April 19, 2014

The Legend of Lester Hudson Lives On

Sunday evening provided excellence of all shapes and sizes. Beautiful outdoor venues and empty arena seats. Pine needle-based approaches and game-saving three-pointers. Leader boards and lottery balls. Consonants and vowels.

Bubba Watson battled Louis Oosthuizen in a sudden-death playoff at Augusta National; both golfers held off a charging Phil Mickelson who — if not for a complete debacle on the fourth hole — would have been right there with them if not a stroke ahead. Jose Bautista, baseball’s best hitter over the last two seasons, had a chance to provide additional heroics, down one run with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. And there was Lester Hudson, locked into a duel with the world-beating Sundiata Gaines, late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

It may not have been in the same historical context as Oosthuizen’s 4-iron stroke from 253 yards out on the second hole — a well-hit Titlest ball that split bunkers and fell at the front edge of the green, only to gradually and gracefully decend toward the hole until it fell into the bottom of the cup for double eagle (or “albatross” as the kids call it) — but Hudson’s 18-point fourth quarter drew equal jubilation. Instead of the misguided high-fives from the collars, straw hats and seersucker in attendance at Augusta, Hudson’s supporters from the dark corners of the world where niche Cavalier fans reside. Those still cheering on as their team limps, literally, toward the finish line. 

With Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov looking on, Hudson crossed over Gaines, dropped floaters over the outstretched arms of Kris Humphries, and bounced back from an otherwise heartbreaking hurdle was all in a night’s work for the D-League call-up in the final day of his first 10-day run with the Wine and Gold. Moments after being called for a player control foul with his team down three points as the clock ticked closer to zeros, Hudson was fortunate enough to be provided a shot at redemption. A missed three-point attempt by New Jersey’s Anthony Morrow landed in the hands of Manny Harris who, after wasting time in an outlet to power forward Tristan Thompson, found Hudson waiting in the corner, wearing Deron Williams like chain mail. Desperation ran full speed into will to win, Hudson launched the three-pointer and found nothing but net.

A driveway dream, personified. Hudson, a well-traveled D-League call-up went from NCAA record books — the owner of Division I’s only quadruple-double — to playing in front of a few hundred locals in stops like Fort Wayne, Sioux Falls, and Rio Grande. And now, with that opportunity once again presented, Hudson appears to be grabbing it firmly with both hands, one converted field goal at a time.

The Cavaliers would ultimately lose the contest in overtime, but the ledgend of Lester Hudson is larger than ever. Providing eight points in the final four mintues of the Wine and Gold win over the Toronto Raptors, Hudson picked up right where he left off, registering eight points in his first two minutes off of the bench on Sunday. While Byron Scott would run with the starting backcourt of fellow D-Leaguers Donald Sloan and Manny Harris for defensive reasons, Hudson’s scoring could not be subsided when the Nets stretched their lead to seven points at the onset of the fourth quarter.

A 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound guard who attacks the opponent with three-pointers and driving lay-ups. Tallying 49 points in his last two contests, getting to the foul line, and taking a team trailing late in games and providing heroics that result in wins or additional chances at such. Humble yet competitive, saying all the right things before, during and after contests, Hudson’s game has been that of recently injured point guard Kyrie Irving, without the fanfare of being a “What’s not to like?” first-overall draft pick.

As The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” echoed through the speakers at the Prudential Center, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert took to Twitter to relay a message considerably different than the one from roughly one week earlier: “Lesanity! Lestyria!!” Gilbert thumbed, an obvious play off of the recently injured — and fellow D-Leaguer — Jeremy Lin. “I feel good about the franchise and the path we are headed down,” Gilbert said.

After hitting the three-pointer to send his new employer into an overtime period, Hudson would later tell the media that — despite being his NBA career-high — Sunday night was not his “best basketball, overall.” Firmly placing a wet blanket on his fourth-quarter shot over Williams, Hudson merely stated that “it wasn’t for the win.”

Admitting that he was too timid at his previous NBA stops, Hudson appears to be the quintessential representation of a player who is taking advantage of an opportunity. Playing for a team well out of contention, hoping to not only get another 10-day contract but a look next season and beyond, Hudson has gone from timid to reckless abandon, scoring in buckets and providing excitement to a team that had recently set the record for back-to-back home losses by margins of at least 35 points.

There is no telling what the long-term future holds for Hudson. Following the game, Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott stated that he expects the fiery guard to be with the team for at least the remainder of the season. From there, a lot of things have to happen for the Tennessee Martin alum to make his wine and gold jersey a fixture.

If the Cavaliers are looking for a reserve point guard, Donald Sloan has proven to be the superior distributor, dishing out 14 assists compared to just two turnovers in Sunday’s loss. Sloan’s defense on Deron Williams also earned applause. Hudson, conversely, may be a shooting guard in a point guard’s body. Or Daniel Gibson, for lack of better terms. Gibson, approaching the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers, is one of the team’s best wing defenders despite struggling from the floor this very season.

Antawn Jamison provided 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting. Alonzo Gee recorded a career game with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Thompson notched 15 points and 15 rebounds to go with two blocked shots. But knowing what we have in these three players, and having one eye firmly planted on the future, it’s Hudson’s recent string of play which is garnering the headlines.

How long these headlines last remain to be seen. All good things understandably come to an end. But for Lester Hudson, who will likely sign at least another 10-day contract at some point on Monday, the good things might just be getting started. He may not ever have a moment like Watson, whose triumph ended in firm embrace of a loved one after winning on the biggest stage, but if Hudson — via his run with the Cavaliers — manages to latch on to an NBA team via a guaranteed contract, his “big one” may have happened on Sunday night just hours after the green jackets were donned in Augusta. 

(Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I like that Lester Hudson is getting to the free throw line and converting there… you absolutely need a player like that on your team.  It’s still too early to tell what we really have in him, but I think he’s got some promise and is answering my call for a player to step up and take advantage of his playing time right now.  Hopefully he can start doing it against NBA caliber players as well as the fellow D-league callups he’s faced recently.

  • EZ

    I was at the game yesterday, it was a great time. That stretch when Hudson was trading 3s with Gerald Green was awesome. At the end of regulation all the Nets fans around my friend and I knew Hudson was going to get the ball, and even they were impressed when he drilled the three.

    Other observations:

    -Gee’s free throw shooting down the stretch was beautiful.

    -Sloan was completely exhausted in the 4th quarter. He’s had to play a ton of minutes with all the injuries and it really caught up to him at the end of that game.

    -The second unit is horrifying right now. After a 30 point first quarter the Cavs took FOREVER to score their first point in the second. It’s no wonder Sloan had to play 45 minutes.

    -It was a shame to see Harris so quiet on offense (he seemed to be leaning back on a lot of his shots – even the wide open ones) but he’s really energetic on defense. This led to a few guys getting him to overcommit, but he had some pretty good body control to avoid fouling. 

    -Walton is barely a functional player right now. A trainer was working on his knees before he even went into the game, and he was stretching his legs constantly.

    -Omri Casspi. Yeesh.

  • Crowsfoot

    Lester Hudson is exactly what this team needs. We finally have another real basketball player ( since Ramon Sessions left ) besides Kyrie Erving. Let’s please finally ship out the likes of Boobie Gibson and Anthony Parker out of here as their weak games have run their courses !

  • Jaker

    I can honestly see Hudson being a nice backup 2 guard for the foreseeable future. Next season may be the last for Gibson if he doesn’t show he’s a better POINT  guard than Sloan, emphasis on the P in pg. Sloan, Hudson and Harris can be a very nice and affordable backup unit for this team over the next few seasons. Now we need to find Kyrie his running mate…