Tonight was a Turkey Game.
Charlie Villanueva, realizing he made a mistake
Now I know what you're thinking...what the F is a Turkey Game, and how does it relate to the Cleveland Cavaliers? Well, I'll tell you. A Turkey Game is not the same as a 'duck', or 'laying an egg'...no, a Turkey Game (stemming from the also-fresh Turkey 'Day') refers to a phenomenon where, on the final day before any substantial reprieve, there arises a palpable excitement between all parties involved that leads to the boundaries of standard practice being tested, during which time chaos (usually of a positive nature) ensues. Need an example? Harken back to the days of say, middle school, where in the hours before any type of holiday break, an overwhelming sense of glee fills the classrooms. These are the types of days when the students end up teaching the class. Literally. As for a Turkey Game (as logic would dictate, a Turkey Day occurring during a competitive gathering of any sort would then fall under the classification of, Turkey 'Game'), these are the days when LeBron James chooses to consistently shoot off balance 20-footers, set up by dribbling behind his back three times.
The night didn't start out Turkey, but by the time Dan Gilbert stepped into the booth (and proceeded to provide color commentary for nearly half the game), I got the sense that a Turkey Game was manifesting itself. And you know what? Provided it doesn't happen every night, it seems all in good fun. The Cavs lost their discipline, but at no time did you ever get the impression that they'd lose the game as well.
The Cavs are 11-4. Off to Dan Gilbert's house. Total Turkey Game.
My most pressing thought of the entire evening was this...
- LeBron burnt down the Palace 2 1/2 years ago, and they still haven't rebuilt it. Am I the only one who found it a little weird to see the Cavs score so easily in that building? Years of just monstrously tough Detroit teams condition you as a basketball fan to see a particular arena as a monster unto itself. And then, to see that arena (where it once felt like a beyond-Herculean feat for LeBron to score 48 points in 2 overtimes) so impotent...completely void of a threat... It's weird (and in a strange way, a little sad), but I guess that's life. The little brother grows up, while the older brother shrinks, then mistakenly signs Charlie Villanueva to man the paint. Also, every time the Cavs play in Boston this year, I will be thinking of that analogy. Not that Boston can suffocate us like those Detroit teams could, but it's fun to think of Rondo out there by himself. As much for Chris Paul as for the Cavs. One day, it's just going to be easy in Boston too.
The Cavaliers experiment with playing defense in the first quarter
- No early first quarter bombardment = good? The 'ol Cleveland Cavalier five man steamroller offense wasn't out in full force tonight (everyone playing a little too fast, unusually frequent off balance jumpers by LeBron, J.J. struggling to finish at the rim.)...but I was encouraged by something. The Cavaliers scored 60 points in the first half, and it didn't really feel like they scored them in a bundle. In most of the offensive explosions of late, the Cavs have been coming out of the gate on fire. They build up massive point totals, they get about 75 % of the assists they will get for the game, and then they tail off. The Cavs actually had a dominant offensive first half in spite of coming out of the gate a little more slowly then usual. That, to me, was encouraging. It wasn't like they got down 20-10 early, but rather then a massive burst at the start, they played defense, were patient with their offense, and methodically overwhelmed the Pistons in the first half. They were up 60-42 without ever having gone on the type of run that has typified their offense of late. They just leaned on the Pistons, knowing they were the more potent team, and in doing so kept adding distance to their lead. It's a mature way to beat an inferior team. (The end of this game didn't quite match up with the first half effort, but I think we can overlook that due to Turkey Game.)
- The best pair of hands on a # 17 in Cleveland - Just something that struck me as deserving some mention. It's easy to overlook because of his defensive reputation (and the fact that Andy is quite unjustifiable considered an offense sieve by so many NBA reporters), but Anderson Varejao has to have one of the finer sets of hands in the league. His pure athleticism may not blow you away, but his coordination should. He is constantly moving, sifting his way through traffic, all the while quite effortlessly hauling in LeBron James' bullet passes without ever having to slow down to gather himself. I have far too little soccer experience to make this claim, but there just seems to be a soccer-like element of craft to his game. There is no one else in the league exactly like him. Not even AV 2.0 on the Bulls...although he is quite good in his own right.
