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LeBron’s old man strength, Coach Ty’s political capital, and more Game 1 musings: While We’re Waiting…

LeBron James Kyrie Irving
Sporting News

Happy Wednesday, Blawg Pound. The Cavs put a good old-fashioned butt whupping on the Toronto Raptors last night, scoring first blood in the Eastern Conference Finals on the strength of a 115-84 Game 1 victory. Boy howdy was it fun. Odds are you’ve seen some of the highlights by now: LeBron James dunking so hard he bent the ball; Kyrie Irving pulling out an NBA Street-level double behind-the-back crossover; the whole team breaking out the full catalog of celebratory postgame handshakes.

It was the sort of game that lends itself less to analysis than joke-cracking, and that’s just fine in my book. Here are a few others thoughts and observations from that gorgeous Tuesday night at the Q.

  • Game 1 rebounding totals: Cavs 54, Raptors 35. The Cavs shot so ruthlessly that it probably wouldn’t have mattered what the Raptors did, but Cleveland’s advantage on the boards added a little salt to the wound. The Cavs grabbed 10 offensive rebounds en route to 13 second-chance points, while the Raptors had just 4 and 4.
    • Richard Jefferson led all players with 11 rebounds. In a conference finals game. In 2016. Sure!
  • Kyrie Irving led all players with two blocks. Sure!
  • After such a glittery Game 1 performance, it’s fun to read quotes like this from Kyrie Irving. Via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:
    • “When you have a great player like [LeBron] on your team, you just have to learn from him and take what you can from him,” Irving told ESPN.com on his way out of Quicken Loans Arena on Tuesday, after sharing the postgame podium with James, a pairing that has happened regularly during the Cavs’ 9-0 start to the playoffs. “I’ve had a tremendous opportunity. I’m fortunate enough to have a mentor in Kobe [Bryant] and having a teammate, a brother like Bron. Those are guys that I can kind of bounce ideas off of. And every single day Bron’s been demanding excellence out of me. I think that’s been the maturity and the growth of this year.”
    • I swear Kyrie was born to play on national television.
  • It is a touch frightening when Iman Shumpert gets to dribbling with a full head of steam. Shump tearing ahead in transition makes me feel how I would feel if my grandmother were suddenly behind the wheel of a Lamborghini — I just hope nobody gets hurt.
  • While it wasn’t necessarily on display last night, LeBron James is almost certainly a touch slower than he once was. That’s all well and good, a natural side effect of spending over a dozen years playing professional ball. What isn’t discussed enough, in my view, is his ever-growing old man strength.
    • I subscribe to the notion — supported by heaps of empirical evidence, I’m sure — that old man strength is a real and true phenomenon. One needn’t be a professional athlete to develop it. Old man strength develops naturally, even in civilians, as years of opening pickle jars, hoisting car seats, and the like gradually strengthen the hands and forearms to the point that they reach near superhuman levels.
    • On the basketball court, old man strength tends to manifest itself in offensive rebounding. Veterans — experienced, hardened, often child-having veterans — are better able to rip the ball away from their foe as though they are snatching a baby away from a rabid Doberman. Once they have the ball, a sizable portion of said old man strength is converted into old man game, which is characterized by what could best be described as “wily-ass buckets from close range.”
    • I haven’t fully dived into the numbers, but LeBron had at least one world-class old man putback last night. I suspect there are more to come. Keep an eye on this very important development.
  • I’m not sure where to peg Tyronn Lue as an in-game coach and adjustment maker, but he’s looked awful good through nine playoff games. More encouraging, per a story by Ken Berger for CBS Sports, is how Coach Ty shook up the Cavs’ power balance. While the midseason move put Lue in David Blatt’s place could be read as placing tremendous pressure on the new coach, it seems that Lue was emboldened. Thrust into the top spot, he used his political capital to challenge his brightest star.
    • “They felt they were doing this for LeBron,” the person familiar with the internal workings of the team said, “instead of with LeBron.”
      Lue changed that the moment he first told James in a huddle, “Shut the [expletive up]. I got this,” according to a person who heard the exchange — and a few others like it. If Lue was going to get the stars and the role players to buy into the strategic changes he was determined to implement — play faster, space the floor, move the ball, take full advantage of Love’s versatility — he was going to have to restore order first.
      He did it in every way possible, starting with James — calling him out in film sessions, barking at him in practice, seizing control back. Only then could the Cavaliers evolve into the juggernaut we are witnessing now.
  • Last, and least related to actual NBA happenings: I want there to be a TV show that’s just J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters driving around the country together challenging random dudes to games of two-on-two. It’d be part No Reservations, part White Men Can’t Jump, and all wonderful.

Let us hope that we one day look at the Atlanta Falcons’ decision to lower their concession prices — for some items, anyway — as a trendsetter rather than an anomaly. Let us also hope that the food items do not shrink by 80 percent to keep those margins up.

On what team officials are calling a “fan-first menu,” a number of items will be priced at $2: soft drinks (with unlimited free refills at self-serve stations), Dasani bottled water, hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn.

