CINCINNATI -- Here’s an NBA scenario that doesn’t play out too often.
Take the oldest player suited up on the court (on Wednesday it was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 35-year-old Richard Jefferson). Now take the tallest player in the game (in this case, the Atlanta Hawks’ 7-foot-3 rookie center Walter Tavares).
Now, give the ball to the old guy and tell him to try to score on the tall guy.
The most common result would be either:
A) The old guy getting swatted
B) The old guy getting fouled
C) The old guy stopping short of the rim by throwing up a jumper
What happened with 12.8 seconds left in the third quarter of the Hawks' eventual 98-96 win over the Cavs in both teams’ preseason opener was decidedly none of the above.
Jefferson received a pass from Anderson Varejao as he cut backdoor after the center grabbed an offensive rebound. Next thing you know, he was dunking on top of Tavares, a player eight inches taller and 12 years younger than him.
“Honestly, when I cut backdoor, it was more of I jumped and I didn’t even know who it was,” Jefferson said.
When did he know the victim of his latest turn-back-the-clock slam dunk?
“On the way down,” Jefferson. “And then I kind of got excited.”
He wasn’t the only one.
“I thought it was great,” said LeBron James, who, at five years Jefferson’s junior already is feeling the effects of the aging process. “He keeps talking about how old he is and things of that nature. We keep joking with each other about how old both of us are and that was definitely some spring still left in that body of his. It was a great finish.”
James and J.R. Smith both got up on the bench and took several steps onto the court to celebrate the dunk. During the commotion somebody dropped a towel that James had to drag back toward the bench with his foot just before the referee came running down the sideline as the ball was still in play.
When the third quarter ended, Smith and James both mauled Jefferson when he made his way back to his teammates.
“That’s my man. I like that,” Smith said. “Especially on a 7-foot-8 dude. I don’t know how tall he is, but he’s tall as hell.”
Jefferson said he didn’t know exactly how tall Tavares was either, but he knows that he caught his eye before the game even started.
“Man, I saw him in the national anthem line,” Jefferson said. “That dude is huge!”
Smith, who grew up a fan of the New Jersey Nets back when Jefferson used to play on the team and did things like make back-to-back Finals appearances and compete in the 2003 dunk contest at All-Star weekend, may have been the most impressed.
“Yeah man, it brought a little flashback back,” Smith said. “He told me don’t look forward to it too often though. He’s getting kind of old. But it’s cool. I’ll take one now, a few in the regular season and one or two in the postseason, we’ll be alright.”
And Jefferson has been around long enough to know that you don’t get to the playoffs on highlight dunks alone.
“It’s always fun to kind of laugh and joke with the guys early on and to smile, but we’re professionals here,” Jefferson said. “People are going to get dunked on. It’s going to happen to me, it’s going to happen to other people, so let’s look at other stuff. We had 17 turnovers. The second unit definitely can play better. And so, that’s what we’re going to focus on.”