It's weird to characterize a guy with a single-digit PER who's been said to have "the basketball IQ of a feather-tail possum" as a major factor in a win. But as John Krolik of Cavs: The Blog noted Tuesday night, the play of Ryan Hollins really was a surprise key to the Cleveland Cavaliers' stunning 102-90 victory over the Miami Heat in LeBron James' second return engagement in Cleveland this year.
The young pivot "was physical all game, and he absolutely gave Chris Bosh fits under the basket with his length, athleticism, and hustle," Krolik wrote. Two of Hollins' three blocks came on one memorable third-quarter possession that saw him turn away a pair of point-blank layups attempted by Bosh after receiving a pass from a curling James directly under the basket.
Hollins set a take-no-crap tone in the first quarter, squaring off with Dwyane Wade after the two scuffled beneath the basket in the early going. "... [T]he next thing everyone knew," wrote Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "the Cavaliers' newly ordained starting center was nose-to-nose with the Miami guard."
This type of hard-nosed play isn't exactly trademark RyHol; as Valade put it, "In essence, Ryan Hollins did not play like Ryan Hollins on Tuesday." So where'd all this bluster come from? Who put the bee in his bonnet?
Why, well-documented wellspring of inspiration and keeper of competitive fire Baron Davis, of course. From the Plain-Dealer:
"He's a Bruin," said Cavaliers guard Baron Davis, a fellow UCLA product. "We know the talent is there, it's just a matter of him having that mentality. Since I've been here, I've been challenging him a lot [...] I know I can challenge him to do the things necessary for us to win."
Playing with Davis has inspired Hollins too, he said. His two-handed, fast-break dunk with 5:22 remaining pushed the Cavaliers lead to 87-83 and ignited the crowd again.
"When you've got a guy like Baron Davis playing with you, you run a little harder and a little faster," Hollins said, smiling.
Your course is clear, scientists of Cleveland. You must clone Baron Davis (making sure to mark the genetic copy with a Sharpie, so that we will always know which is the true Baron) and convince Cavs general manager Chris Grant to sign him, so that Baron Davis will get to play with Baron Davis, spurring him at long last to run a little harder and a little faster. Such an obvious solution. Can't believe it took us this long to figure it out.
Obviously, Hollins' comments make sense from a "get out on the break" perspective — as we saw quite often when Davis played along Blake Griffin for the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this season before being traded to Cleveland, he loves throwing alley-oops, even through the moon roof of a Kia.
Plus, there's that very particular Westwood connection, which UCLA guys always tout as very important and which Baron has always seemed to prize at least as much as he has any sense of team identity since becoming a pro. Maybe the combination of a slot in Cleveland's starting lineup and the hookup with a fellow Bruin who's more than willing to reward his bigs for running the floor really can harness the 7-foot Hollins' athletic gifts, turning him into something more than a seemingly rudderless journeyman who's already been discarded by three teams in a five-plus-year NBA career.
More than anything, though, it's just weird to hear "Baron Davis" and "inspired" mentioned in the same sentence without the intervening presence of words like "isn't," "never" or "hasn't been in at least three years."
At some point or another, Baron's combination of speed and strength, his wizardry with the ball and his undeniable style made him one of everyone's favorite players; even as he tacked on weight, grumbled his way through his stint in L.A. and refused to play with the level of effort and personal responsibility expected of someone paid to be a franchise player, I kept hoping he'd turn it around and show more than fleeting glimpses of the player that once excited a generation of fans. (I wrote as much in the Clips' season preview.)
As sand continues to stream through the hourglass, it seems unlikely that Baron Freaking Davis will ever really ride again, though arguably not as unlikely as him becoming a source of inspiration and motivation for an underperforming teammate. So maybe this gives Cleveland fans, and the rest of us willing to keep raging against the dying of the light, another reason to keep our fingers crossed. I kind of hope so. Wishing on shooting, or falling, or fallen stars is part of what makes being a fan worthwhile.