- LeBron's slightly off second-half rhythm - I didn't mind this, as much as I noticed it. And I only think I noticed it, because LeBron's rhythm usually is the rhythm of a game. But after a very smooth first quarter, and some nice set-ups in quarter two, LeBron's second-half performance was not quite up to the precedent he's set of late. I think it was just as the title of this note implies...it seems like he lost his rhythm a bit. Quite often it seemed LeBron was taking the ball and looking to fly up the court himself, but he attacked without being under his usual level of all encompassing control. As such, he wasn't really creating the havoc he normally creates in the open court (in the second half). It was just little things...like the ball not bouncing exactly right in his hand a few times in a row...and then culminating of course in the parade of unnecessarily awkward jump shot attempts he took toward the end of the game. Nothing really wrong here...just odd not to seem LBJ completely dictacting the flow of a game. If anything, it makes me appreciate his usual absolute dominations even more. Also, as it was really just taking place in the second half, I'm inclined to chalk it up to Turkey Game. No one is immune from Turkey Game.
- Another note - 'What's wrong with LBJ tonight?' = 34, 8, 7 (12-24 fg, 9-11 ft) + 98-88 win on the road + I never had any doubt he'd score if we needed a bucket at the end + he put down one of the most massive, double pump, "wait, did he just...I saw no possible way that move wasn't ending in a layup..." dunks I've ever seen. Just a massive dunk. Even a tad off, the Chosen One stands pretty darn tall.
- No calls? A related note: This has been a few games in a row where LeBron was going to the basket (as he did on the aforementioned dunk), and not getting some glaringly obvious calls (as he didn't when he was hit in the face on the aforementioned dunk). I've disagreed with refs before re: LBJ, but they seem to be missing some blatant stuff lately. Hopefully it straightens itself out. LeBron's been doing a great job of not allowing the non-calls to affect him from attacking again, but he has looked frustrated at times, and rightfully so.
- My only substantial point of contention - is that tonight, the Cavs played a team that started a 35 year old, 6'9" Ben Wallace at the 5, next to a very slight 6'11" Charlie Villanueva, of skinny perimeter power-forward fame. And the Cavs were still outrebounded 43-35. That is a trend. That is not Turkey Game. This Detroit team wasn't strong enough to use their rebounding edge to beat us, but I just don't know how that can happen...to get otrebounded by a smaller, skinnier team. Shaq would've helped (and probably killed a smaller Piston in the low post), but he's not the cure all for this issue. Whether schematically, or through concerted aggression, it's time for the Cavs to focus more on cleaning up the glass.
- Fall from Great - Over the course of the next few years, that Pistons' team has a ceiling of about 50 wins (4-5 seed). That's the absolute peak for that team.
- Dan 'Gruden' Gilbert - I haven't yet read any other opinions, but in the spirit of Turkey Game (of which Gilbert's announcing definitely reinforced), I loved listening to the casino maven's extended stint at the FS OH broadcast booth. Lots of fun. To me, Gilbert is the most overlooked chip in the LeBron decision saga. And I think LeBron likes him. Tell me, what is the most obvious reason that LBJ wouldn't sign with a team like the Clippers, where he could get his money and grow with a young core of Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, and Chris Kaman (with spark plug Al Thornton coming off the bench)? Easy. It's Donald Sterling. No matter how promising a situation appears to be, it is up to an owner to continuously make the investments to keep it strong. More then that, to keep it growing. Dan Gilbert has proven to be one of the few willing to do that in spite of any outside turmoil...which to me, is a point for C-Town. And you have to think LeBron knows, that should an owner ever turn course, even a promising situations can turn in a hurry. Just ask Chris Paul (LeBron's best friend in the league. C-Town 2, Oppenent 0.) Truth be told, I don't think LeBron will ever sign a contract longer then 3 years for the rest of his career. Specifically for these reasons. But that's getting off topic a bit. As we move forward, and continue to try to surround LeBron with the best of everything, Dan Gilbert seems to be one chip already in place. I love that the Cavs will be having Thanksgiving dinner at his house.
That's it for tonight! Happy Turkey Game everyone. As the Cavs are playing on Christmas Day, that will probably be the last TG we see until All Star weekend.
The Cavs will visit the Bobcats (and Stephen Jackson's cozy new pad) at 7:00 PM on Friday.
One For The Road
LeBron and Chris Jent have been working on mind control.
Curtis Jackson (L), and LeBron James (R)