CLEVELAND: Final thoughts from one of the strangest sporting events I've ever covered...
* Know what I remember so vividly from LeBron's initial return game on Dec. 2, 2010? Moondog appearing at half court wearing a bulletproof vest. Despite LeBron's fantastic performance that night, the incredible third quarter, the "Akron hates you!" chants, the arrests, the vitriol ... I think of the damn mascot showing up in Kevlar.
* Likewise, after the scoreboard malfunctions tonight, the blown lead, the comeback, the fan racing onto the court, my lasting memory was LeBron standing at center court during the Cavs' pregame introductions. With the lights turned out, Ahmad hooting and hollering and players dancing and hip bumping and doing what they do, there was LeBron standing behind it all, staring at the ground, waiting for the game to begin. It was ... strange.
* Then again, most everything on this night was strange. There was James taunting the crowd that once loved him after his 3-pointer tied the game at 77 in the fourth quarter. Then there was James slapping high-fives with fans, throwing wristbands into the crowd and even signing autographs for fans lining the tunnel on the way back to the locker room. Then there was the fan who ran out to greet him, who wore a shirt begging James to return.
* It's a good thing the kid didn't have malicious intentions, because he was there. He made it onto the court and next to LeBron. Granted, the kid was the size of LeBron's left calf muscle, but if he brought a weapon and wanted to do some damage, he had his chance. Instead, James shook his hand and patted him on the head. "He looked drunk," Cavs coach Byron Scott said. "He looked when he ran out there like he had a few too many beers. I saw him coming. Hopefully he's OK. ... I think the 35-minute delay allowed him to have a few more beers."
* Ah yes, the delay. Both teams sent back to the locker room, then allowed to warm up again upon returning to the court. Condensation from a carbon dioxide canister was dripping onto the court, sending arena workers out with rags and mops to clean it up. The scoreboard had to be lowered and repaired. All part of a typical night when LeBron James is in town.
* The Cavs were without their top three scorers, so it's difficult to criticize them for losing to the defending champions who are riding a remarkable 24-game winning streak. Then again, this is the third time this season they have blown a lead of at least 22 points and lost, so it's difficult NOT to be critical. The two biggest collapses in team history have occurred this season: a loss at Phoenix after the Cavs led by 26 points and now this after they led by 27.
* Yes, teams are going to make runs. Yes, the Heat got hot shooting 3-pointers. But the Cavs turned it over 10 times in the second half. They left Miami's shooters open far too often. The Heat just missed a lot of open looks in the first half and started making them in the second.
* Players understood what this game meant to the city. Luke Walton sat at his locker, crushed, after the game. He lamented the blown lead, he said he knew how much this win would've meant to the city. He said he wouldn't sleep well tonight, that he'd spend most of the evening laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, replaying the game in his mind, questioning how a 27-point lead vanished so quickly.
* C.J. Miles said the same thing. He has always struggled sleeping after games anyhow, but he'll really struggle tonight. He'll watch the replay on television, then replay the replay in his mind. He'll think of the shot he missed at the buzzer, he'll think about how the play unfolded exactly as he thought he would. The shot was just long by about 3 inches. "Felt good. I thought it was good," he said. "Inside back rim."
* Daniel Gibson was hurting, too. He used to be close with LeBron, but James made it clear this morning he doesn't have much of a relationship left with Gibson. They exchanged some unpleasant words the season after James left. Maybe it's that, maybe it's just old friends drifting apart. But James made it clear he still speaks with Anderson Varejao regularly and that's about it.
* Gibson wanted this for himself, for Cavs fans. They had it there, right there. They had it won, then they lost it, then they nearly won it again.
* Speaking of Walton, he's struggling with this mask he has to wear. He can see better out of the clear one than he can the black one, but he still struggles. His timing feels off, his rhythm isn't right. So he took the mask off and got popped in the nose again on the second play. He said it felt like lightning cracking through his skull. He thought blood was running down his face. He'll go back to the mask in the next game, but he doesn't like it at all.
* Byron Scott should've played Tyler Zeller more in the second half. Zeller and Tristan Thompson were terrific together in the first half, but Scott didn't like the matchups in the second half. The Cavs were at their best, though, with Thompson and Zeller side by side. Easy to say now, but the Cavs could've used Zeller on the glass in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter.
* This one will stick with them for awhile. It should. They've played the defending champs three times now and should've won all three games. Instead, they're 0-3. That's why the Heat are the defending champs and the Cavs are going back to the lottery.
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