CLEVELAND — Nowhere in the months of planning, poring over minute details and dreaming up the bright lights, loud sounds and national stage for LeBron James’ basketball homecoming did anybody, anywhere, spend one second thinking that James wouldn’t play well when it came.
Or that the Cleveland Cavaliers would lose.
And then it happened.
Pomp, circumstance, tickets for 10 times face value and a stinker. It was New York Knicks 95, Cavaliers 90, and for the last 30 minutes or so it was total domination by a team that 24 hours earlier had lost at home by 24.
The introduction videos and graphics were incredible. The Cavs were incredibly inconsistent — and for much of the night, just plain bad.
"The night was great," James said. "And I’m glad it’s over."
Thursday morning, James called it one of the biggest nights in sports history.
The Cavs turned it over 19 times; James turned it over 8 himself. The Cavs were outshot, outrebounded, outworked and were -13 for the game when James was on the floor. James shot 5-of-15; the Cavs as a team shot a shade over 45 percent.
James and everyone else in the organization have been preaching patience; his words carry the most weight. The Cavs played like they were carrying too much weight on their shoulders, and after building an early 11-point lead they failed at just about everything the rest of the way.
"This game in general was not consistent with what we did in preseason," new Cavs coach David Blatt said. "(That) speaks to the emotion."
Before the game, Blatt said he told his team to "play the game, not the occasion." Afterwards, he talked of the hype and excitement "building and building" and said his team "spiked."
Flatlined would have worked, too.
James never flinched as he stood near the Cavs bench, alone, for the final few minutes of the warmup period and watched his new Cleveland-centric Nike commercial on the mega-scoreboard the Cavs are calling Humungotron. It seemed James never got his legs in the hours that followed, either, as even when the Cavs were leading early they seemed hesitant, made one too many passes and were slow on defense.
The Knicks, getting minutes from the likes of Travis Wear and Jason Smith, simply took what they could. Carmelo Anthony scored 25 on what was supposed to be LeBron’s night.
It was supposed to be a coronation. Instead, it was a crash landing.
"We dropped off the map to be honest," Blatt said.
The Cavs are still very much on the map, still the team everybody’s watching, still talented and deep and dangerous. They played the occasion on Thursday night, and they got outplayed by the Knicks.
It happens. It just wasn’t supposed to happen on this night.
It’s going to happen again, though, because these Cavs are still getting to know one another. It showed, too, and Blatt said after the game that veterans Mike Miller (three minutes) and Shawn Marion (ten minutes) should have played more. LeBron talked about building chemistry and said there were times he "was throwing the ball where I thought my teammates would be."
There’s a lot of thinking, tweaking and gelling to be done.
There’s a lot of time to do it, too.
"Those things will come," James said.
The fans will come back, too, and so will the hype. And the spotlight. There won’t be a night like this one, but we know now that’s a good thing. The Cavs, eventually, will do flash on the floor first and soak it in second. It turns out 100-plus days of hype are a few dozen too many.
The Cavs can still reach all their goals and have all those historic nights.