American kitsch was at its very best in Cleveland these past few days, peaking just before the Cavaliers’ first NBA game of the season Thursday night. The ceremony introducing the home players looked and sounded like an urban orgasm. The video presentation of the players included a clip of LeBron James saying, “There’s no place like home!” When his turn came to go up, the Cavaliers’ fans made it clear that they had missed him just a little. It’s doubtful whether coach David Blatt’s introduction right afterward was even audible.
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After the return of his pregame ritual of tossing talcum powder into the air and a heartfelt hug with friend Carmelo Anthony, James focused on the professional side of his comeback game – and that’s where the magic faded. Cleveland opened decently against the New York Knicks – mainly Kevin Love, who demonstrated his full repertoire (post-ups, triple threats and “quarterback” passes all over the court) – but the man for whom everyone had assembled seemed affected. During the first quarter, LeBron suffered four turnovers and managed only one basket from his first nine shots.
The Knicks used the butterflies in his stomach to their advantage. Anthony’s strong play (a game-high 25 points, on 9-for-17 shooting and six assists) and the well-timed baskets of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith left them enjoying an advantage for most of the second half. The Cavaliers’ great trio closed a nine-point gap three minutes from the end to three with 44 seconds to spare, but in the next offensive Anthony stretched it to five points with a tough basket. For Cleveland and Blatt, there was no going back: 95-90 to the Knicks.
Blatt was criticized by commentator Charles Barkley for not taking a time-out during the Knicks’ 10-to-1 run in the last quarter. But the thing that will be most remembered and discussed is LeBron’s weak showing. His 43 minutes’ on court saw him finish with 17 points on 5-for-15 shooting, four assists, plus a game-high eight turnovers.
Love’s debut appearance was better (19 points, 14 rebounds, four assists), while Kyrie Irving added 22 points and seven assists. But the team’s defense was fairly weak (the Knicks shot 54 percent on the night), its offense scattered (19 turnovers, leading to 26 points for the Knicks) and its bench outscored 41-12 by one of the weakest benches in the league. It seems that everybody has more to work on.
“It was a special night,” LeBron said afterward. “I’m glad it was great, but I’m also glad it’s over. I didn’t press; I didn’t do much. I was throwing passes where I thought some of my teammates were. Those things will come. It was one game, and we’ve got to learn from it.”
“I thought we came out with energy and we started well,” former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Blatt said. “The crowd was fabulous ... and then we got away from playing the way that we’ve played.” Referring to the second half, he said, “We got static. We’re good when we move the ball.”
About LeBron’s playing, he said, “First of all, that was an emotional night for him, and he wanted badly to win the game and help the team play well. His effort was there. His efficiency was not what it normally is. We’ve got to do a better job of getting him things in motion, not asking him to play from static positions, and help him out when he needs it. And some nights you need it – even a guy like him.”