Friday, December 3, 2010

An Anticlimactic Night at the Q - Takeaways

So much for that!

Five months after clumsily announcing his departure from one of America's most depressed sports towns (in favor of one of it's most depressing; way to do your homework there, champ- Fan Up!), LeBron James returned to his old stomping ground, Quicken Loans Arena, walking into what I'd predicted would be "a cauldron that will rival any European soccer stadium." Yeah... about that...

It was one of the most anticipated regular season NBA games in recent years, not because of a particularly compelling matchup on the floor, but because a perpetually downtrodden fan base, one that still wishes death (I'm thinking literally) on Art Modell, was actually getting a crack at the target of their anger. I said it yesterday- anything could happen. However, not much did.

LeBron was booed pretty loudly, but no worse than a referee after a bad call. Big Z was cheered, as were the hometown Cavs (gotta say, the pre-tip-off images of the packed out waving the towels was a legit "goosebump moment"). Still plenty of love for LeBron on the Cavs' bench. During the game, all three of the Superfriends were booed every time they caught the ball, with slightly more volume for LeBron. There were a couple chants, but nothing particularly inappropriate or hurtful.

If you're a Cavs fan, the first six minutes of the game were good! But then wheels came flying off, first with a 16-0 first quarter run by the Heat, then with total domination by LeBron, with help in the form of an excellent 22-9-9 from Dwyane Wade. At the final buzzer, the Heat secured a 118-90 victory, in game that was not as close as the score would lead you to believe.

An evening that began with the potential to go careening off the rails, with a single egomaniac in the crosshairs of 20,000 angry fans, ultimately ended with a disappointing whimper. After a few competitive minutes, the more talented team asserted itself and cruised to an easy victory, with little in the way extracurricular activity from the Cleveland fans. It was an fantastic display of maturity from the home crowd, though ultimately disappointing to the millions across America that entered the HD Coliseum.

We were not entertained! This is not why we were here!

Four random takeaways from an anticlimactic night at the Q:

Jamario Moon should not be allowed to shoot the ball. I'm not sure he should even be allowed to play. Not that he had much of an effect on the game, or that a good game out of him would have swayed the outcome, but man alive is Moon awful. I have had this opinion of him since his Toronto days, but for some reason (and NO, I didn't have money on the Cavs) it drove me crazy on Thursday night.

Like much of the basketball viewing public, I was a Cavaliers fan on Thursday night. Seeing Moon receive the ball on the perimeter, hesitate for a second, and then talk himself into a dead-on-arrival 3-point attempt has got to rank as one of the more demoralizing NBA fan experiences. In 10 minutes on the floor Thursday night, Moon made one of three shots, with both of his misses coming from beyond the arc. Now, lest you think I'm using a small sample to unfairly ridicule the man, realize that Moon, a 23.9% 3-point shooter, is attempting 2.7 of then per game! Byron Scott need to start treating Moon's 3-point attempts the way the league treats technical fouls. Every seven attempts should earn him a one-game suspension, and on his 100th attempt of the season... go home. We'll see you in training camp next fall.

I am hard-pressed to think of a player throughout history that's looked more like an excellent NBA player- and had the athleticism to go with it- without actually having any discernible basketball skills.

In case we’d forgotten, LeBron James is really, really good. This sounds a bit obvious, but in recent months, lost amid vitriol and screams for genuflection was the fact the LeBron is a once-in-a-lifetime athlete and a force of nature. Granted, his play early in the 2010-11 season, even when he’s gotten numbers, hasn’t been the same brand of spectacular that we’ve grown accustomed to.

However, on Thursday night, LeBron was at his dominant best, scoring 38 in three quarters on just 25 shots (of all types) and handing out eight assists. This would have been an impressive performance under normal circumstances, but given the hostile and emotional environment he entered into on Thursday, it was a classic. This was his first “signature performance” as a member of the Miami Heat, and it was truly a pleasure to watch.

Time does, in fact, heal all wounds. Not gonna lie, I was expecting LeBron to receive a nastier reception on his return to the Q. The worst and the best thing about Thursday’s game was the behavior of the Cleveland fans. They booed LeBron loudly and passionately every chance they got and showered him with a few “Asshole” and “Akron hates you” (clever, but probably untrue) chants, but otherwise the evening went off without a hitch.

On the one hand, and I realize this isn’t the “right” sentiment, I was expecting (and frankly kinda hoping for) a bit more nastiness from the home crowd. Mind you, I am not talking about physically endangering the man or engaging in any kind of criminal behavior, but from the get-go, before the game turned into a route, a certain edge that I’d been expecting and dying to flip on the TV to witness, was simply not there. This was an excellent crowd- loud and spirited- but where was the anger?


On the other hand, it was fantastic to see a fan base that’s been cut so deep and felt such hostility toward their former take the high road. They booed, they chanted and they cheered their asses off for their Cavaliers (when there was something to cheer), but at no point did the scene get inappropriate or out of line. While I was kinda rooting for inappropriate (no pictures of Delonte West??), the fans of Cleveland deserve to be applauded.

It’s extremely tiring, and not particularly rewarding, to dedicate a disproportionate amount of one’s energy to anger and hatred, especially when livelihood and life-and-death are not at stake. Although they still feel the stig of The Decision and they still feel betrayed by LeBron, it’s clear that the fans of Cleveland are focusing on what’s good about the team they’ve got, rather than dwelling on what they’ve lost.

But, c’mon! Not one person had a pee-filled water balloon?

By and large, the Cleveland Cavaliers failed their fans on Thursday night. This has nothing to do with the loss. The Miami Heat is an extremely talented team that was motivated and on its game Thursday. That happens. And it will happen again, many times. This is not going to be the last time the Heat run someone out of the gym.

Where the members of the Cavaliers failed was in their treatment of LeBron James. This is not to say that they should have been picking fights with James, but this was a night where the Cavs needed to stand up for their fans. 20,000 people packed the Q on Thursday in hopes of seeing LeBron James squirm. Instead, they got to watch James receive a homecoming not unlike the one I get at my parents house during the holidays. (Though I gotta say, huge props to Mo Williams on this)

Seriously, you guys wanna chill out on the hugs? At least wait until you’re off the court! I wasn’t even aware that LeBron James knew who Jawad Williams was, and yet and one point, I swear I thought he was going to slip the guy the tongue.

Like the TNT guys pointed out, LeBron took some wind out the crowd's sails with his gorgeous first quarter reverse layup (you could almost see thought bubbles popping up in the crowd saying "Oh yeah! That's what we lost!"). I get that. I also get that the 16-0 run first quarter, the second quarter smackdown and LeBron's comprehensive third quarter ass-kicking didn't do much for morale. However, there was also a palpable sense that the Cavs' players were unwilling to go to the place to which their fans were trying to elevate them.

Not saying Andy or J.J. Hickson needed to take a swing at LeBron or try to injure him, but at least one good, hard, CLEAN foul would have done the trick.

And the hugs. Lose the public hugs.

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