CLEVELAND — Zydrunas Ilgauskas was dealing with a lot of emotions Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
The veteran center was happy, sad and still a bit upset after breaking the franchise record for games played in the Cavaliers’ impressive 107-90 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
“I’d like to thank the fans for the reception tonight,” Ilgauskas said after moving past current general manager Danny Ferry with his 724th appearance in a Cleveland uniform. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in my life. That’s the closest I’ve come to tears on the basketball floor.”
Ilgauskas, who entered the game to a standing ovation with 3:50 left in the first period and ended up leading the Cavaliers in scoring with 14 points, did not play Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks.
Drafted in 1996, it was the first time the 7-foot-3, 260-pounder did not appear in a game when he was healthy and in uniform.
“I’m not going to go into any details,” said the 34-year-old, who did not take any questions from the media. “I’m going to be a bigger man and walk away from that. I know when I go to bed at night, my conscience is clear.”
Ilgauskas’ voice cracked several times while he spoke, but any lingering hard feelings he has toward Brown, who said after the Dallas game that the center didn’t play due to matchup problems, were stated indirectly.
“Obviously, I was very disappointed I didn’t play in the last game,” Ilgauskas said. “I know I’m a good player. Me playing in that game was not going to change the outcome. What made me more disappointed and upset were the acts that followed and the whole mess that was created.”
Ilgauskas, who had a number of friends on hand Saturday, asked the Cavaliers not to make any announcement over the public address system when he broke the record against Phoenix.
The Lithuania native waved to the crowd several times upon entering the game, then promptly drilled a 17-footer several minutes later. Ilgauskas finished 6-of-10 from the field and 2-of-2 at the line while adding six rebounds in 20 minutes.
“I love this team and I love my teammates,” he said. “They’re like family to me. I’m going to come to work every day and try my hardest. Hopefully, we can win a championship for this city, because (the people) deserve it.”
Ilgauskas, whose career was once in jeopardy due to numerous foot injuries, also moved past Austin Carr and into third place on the franchise’s career scoring list with 10,269 points.
“Zydrunas Ilgauskas is not only one of the best players to ever play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also one of the best people to ever be part of the franchise,” owner Dan Gilbert said in a statement. “He has consistently carried himself with character, humility and class throughout the many trials and tribulations of his long and productive career here in Cleveland.”
Ilgauskas was one of 10 Cleveland players to score at least eight points as the Cavaliers (13-5) led 33-14 after the first period, 57-29 at the half and by 30 early in the third. Phoenix (14-5), which lost by 27 a night earlier in New York, shot .293 from the field (12-of-41) in its lowest-scoring first half in nine years.
LeBron James (12 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists), J.J. Hickson (13 points, eight rebounds), Shaquille O’Neal (12 points, nine rebounds), Mo Williams (11 points), Anthony Parker (10 points), Daniel Gibson (10 points) and Anderson Varejao (nine points, eight rebounds) all had productive outings for the Cavaliers, but the night clearly belonged to Ilgauskas.
“He’s been a great player for this franchise,” O’Neal said. “If he wouldn’t have had the foot injuries, he would have had (the record) a long time ago. He is a great guy and he works hard in practice. I’m glad he is here. I don’t really consider him my backup, I consider him my partner.”
Added James: “‘Z’ is consistent. He’s a guy who works hard every day. … It’s possible he could continue to raise the bar on the record. I’m happy to be a teammate of his.”
Cavaliers small forward James said he’s “50/50” when it comes to competing in the slam dunk contest over All-Star Weekend. James also considered taking part in the contest last season, but decided against it.
“I haven’t really thought about it, honestly,” the 24-year-old said. “I’m too focused on us playing basketball.”
With most top stars no longer taking part, the dunk contest has featured many marginal players over the past 15-20 years.
“It’s watered down,” James said. “I don’t know if you can get it back to the ’80s. … We’ll see what happens.”
In addition to Wednesday being LeBron James Bobblehead Night, the Cavaliers donned blue retro uniforms with orange numbers and lettering. They were originally worn on the road from 1987-89, when the Cavaliers of Mark Price and Brad Daugherty were rising to prominence.
“I love throwback uniforms,” James said, ticking off the names of a number of players on those clubs.
The small forward said he’d be willing to wear any Cleveland jersey, even the one that featured the powder blue swatch in the mid to late ’90s.
“There’s not one uniform in Cavs history I wouldn’t want to wear,” James said.
When asked about the ongoing Tiger Woods saga and dealing with constantly being in the spotlight, James said, “You have to be ready for it. It’s not anything anybody can teach you.”
The Akron native added that “without fans, there’s no us” and said it’s important for each athlete to figure out what works for him and “go from there.”
“We understand it comes with the territory,” James said. “No matter how much you sometimes wish you didn’t have to deal with it, you do.”
- Ilgauskas trails James, 10 years his junior, and Brad Daugherty on the franchise’s career scoring list. “Maybe he’ll catch me,” James quipped. Both players will likely be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
- The Cavaliers allowed season lows for points in the first quarter (14) and second quarter (15).
- Cleveland reserves scored a season-high 49 points, as Delonte West and Jamario Moon added eight points apiece.
- Center Channing Frye, who was 4-of-9 on 3-pointers, led the Suns with 22 points, while power forward Amare Stoudemire had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Point guard Steve Nash had 14 points, but committed six turnovers, all in the first half.
- Who: Cleveland vs. Chicago
- When: Friday, 8 p.m.
- Where: The Q
- TV/radio: FS Ohio, ESPN; WTAM 1100-AM
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.