Well, not the best way to start the season. Well, to be fair things started off really great but it didn’t last (a little too similar to Game 1 vs Orlando for my tastes). The Cavs jumped out to a 19-5 lead and everyone was happy; each starter had a field goal, Shaq made back-to-back baskets- things were good. With about four minutes to go in the first, LeBron followed a 33 foot bomb with a nifty backdoor layup (assist from Varejao in the high post) and the Cavs held a comfortable 26-14 lead. This was the high point.
Basically, once the Cavs made their first substitutions, everything went downhill. Z came off the bench about 50 seconds before LeBron’s 3pt/backdoor layup combo and the Celtics ended the quarter on a 7-2 run (Cleveland lead down to single digits, 28-21, at the quarter break). Boston proceeded to open the second quarter with a 13-6 run to tie the game at 34. Celtics had a 51-45 halftime lead and the Cavs never came close to taking the lead again.
Does everyone remember that Shaq is 37? It’s not like he had a terrible first game (10 points, 10 boards, 1 assist) and I really enjoyed his early post game (he started 4-6, ended up 5-11). But at no point would you ever mistake him for someone ‘not old’. The Celtics didn’t double team him (though Perkins is one of the players better suited to guard Shaq one-on-one) and they exploited him in the pick-and-roll (including a crucial bucket late). At times O’Neal looked good (it’s imperative to get him the ball when he establishes good early position) and I don’t think he moved poorly on defense (but pick-and-rolls will be an ongoing problem). I gotta admit, I love his shear size; Shaq threw both Rondo and KG tothe floor and it’s nice having a guy like that protecting the rim. Obviously it’s extremely early, but they have some work to do on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. To be fair, Boston is a tough first game (especially to work in new guys) but Boston is a team they’re gonna have to beat to get to the Finals.
LeBron looked crazy good. James finished with 38 points, 8 assists, 4 boards, 4 blocks(!!!) and 2 steals. James was sizzling from downtown (4-9 from long range) and his two-point jumper was money as well. James was 10-13 from the line (77%), but one of those misses was with 5 minutes go and a chance to cut Boston’s lead to three. The Le-Iso showed its head at times and while LeBron’s shot was falling, initiating the offense 27 feet from the hoop led to some turnovers (which included two turnovers on consecutive possessions in the middle of the fourth).
Fearless prediction #1: this will not be the last time I type these words: ‘where was LeBron’s post game tonight?’ While James was spectacular in many aspects on the offensive end, he rarely posted up and when he did, he allowed himself to get pushed out of the low block. Notice that when the Cavs had Daniel Gibson (who I seem to like less and less each year he’s in the league) guarding the bigger Ray Allen, the Celtics went to Allen on the block and he used his size to get a few easy buckets. LeBron could be doing this constantly. Now, I’m sure we’ll see him break out the post game against the Bobcats or Pistons of the league; maybe he needs to build up his confidence in this aspect of his game, I dunno. But he’s going to need those easy buckets against the good teams in the league. LeBron had more three-point attempts than Mo Williams had total shots- not a way to beat a team like the Celtics (or any good team).
Fearless prediction #2: Kevin Garnett will miss some games this year. It looked to me like he was favoring his knee a little bit. James threw an alley-oop to Moon directly over KG and Garnett jumped but just couldn’t reach it and he also biffed a dunk late in the game. Don’t get me wrong, Garnett had a decent first game back (he took a pounded from Shaq on a number of occasions) but I would be shocked if he makes it through the year unscathed.
This was a combo of a good defensive team combined with a Cavs squad clearly still getting used to each other. As mentioned earlier, James took more treys than Mo had total shots. Mike Brown paired Z with Shaq for a good chunk of the fourth quarter. Anthony Parker and Anderson Varejao let too many passes bounce off their hands. You can tell there are still kinks to work out (and again, Boston is a really good team, they are tough to beat regardless of the circumstances). It should go without saying, but Delonte was sorely missed (fyi- Boobie is not a point guard at all).
The offense wasn’t pretty. Jamario Moon and Parker have to figure out where they’re gonna get their shots. I know this is his M.O. but Moon jacked up a couple shots WAY too soon into the possession (though I enjoyed his alley-oop from James. Nice that James can throw lobs to someone, he’s never really had that). Mo is going to have to figure out where he’s gonna find his shots as well. Williams can’t become a spot up shooter waiting for Shaq or LeBron to feed him the ball. That’s not his game and they’re going to have to figure out how to mesh LBJ, Shaq and Mo. Overall, the Cavs took way to many jumpers and, at times, the offense looked extremely disjointed.
Celtics looked pretty good. They were rusty as well but they didn’t seem to shoot themselves in the foot as often as the Cavs did. Rondo was a pest (he killed Mo on the offensive boards), the Celtics shot 9-19 from beyond the arc, Pierce and KG hit some big, big shots down the stretch and the Celtics did just enough to sneak out of Cleveland with a win. Rasheed Wallace (sporting an afro) shot 3-6 from downtown but I don’t recall him doing much else. The TNT crew was extremely high on the Sheed and KG combo but I’m just not seeing it; Sheed looks content to hoist jumpers all night (3 boards in 24 minutes) and KG is noticeably slower. Again, it’s super early, but I’m not sold on both of these guys for the long haul.
No time to dwell on it. The Cavs get to start the season off with a 4-in-5 and they face the Raptors in Toronto on Tuesday night. I’ll be honest, this game left me with a sour taste in my mouth (Shaq looking old, LeBron settling for jumpers, the offense looking Browns-esque at times) but ya gotta remember it’s only game 1/82. They have some time to correct these things (and get Delonte back). For what it’s worth, when I can, I try to tweet live during the games (Browns too), you can follow me @BenCox83. Now, if you excuse me, I have some reading to do.