Even the New York Knicks winning the game 95-90 couldn’t ruin it. The moment Cleveland Cavaliers fans had been waiting for finally arrived.
That instant, when Cavaliers public address announcer Olivier Sedra bellowed, “From St. Vincent St. Mary … ” and the 20,000-plus fans’ growing anticipation erupted in a rising swell of cheers and energy, the moment lived up to the hype.
It was a scene filled with joy and celebration: LeBron James is home.
For a stretch, it was like the old days at “The Q” when James was leading the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals and Eastern Conference finals.
But the game didn’t match the hype, and neither did James’ performance, as he finished with 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers. But was it really about the performance? Did the result even matter?
“I thought we came out with energy and we started well,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “We began the game in the fashion we had hoped to play it. Then we spiked at a certain point … and dropped off the map. … We got stagnant without question. We’re good when we move the ball. We’re really good.”
James was scoreless almost halfway through the first quarter before finally getting on the board on a pass from Kevin Love. Love put up 19 points and 14 rebounds and Kyrie Irving had a team-high 22 points.
“Well, first of all, that was an emotional night for him without question,” Blatt said. “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. That was obvious. We have to do a better job of getting things in motion.”
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 25 points in a balanced effort.
Earlier in the day, James said he had a sense of what it might be like. As much as it meant for fans, it was important for James, too.
He did what he could to avoid allowing the moment to swallow him.
“I just tried to stay focused and maintain. … Obviously, it was a special night,” James said, adding that it was a difficult game to play because of the hype surrounding his return.
The Cavaliers led 25-18 after one quarter and 44-42 at the half. But it was a sloppy game, full of miscues from both teams. Then the Knicks started to find some rhythm, with help from unproven supporting players such as Shane Larkin and Quincy Acy along with Anthony, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
The eight turnovers really rankled James afterward, as the Cavs had 19 as a team and were out-shot 53.6% to 45.7% from the field.
“I hate turning the ball over. My turnovers led to our team struggling on the defensive end,” James said.
“We gave up too many shots were we didn’t contest. Sometimes, defense wins games but sometimes the offense can take from the defense, and that’s what happened. We started turning the ball over.”
James, who listened to Twitter followers and participated in his pregame chalk toss, had no problem whipping a cross-court pass to Love or passing the ball to Anderson Varejao on a pick-and-roll. But it’s obvious that what James and Blatt have said from the start of training camp is true: patience is necessary.
“Are we going to grow every day? Are we not going to fall prey to the noise and the tough moments, and they will ultimately come. It’s part of the process,” Blatt said. “Are we going to stay focused, determined and dedicated to the task? Are we going to believe in each other enough to work our way through all the trials and tribulations of an NBA season and ultimately become a top-level basketball team?”
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SOURCE: USA Today – Jeff Zillgitt