Ilgauskas, LeBron help Cavs down Suns 107-90
The big man, known simply as “Z,” finally had his moment.
“That was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life,” he said.
Ilgauskas, who overcame severe foot injuries early in his career to become an All-Star center, scored 14 points and set a Cleveland team record for games played, and Shaquille O’Neal(notes) scored 12 as the Cavaliers dismantled Shaq’s former team with a 107-90 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
Ilgauskas, forced to accept a backup role when the Cavs acquired O’Neal, became the team’s career leader with 724 games played—finally. He had been expected to surpass former teammate and general manager Danny Ferry on Saturday against Dallas, but was never put in the game by coach Mike Brown.
The snub angered James, who called out Brown in support of his teammate.
When Ilgauskas checked in with 3:50 left in the first quarter, Cleveland fans broke into deafening chants of “ZZZZZZ” and gave the team’s career leader in rebounds and blocks an extended standing ovation that began as soon as the 7-foot-3 center began peeling off his warmups.
“That’s the closest I’ve ever come to tears on the basketball floor,” Ilgauskas said.
Ilgauskas stoically stood in front of his locker after the game. He didn’t field any questions and apologized to reporters for not being available since Saturday’s puzzling benching.
“Obviously, I was very disappointed I didn’t play in the last game,” he said. “I know I’m a good player. It made me more disappointed and upset with acts that followed and this whole mess that has been created. I’m not going to go into any details. I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from this. I know when I go to bed at night my conscience is clear.
“I love this team. I love my teammates. They are like a family to me. I’m going to come every day to work and try my hardest. Hopefully we can win a championship for this city because they deserve it. It has not been an easy ordeal.”
Brown, who said Tuesday that he wished he would have handled Saturday’s game differently, sidestepped the issue before the game. Afterward, team owner Dan Gilbert released a statement in which he said Ilgauskas had asked that his milestone not be acknowledged during the game.
“It is fitting that Z broke the record for most games played in a Cavaliers uniform,” Gilbert said. “His journey to this point has been remarkable in many ways and we all have a great deal of respect and admiration for what Z has accomplished.”
O’Neal was proud to share in Ilgauskas’ big night.
“I don’t consider him my backup,” he said. “I consider him my partner.”
James finished with 12 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and another chase-down block of Suns guard Jason Richardson(notes), whom he victimized last season. The Cavs had seven players in double figures.
It was the second straight blowout loss for the Suns, who were throttled 126-99 by the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.
Wearing throwback uniforms from the 1980s, the Cavaliers gave the Suns an old-school thumping. Cleveland raced to a 33-14 lead after one.
“We got nothing going at all in the first quarter,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “It was an uphill battle from there. We’ve got some work to do. We’re a good basketball team. We’re just struggling right now. There are things we’ve got to get corrected, but it’s not anything we can’t do when we get a couple of practice days.
“We’re not in any kind of panic situation.”
O’Neal’s basket to open the second half put Cleveland up 59-29, and Phoenix could only get as close as 12 during garbage time in the fourth.
O’Neal spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Suns, who believed he was the missing piece to lead them to an NBA title. Instead, the All-Star center mostly slowed their high-octane offense and Phoenix won just one playoff game during O’Neal’s stay in the Southwest.
Cleveland acquired Shaq for the same reason, and to this point, he has improved the Cavs, who have won 13 of 16 since an 0-2 start.
“They don’t look bad at all. A lot of folks talk about how bad they look with Shaq. I disagree,” Suns forward Amare Stoudemire said. “I think they look fairly good. Shaq played decent out there. He created some havoc defensively, got some baskets deep in the paint and rebounded well. Shaq’s not looking horrible, I’ll tell you that. He’s looking pretty good and the Cavs are looking solid as well.”
NOTES: Ilgauskas moved into third place on Cleveland’s career scoring list with 10,269 points. He trails only James and Brad Daugherty. … James has had his share of public relations problems, but nothing compared to what Tiger Woods is experiencing. “I can’t relate to his situation. That is his own personal thing. I just wish him the best,” James said. “You are going to make mistakes, no one is perfect. You have to learn from your mistakes and move on.” … Gentry said G Leandro Barbosa(notes) will be out until around Christmas with a sprained left ankle.