On a certain level, it seems rather masochistic that anyone ever got themselves so fired up for last night’s return of LeBron James to Cleveland. What were we expecting? The Cavaliers to have some breakthrough for their hometown fans against the hated “traitor”? LeBron to start crying on the court? For someone to bum-rush him from the second row? We suspect that’s what people secretly wanted: They wanted something historic to happen, and that’s the only real historic thing that can happen in an early-regular season game between a couple of Eastern Conference teams. That didn’t happen, thank heavens. Almost the opposite of that happened.
The worst part about the Heat’s 118–90 wipeout of the Cavaliers last night is that it’s going to become the official narrative of LeBron and the Heat’s comeback. LeBron had his best game as a Heat, scoring 38 points, most of which were in a dominant third quarter, and embattled Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “It was the best game we’ve played all year.” That’s all the Cavaliers fans freaking needed. Not only did they have to watch LeBron wax their team on a night when they were geared for violence, now it gets to be the game that puts the Heat back on the championship track. Wonderful.
(Note: The “Scottie Pippen” and “Akron hates you” chants were still pretty great.)
For those of you who read our former colleague Ira Boudway’s outstanding feature on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in Bloomberg Businessweek, you can note that Gilbert left before the game was over, and it’s difficult to blame him. It was an absolute waxing. If LeBron had shown a historical tendency to take over and dominate the most when the pressure and stakes were highest, we’d say he stepped up and asserted his authority. Instead, we’ll be less than generous and say he was taking advantage of a team that doesn’t have LeBron James anymore.
We suspect this is the last you will hear of the Cleveland-versus-LeBron story line for a while, unless the teams meet in the playoffs. (Which would be fantastic, if awfully unlikely.) Cleveland is probably happier about that than anyone, but that doesn’t mean the pain is gonna go away. After last night, it has to feel that much worse. That wasn’t closure: That was pouring lemon juice on a paper cut. That was pouring gasoline on a gut shot.