First thing’s first: This was a dirty play by Jonas Valanciunas. A lack of malicious intent doesn’t mean a foul was levied with basketball only intentions. The Toronto Raptors big man made no play on the ball and was clearly trying to send a message – that he tried to show LeBron James sportsmanship after the fact doesn’t change his initial lack of it.
But the nature of so many hard fouls drawn by the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar is a debate for another time. What’s obvious is that The King takes more needlessly aggressive contact than any player in basketball, and he’s begun getting fed up with that obvious reality.
After James led his team to a 120-112 victory over the Raptors on Wednesday with a flurry of late-game heroics, he and the Cavaliers touched on Valanciunas’ flagrant foul and so many others like it. And going forward, don’t be surprised if Cleveland’s enforcers respond to a questionable foul against James by committing with one of their own.
Here’s Joe Vardon Of Northeast Ohio Media Group:
Cleveland coach David Blatt said the Cavs handled the latest affront with “maturity,” but he also said it was a “dangerous question” when he was asked if retaliation was warranted and declined to answer.
“Maybe I’ve got to protect myself a little more too,” James said when asked if a hard foul from the Cavs after a play like Valanciunas made might curb opponents’ behavior.
“(There are) time and places that you could get [a hard foul] off,” said Kendrick Perkins, the Cavs’ newly acquired backup center who is a card-carrying, on-court enforcer. “You’ve got to make sure it’s the right time.”
“But it’s just the flow of the game,” Tristan Thompson said. “I’m not saying we’re looking to go out and foul guys hard. If the opportunity rises and we have to make a statement, we definitely will.”
The edge of which Perkins and Thompson openly speak – and Blatt and James less directly do – is something we’ve yet to see from the Cavaliers. Elite teams like the Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers almost encourage toeing the line between brands of basketball physical and dirty, but the Cleveland is a far way from touching it.
The addition of Timofey Mozgov has given David Blatt’s team a sense of toughness on the interior when it comes to actual play, but the Cavs still lack the mental manifestation of such an attribute. If there comes a time when Cleveland needs to engage in that gamesmanship to protect James or convey a sentiment of its own, we’ve yet to see an indication it will. Wednesday’s game against a fellow Eastern Conference contender on the road would have been the perfect opportunity to change that, but the Cavs stayed tame.
Next time, let’s just say we highly doubt Perkins, Thompson, or Mozgov passes up the chance to retaliate. The playoffs are almost here, and teams will do close to anything necessary to keep LeBron out of the paint once they are. The Cavaliers will need to offer a firm response, and it appears they’re finally ready to do so.