ATLANTA -- Take THAT, Kane Fitzgerald.
OK, maybe the vicious slam by LeBron James on Thursday night at Philips Arena wasn't meant for that NBA referee after Mr. Everything for the Cleveland Cavaliers (and the NBA, for that matter) stormed down the lane toward the rim after a crossover move. Three Atlanta Hawks players were in the vicinity, but they quickly vanished at the sight of 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds of unstoppable power sprinting their way.
In the end, James wasn't thrown out of this 121-114 victory for the Cavaliers, now owners of a 10-game winning streak. So I guess we'll have to wait another 1,082 games before James gets the boot again.
If it happens again.
I'm guessing it won't.
When you're dribbling through life in the NBA as The Best Basketball Player in the World, you're supposed to get the benefit of the doubt on every call, and you shouldn't receive a heave from an official for saying whatever you want to say for as long as you want to say it.
Now back to reality, where Fitzgerald said he had enough of James' mouth Tuesday night in Cleveland after the player missed a layup and complained (and complained and complained) to the ref that it was the result of a shove from a Miami Heat defender. James disagreed, of course, with the non-call and with the early shower, and if you didn't know any better, you'd think the guy just unleashed his frustration on the Hawks two days later. He clowned them. Once, after he banked home a three in the third quarter, he stared at the Hawks bench for the longest time while shaking his head. Moments later, he went Michael Jeffrey Jordan on them when he followed one of his treys with outstretched arms. He made five free throws and 8 of 11 field-goal attempt for 24 points, and most of them were crucial. He also finished with 12 assists, six rebounds and a couple of game-changing blocked shots.
After Tuesday's victory, James posted a shot of the shoes he wore on Instagram, and he called them " 'The Ejected Game' Soldier II' colorway" shoes.
What is James naming his Thursday footwear?
"Hmmmm," James said, chuckling, while sitting at his cubicle in the visitors' locker room. "I haven't gotten a name for them just yet. You know. I'll at least have an opportunity tonight to just calm down, cool down, shower and everything before I go home and make up a name for them. Give me that time. I'll have a name for them, when I get home in a few hours."
I'm sure James has several names for Fitzgerald. Even though the referee of 10 NBA seasons didn't work this game, several of his colleagues did, and they watched James make a pouty face while saying something with hands waving after he was signaled for a reach-in foul on the Hawks' Dennis Schroder. Not the best call, by the way. All it did was get James angrier these days, but only on the court, and especially down the stretch, when the Hawks actually pulled to within a point at 113-112 inside of the final three minutes.
James responded with a deep three, but it was negated to the delight of the hometown crowd after a foul by Dwyane Wade, his teammate and buddy.
That just delayed the inevitable LeBron Show.
Soon after the Wade call, James sank another three, even farther back than the previous one, and then he got a crucial rebound. If that wasn't enough, he forced his way to the foul line, where he made enough free throws to turn a Hawks comeback into fantasy. Then, after Schroder tried to drive the lane in attempt to prove that his team really did have a pulse while trailing by six with 24 seconds left, James came out of nowhere for the block.
"When he plays like that, definitely. It gets us motivated, and we feed off him, and he's been great," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said, and get this: Earlier this month, neither James nor his teammates were even as good as mediocre, especially on defense. They were 5-7 on Nov. 9 after allowing an NBA-worst average of 113 points per 100 possessions. Now they're among the league leaders by giving up 100 points per 100 possessions during their 10-game winning streak, and it doesn't hurt their cause that Wade has spurred the second unit following his request to stop starting and that six of Cleveland's past 10 foes have been under .500.
The biggest reason for the Cavaliers' spurt is that they have James, who already was highly motivated as their four-time NBA MVP with three championship rings. Still, if this Hawks game was an indication, he's actually rising to a higher level courtesy of Fitzgerald's ejection.
"I look at LeBron when I'm watching their games, and he's the biggest, the strongest and the fastest thing out there," said Kevin Willis, among the many who's who at Thursday's game. He's the retired 7-foot, 250-pound bruiser for those solid Hawks teams of the 1980s, when the NBA was the junior NFL in playing style. "Should LeBron get more calls? Definitely. It's like they did Shaq, when he was the biggest thing out there, and the only way you could stop him was to foul him. It's the same with LeBron. You also have to consider that LeBron is going against a lot of young refs, and they're not going to make calls all of the time in his favor. Plus, the game has just changed, where the refs aren't going to look at somebody like LeBron and say, 'He has to get this call.' So, because of who he is, I'm sure it's frustrating for him."
For verification, James has his ejection shoes.
Just curious: Out of the 1,424 games that Willis played his rock-'em, sock-'em style in the NBA, from age 22 through age 44 for eight different teams, how many times was he tossed for arguing like James?
"Never," Willis said. "These are different times."