LeBron In the Garden On A Friday Night

The Last One. A reminiscing Kobe Bryant calls it that.

We call it Madison Square Garden. MSG. The epic basketball residence that welcomes its brilliant clan to perform the extraordinary. It is as Bryant referenced, hallowed basketball ground, the last place on earth where immortality whispers. It is the final repository of NBA achievement and the old days of Wilt and Baylor and West and Frazier. As an institution, Madison Square Garden requires both reverence and domination and awe and chills. It is just different here.

LeBron James is aware of his history in this particular building as he christens the MSG floor one more time a little after seven thirty in the evening with a packed house waiting to see LeBron of old, the Lebron who is the only player outside of Wilt Chamberlain and Bernard King to score 50 points here in back to back years.

In 2009, LeBron James dropped 52 points in front of an amazed and adoring New York crowd. He took 33 shots, making 17. He went to the line 19 times. He had 11 assists and should have had a triple double, but in an act lacking mercy, they took a rebound away from him.

The year before, in his fifth year in the league, LeBron scored 50 points on 30 shots. He made more than half of his three’s. He had 8 rebounds and 10 assists.

  • Wilt Chamberlain: 58 points (1960)
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 59 points (1961)
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 73 points (1962)
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 55 points (1962)
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 62 points (1963)
  • Wilt Chamberlain: 58 points (1964)
  • Bernard King: 60 points (1984)
  • Bernard King: 52 points (1984)
  • Bernard King: 55 points (1985)
  • LeBron James: 50 points (2008)
  • LeBron James: 52 points (2009)

This has been a different kind of LeBron James year, a refracted image of someone we are not used to seeing. It is a moment to take pause of what we remember and that LeBron James came into the league more than a decade ago. He is not as healthy as he has been in years past and has welcomed giving a lot of the offensive lead to Kevin Love which is a good thing.

James last performance on Wednesday night of 17 points in the fourth quarter was a rare glimpse into the LeBron of old. He single handedly brought the Cavaliers back from a deficit and it was vintage LeBron. But we just don’t see those performances anymore. We don’t have to. LeBron understands pacing his performance with nurturing his health so he can last through June. Of itself, as a narrative, time moves on. Older players make compromises.

In this part of the season, LeBron can wait until fourth quarters to save the team but post All-Star break there will be more of a sense of urgency and a more aggressive LeBron will re-emerge on cue.

The Cavaliers that take the floor tonight in MSG still have a lot of questions to answer. They have only lost one game on the season but have hardly looked unbeatable, save their huge win against the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of the season. Their numbers this year compared to last year are elevated except for 3-point shooting offense and defense.

 Offense  Points Per Game  Field Goal Percentage 3-Point Percentage Assists
 2015-16 Cavaliers  104.1 (6th)  46% (5th)  35% (13th)  25.9 (3rd)
 2014-15 Cavaliers  103.1 (8th)  45% (8th)  36% (5th)  22.1 (10th)

 

 

 Defense  Points Per Game  Field Goal Percentage 3-Point Percentage Rebounds
 2015-16 Cavaliers  95.5 (5th)  43% (12th)  33%  (14th)  46.5 (6th)
 2014-15 Cavaliers 98.7 (13th)  45% (20th)  34% (9th)  43.0 (18th)

 

Kyrie Irving is the biggest concern. When will he return? Can he be integrated in time to extract the best of him in a window where wins and losses will matter without division supremacy playing a role. It’s a long way to the finish line and in one sense the Cavs are treading water, trying to win as many games as they can and not tire out LeBron. In a totally separate sense, an anxious psyche surrounds the team, as if they know this is their moment. This year and next year.

It’s hard to ignore what the defending champions are doing and how Steph Curry has taken over the league the same way LeBron James did a few years ago. Has the power structure shifted?

Not at Madison Square Garden, not tonight. Tonight there will be the traditional buzz and excitement and LeBron James charisma and a lot of camera phones. It will be a game in November, that is what the schedule says. But it will be a game to remember too, that is what the fans at the Garden who forked over cash are hoping for.

The Cleveland fans, though, want something entirely different. They want a LeBron James domination and a Cavaliers victory followed by a healthy LeBron James walking out the door into the New York night.

photo via llananba