Also part of the plan: Pizza slices, nachos, waffle fries and bags of peanuts will be available for $3. Twelve-ounce domestic beer will cost $5.

Hey, the Tribe has scored 28 runs in two games against the Cincinnati Reds! They’re over .500 and trending up! They have the fourth-best run differential in the American League! They’ve weathered some injuries! STARTIN’ TO COME TOGETHER, PEPPER, IT’S STARTIN’ TO COME TOGETHER.

  • RGB

    Lue only needs to remember one thing when it comes to being an in-game coach and adjustment maker:
    When the team is rolling, don’t mess with it. No goofy rotation changes until the opponent is dead.

  • Tron

    Dion’s playing pretty good ball in OKC. Donovan did a good job getting him to play team ball.

  • RGB
  • WFNY_DP

    I feel like that Waiters/Swish show would mirror those Sprint commercials with the guy from The Daily Show who challenges people and takes their stuff as tribute to his dominance. The thought of the two of them driving around the country pulling a trailer full of random s**t they’ve heartlessly taken from people on the basketball court… I know I’d watch it.

  • WFNY_DP

    Ugh. I had to check the masthead to see if Whitlock was still running The Undefeated.

    “But let’s call it like it is: Besides Griffin’s big performances, a big part of his appeal was that white people considered him to be “safe.” Raised in a military household by two now-retired Army sergeants, Griffin was reserved. On the field, he wasn’t prone to look-at-me celebrations. Off it, he didn’t seem standoffish. Basically, he wasn’t Cam Newton.”

    You mean, the same Cam Newton that people love for giving TD footballs to kids? The same Cam Newton rolling in tons of endorsement money? The same Cam Newton that plays football in a southern state? The same Cam Newton that ESPN itself said “trailed only Peyton Manning in terms of marketing appeal”?
    http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/12990868/cam-newton-trails-only-peyton-manning-terms-marketing-appeal-nfl

    Look, I’m as socially liberal as they come. I don’t doubt for a second that racism is alive and well in this country. But, to introduce racism into Griffin’s exit from DC just feels like pot-stirring for the sake of pot-stirring.

  • Chris

    If you have a long career, it’s because you are good at sports and aren’t a prick (or a combination favorable to a franchise). If you get cut, it’s because you’re black.

    Sincerely,
    Generic National Media Article

  • humboldt

    Find myself really rooting for Dion. He’s had a tough year

  • humboldt

    There are strains of identity politics on the left (seeing everything through the lens of racism/gender discrimination, e.g. “Vote for the first female president!”) and the right (dog whistling at white people, e.g. “Make America Great Again!”) that are almost equally destructive and obfuscatory of actual issues. I lean far left as well, but stories that adopt facile racialized politics are increasingly difficult to stomach.

  • Matt Shadrake

    That article had some salient points and some interesting stories, but man was it all over the map. That entire bit about being a safe mascot was just silly and hardly connected to anything else. I get that the author had an axe to grind about the “post racial” stuff with Griffin, but if the main thesis of the piece is “RG3 was immature, didn’t listen to advice, didn’t protect himself, and ultimately was to blame for even the stuff that other people think he wasn’t to blame for”, then why does his appeal even matter?

    And that’s not even to say that it isn’t true that smiling RG3 talking about not being a “black quarterback” is going to be met with cheers from white audiences. But it’s irrelevant to the piece. And the author’s moralizing about how Griffin should have shown more deference to the older QBs – Moon, Johnson and McNabb – ends up falling flat because it sounds like he’s basically calling RG3 an Uncle Tom. It’s not just irrelevant, it actually undermines what would otherwise be a solid point – that Griffin had a lot of people who wanted to help him but he often ignored them and instead took advice from noted idiot Dan Snyder.

    All that being said, the point of Griffin not reading defenses properly, having poor footwork and taking sacks he shouldn’t have is 100% true. That’s been noted by film breakdown people for years now.

  • RGB

    I think it was a little over the top at times, even for Whitlock.

  • mgbode

    yessir.

  • Chris

    “It’s not just irrelevant, it actually undermines what would otherwise be a solid point – that Griffin had a lot of people who wanted to help him but he often ignored them and instead took advice from noted idiot Dan Snyder.”

    This. All of This. And then some more of it.

  • WFNY_DP

    See, I think the author actually completely whiffed on his premise. He spent so much time talking about the “he doesn’t get a fair shake because he’s a black QB” angle that he buried the lede that, apparently, the “white owner” deserved the blame for trying to pound the square peg into the round hole. It shouldn’t have been about Griffin missing the chance to learn from all of the black QBs that came before him, but instead been an indictment of the white owner forcing him into a situation that was a terrible fit for him. (I agree that his play is the main reason; I’m just saying that if the author really wanted to play the “black QB card,” that’d have been the way to play it.)

    The irony for me is that nearly the only person who didn’t play the “black QB” angle throughout Griffin’s career is apparently Griffin.