shots, though, seemed a little extreme.
"I felt it early on but, you know, other guys needed to get into a good rhythm as well," James said. "But you have to play the course and in the fourth quarter, [Bosh] got it going and they doubled me and brought guys toward me so I was able to be the facilitator."
Since James scored his 61 points against the Bobcats this has been a trend. He's faded into the pack in the fourth quarters for various reasons. He's been in a shooting slump, Wade has been playing very well and has been taking control of the games more often lately, and sometimes he's just looked a little fatigued.
Whatever it is, over the last eight games James is just 5-of-22 shooting in the fourth quarters and has averaged just 2.8 points, well below his normal production. He still made a major impact on the outcome late, coming up with two key blocks and several free throws that put the game away in the final minutes.
Bottom line, it would seem, James is now 12-1 against the Cavs since signing with the Heat and that scoreboard certainly suffices. After the game he was content to shrug his shoulders at being the first player to have two 25-point quarters in a month since Kobe Bryant back in 2006, and to enjoy a milkshake and cheeseburger shipped in from Swensons, his favorite restaurant in Akron.
"In today's age, there are players that would be looking for numbers," Spoesltra said. "LeBron is just trying to play the game the right way. That takes great maturity."
Around the Association
MVP: LeBron James only needed his first-quarter production to be crowned the MVP of this game. He scored a career-high 25 first-quarter points en route to a 43-point night. He finished 14-for-19 from the field, including 6-for-8 from 3-point land. He iced the game with some huge blocks and free throws.
X factor: Chris Bosh came alive in the second half and scored five quick points after the Cavs had knotted the game at 83. He scored 12 of Miami's 21 points in a tightly contested, back-and-forth fourth quarter.
That was ... not in the Cavs scouting report! The Cavs entered the evening ranked 25th in assists, 26th in points in the paint and dead last in field goal percentage, but 11th in not turning the ball over. Tonight they assisted on 27 of their 37 buckets, scored 44 points in the paint and shot over 50 percent from the field, all without Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng or C.J. Miles.
MVP: Co-honors go to Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague of the Hawks. Millsap notched his first career triple-double with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. Meanwhile, Teague tied his career high with 34 points, plus he had five assists and four steals.
X factor: Jonas Valanciunas was working early, putting up 11 points and four rebounds in the first quarter. However, he got into foul trouble in the second, then left the game in the third due to an injury. His absence was a big factor in the Raptors' loss.
That was ... exciting: The game was back and forth all night, providing a great atmosphere for basketball. After the 5:52 mark in the second quarter, no team led by more than five points until the buzzer sounded at the end of the game.
MVP: Rudy Gay elevated his game in the final frame of regulation. Gay scored 10 of his 24 points, including a game-tying floater with 5.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That basket helped secure the extra period of basketball the Kings needed to come away with the win.
X factor: The Kings' big three came up big. Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas each scored 24 points in the victory. Thomas also finished with 11 rebounds and 10 assists, which propelled him to the first triple-double of his career. The Kings are now 7-3 this season when Gay, Cousins and Thomas each score 20 or more points.
Defining moment: After Thomas hit a desperation 3 late in regulation, John Wall had a chance to ice the game for the Wizards. Holding a 100-98 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Wall missed both free throws, which opened the door for Gay to hit a game-tying shot to force overtime.
MVP: Nicolas Batum. While 19 of his 21 points came in the first half, Batum remained a force throughout. Flirting with a triple-double, he added nine points and nine assists.
Turning point: Portland scored the first four points of overtime, which afforded the Blazers a bit of breathing room. But a soaring, one-handed dunk by Damian Lillard, which he followed with a jumper, turned out to be the dagger.
That was ... way too close for comfort. After a string of brutal losses, including five of its past six, Portland looked at Milwaukee like a pushover. And while the Blazers eventually prevailed, the overtime win was hardly confidence-building.
MVP: The triumvirate of Stephen Curry (23 points), Klay Thompson (20 points) and David Lee (20 points, 10 rebounds) led the way for the Warriors with Andre Iguodala (knee) and Andrew Bogut (ankle) out with a variety of ailments.
LVP: The starting backcourt for the Magic (Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo) got completely outplayed by the Splash Brothers. It got so bad that coach Jacque Vaughn didn't bother playing either of them in the fourth quarter.
Defining moment: The Warriors went on an 18-0 run in the third quarter to turn a close game (57-51) into a blowout (75-51), thanks to the Splash Brothers raining 3s. The Magic got swept away from the torrential downpour.
3. Tuesday's Best
LeBron James, Heat: On pace to tie Wilt Chamberlain's single-game scoring record after one quarter, LeBron settled into a mere mortal's pace and finished with 43 points in the 100-96 win in Cleveland. He sank 6 of 8 3-pointers, suggesting a hot hand that could have surpassed his career-high 61 points set March 3 against Charlotte.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Orlando Magic: Arron Afflalo's season-low four points ensured a sixth straight loss for the Magic. Barring a Bucks rebirth, the 101-89 road loss to Golden State appears to give the Magic a good grip on the third-worst record heading into the draft lottery.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I am by no means an expert in basketball."
-- Knicks owner James Dolan, during a rare interview with the media following the hiring of Phil Jackson.
8. Zen Gardener
9. Stat Check
LeBron James is the first player with two 25-point quarters in the same month since Kobe Bryant, who had two in his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 (27 in third, 28 in fourth).
James is 12-1 against the Cavaliers since leaving Cleveland (.923 winning percentage). The best record by a retired player against his former team, among players with at least five All-Star selections for that former team, is Oscar Robertson's 19-2 mark against the Cincinnati Royals/Kansas City Kings.
10. TrueHoop TV