During the free-agency era of professional sports, fans end up rooting for laundry more so than players, so the saying goes, because while the faces change, the names across the front of the uniforms remain the same. Back in Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s playing days, he was a part of eight franchises in 11 seasons. He had to purge his gear between stops.
“Threw it away,” Lue said before the Cavs beat the Miami Heat 108-97 on Tuesday to run their win streak to nine games. “I mean, you keep your championship stuff. You won championships, you keep that stuff, but other than that, you got to get rid of it. Your family can’t wear it, either.”
“What do you want me to do?” Lue asked rhetorically. “Go against the refs? No, he got thrown out. He’s out.”
Tuesday night marked the 1,082nd regular-season game of James’ career. Driving to the basket with his team up 23 points, James drew contact from Miami’s James Johnson at midcourt before attempting an eight-foot floating jump shot and drawing additional contact from the Heat forward. As Miami center Hassan Whiteside corralled the rebound, James immediately began barking at Fitzgerald and was assessed a technical foul before being ejected.
While his head coach was a bit more affable when discussing the situation, James was less so, discussing the moment with a hat pulled down to his eyes.
With 1:59 remaining in the third quarter of the Cavs’ 108-97 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday, LeBron James was ejected for the first time in his 15-year career. Lue, when asked if James’ early dismissal was warranted, smiled and delivered a succinct “Yup!” When asked if he knew whatJames said, the Cavs head coach denied any knowledge, but would only concur that NBA official Kane Fitzgerald made the right call.
Perhaps it was apropos then that the buildup of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade facing the Heat together for the first time as teammates was quickly replaced by the storyline of Kevin Love catching fire. Love’s ignition made that nostalgia pretty irrelevant.
The Cavs big man scored 22 points in the first quarter the most he has scored in any quarter since he put up 34 in the first quarter of a game against Portland a year ago en route to 38 points in the game, and the Cavs buried Miami by halftime. Love finished just shy of his game high with the Cavs (40) and added nine rebounds. He still hasn’t logged 40 points and 10 rebounds in a game in Cleveland, after doing so 10 times in his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Love had 32 points at the break to join James Harden and Steph Curry as the only players who have scored 30 in a half this season (Harden has done so twice). The effort helped halt a tough trend for the Cavs in the early going, as they were 0-3 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, having lost by a combined 45 points.
Cleveland led by as many as 34 points and never trailed on Tuesday. Wade finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists against his former team. Former Cavs guard Dion Waiters led Miami with 21 points and seven assists.
While Love owned the moment, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra allowed for some memories prior to tipoff.
“I think all those experiences hopefully make you better,” Spoelstra said, looking back at the four Finals and two championships he was a part of with James and Wade. “I think it made all of us more resilient, thicker skin. We’re able to zero in and focus in on the things that matter and tune out everything else.
That becomes a muscle, like everything else. It’s like going into the weight room: The first time you do it, it’s uncomfortable being in that environment. Now being in something like this doesn’t even faze you at all. More importantly, after a loss or when it gets tough, it gets a little bit uncomfortable, you build that muscle.”
The Cavs have been flexing as of late, that’s for sure. “I got fouled, I showed my frustration to the ref, and he sent me to the locker room,” James said. “On that particular play, I got fouled all the way up the court, from the time that I stripped [the ball] all the way to the rim. I said what I had to say and I moved on, but [Fitzgerald] decided I should get two of ’em.”
Fitzgerald is currently among the least favorable home team officials in the NBA for the 2017-18 season, with home teams winning just 33 percent of the games he officiates, but his foul total a season ago was more favorable for those playing host.
When asked specifically what he said, all James would affirm was that it was nothing he had not said to an official in the past. Following the game, Fitzgerald told a pool reporter (via ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin) that while there were no prior infractions before that specific sequence, the ejection was a result of a series of events.
“It was a culmination of a couple different acts,” Fitzgerald said. “Immediately after the no-call, he turned and threw an air punch directly at me, and then he aggressively charged at me, and then he used vulgarity in my ear a couple times.”
“I know he probably said something to warrant a tech, and you’re not supposed to run up a ref like that,” Love said, seated with his knees wrapped in ice after taking on yet another larger, physical opponent. “But when you look at the play, he got fouled. I just didn’t think that was something that would get you tossed. He means so much to our team, and he’s been so great in the fourth quarter that I thought that was just a tough, tough call.”