Much has been made of LeBron’s performance last night in San Antonio. He exited the game with a few minutes left due to cramps.
“CRAMPS?! BUT JORDAN PLAYED WITH THE FLU AND KOBE PLAYED WITH A TORN ACHILLES” – Idiots on Twitter.
Fact is, cramps are debilitating. They’re not an injury you can play through, because when your body stops doing things like moving on command there’s really no recourse. But I’ll let you guys cook on with the memes.
The point of this article though, is to look at LeBron’s first major instance of cramps (the other being his Game 4 three-pointer with cramps against the Thunder) and if there are any similarities to last night’s debacle. In case you don’t remember, LeBron – then a Cleveland Cavalier – ended Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic with cramps that left him unable to leave the court after the one-point loss. It was the first time LeBron’s body seemed to break down, and why shouldn’t it?
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ offense during Mike Brown’s first stint as head coach was essentially “high screen and roll for LeBron and let him figure out the rest.” If you think LeBron worked hard last night, it’s nothing compared to what Mike Brown Ball did to him in the first game agains the Magic. James played 41 minutes, scored 49 points, eight assists, six rebounds, two steals and three blocks.
After a jump ball with Hedo Turkoglu, LeBron froze on the court. He literally couldn’t move. He knees buckled and his legs just stopped responding. It was like watching Optimus Prime short circuit or something. Though he was able to finish the game, the damage was done.
If there’s one similarity between that game and last night, it’s the respective layovers. The Cavaliers had an eight day layover (this is when the NBA reaaaaally stretched out its playoffs to the breaking point) before facing the Magic. Last night was the fifth night of a layover between the Eastern Conference Finals and the Finals.
While the air conditioning situation didn’t help, there may be something to be said for the down time affecting LeBron’s conditioning for the next game. He just does so much on the court that it’s hard to simulate in a practice. As it is, LeBron is a superhuman who seems to test the limits of human capability every time he plays, so I can imagine his body going into shock after a week off. With that said, I can only imagine he’ll be ready for Game 2, air conditioning or not.
As for that 2009 series, if there was one playoff series that highlighted just how much of a one man army the Cavs were with LeBron, it was that 2009 series against the Orlando Magic. Cleveland never really stood a chance. The mythology of that Magic run was that Dwight Howard led a team of nobodies to the Finals against the Lakers. But the truth is, Rashard Lewis (22 points and seven rebounds in Game 1) and Hedo (15 points and 14 assists in Game 1) played out of their minds all playoffs and didn’t seem to miss a clutch shot that whole series. Rafer Alston was a revelation in the post-season in light of Jameer Nelson’s injury. And Stan Van Gundy took Mike Brown to the woodshed as the Cavs coach just refused to make any adjustments to the Lewis/Turkoglu two-man game at the high post.
Meanwhile, Cleveland only had five points from the bench in Game 1 (from Joe freaking Smith) and LeBron would go on to average 38 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and 44 minutes per game.
Luckily, LeBron has a better supporting cast for his 2014 campaign. They just need to play like it. But that’s a story for another time.