It was one of the rare occasions LeBron James has been shown up on the highlight reel, and the video of the play has had hundreds of thousands of views online.
Rudy Gay scorched the Miami Heat star with a behind-the-back dribble and threw down a monstrous dunk, leaving James rooted in his spot, and the TV broadcaster hollering “Oh my goodness, Rudy Gay took LeBron James to school!”
It was last November, and Gay was with the Memphis Grizzlies at the time. But it’s clear the Toronto Raptors small forward doesn’t back down when it comes to battling LeBron.
“I’m a competitor. What competitor doesn’t like to play against the best? I don’t know many,” Gay said with a shrug Monday.
The Raptors (2-1) host the two-time defending NBA champion Heat (2-2) at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday, and the inevitable question arose at practice Monday: How does one stop James?
While coach Dwane Casey answered, half-jokingly “You hope and pray,” Gay wasn’t so generous about the four-time NBA MVP.
“I wouldn’t say all that,” Gay said. “He’s a great player, you can’t take anything from him, but I’ll try my best, use my length and athleticism against him, and hopefully it works.”
A little praying couldn’t hurt, however, against a team that has beaten the Raptors in their last 10 meetings. Toronto’s most recent win was in January of 2010.
The difficulty defending James, who’s averaging 23.3 points and eight assists this season, is his versatility.
“He’s such a multifaceted guy,” Casey said. “He weighs 260, 265, and handles the ball like a point guard and shoots the ball like a long range three-point shooter, so he can get you from a lot of different angles, so it’s very difficult to do.”
Their best bet, Casey said, is getting him off his rhythm, and making him work for his shots.
Gay, who’s averaging 17 points and 9.3 boards a night — he grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks — is co-captain of the Raptors this season with DeMar DeRozan, but he feels he won’t need to make much of a pre-game speech before taking the floor against the Heat.
“Honestly, you shouldn’t have to say much, this is NBA basketball right here, and if you don’t get up for the best, what do you get up for?” he said.
The Raptors meet Miami twice in November — the second game is Nov. 29 in Miami. They play a third time, Jan. 5 at Miami.
When asked if it’s better to get a couple of games out of the way early before the Heat hit their mid-season stride, Casey scoffed.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’re a tough team whether it’s today, summertime. . . they’re a very good team, and one of the best-coached teams, they’re prepared for every situation, you probably could have surprised them with blitzes and zones and that kind of stuff when you first got together, but now there are no surprises with those guys.”
Casey is preaching defence-first this season, and has already seen the team make strides just three games in. They lead the league in rebounds. Their best defensive effort was Saturday’s 97-90 win over Milwaukee.
“Guys are being tougher, we’re team rebounding, we’re gang rebounding, everybody is boxing out, everyone is helping each other,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said.
“Disposition,” Casey said of the difference in his team’s performance against the Bucks. “We came out with more of an edge on our shoulder for 48 minutes. That’s the way we have to play, we have to play with defence first, get stops, run. . . ”
Lowry said the improved defensive effort comes from a familiarity amongst the players.
“So many moving parts,” Lowry said. “And this year we pretty much know what we’re doing and know the lineups and rotations, so everyone knows each other and knows what everyone’s going to do.”
The Heat arrive on the heels of a 103-93 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday, avoiding what would have been a rare three-game losing streak. Miami won with superior ball movement, with nine players scoring and nine players notching assists.
For Toronto’s part, when Casey was asked if ball movement was particularly important versus a team as strong as Miami, he replied: “We should be moving the ball whether we’re playing Miami or Ryerson University.
“We should be doing the same thing. . . move the ball, be strong with the ball, multiple passes, as many passes as we can. Defensively, close the gap, and when the shot goes up, box out. All the fundamentals, they don’t change.”