October 27, 2010
When you strip the hype away, this was an ugly game. A poorly-executed game full of first-week jitters that saw both teams work at league-low levels of efficiency whilst turning the ball over one in every five times they came down court.
But holy cow was that entertaining. And it is so, so good to have the NBA back. Because that game, despite all those screwups, was so fun to watch.
We can get into the heavy-handed stuff surrounding this season later on -- how LeBron James(notes) needs to take control earlier in the contest and stop treating these runs like an All-Star Game; or how the Celtics can truly eke out 60-plus wins even while taking it easy if Marquis Daniels(notes) and Nate Robinson(notes) contribute at a high level -- for now the point is that absurdly rough first time showing.
It felt unrepresentative. And if the Heat and Celtics don't win by an average of 20 points tonight (against the 76ers and Cavaliers, respectively), I'd be surprised. Even considering how terrible the play was on Tuesday night.
You can't just waltz into a season and match the level of intensity that a game like this demanded. You're not ready for it. Every media member that was around for Games 3-through-5 in last summer's Finals turn could not stop talking about how the in-Boston hype and pressure and noise on Tuesday night felt exactly like a Finals game. No team, no player, could rise to meet that sort of scene on the first night of the regular season. Not even Michael Jordan, who lost a massively-hyped season opener in Boston in his last year with the Bulls in 1997.
The Heat had no clue. It was obvious to even the fair-weather fans that tuned in to see the gimmick in play. One superstar would zig, the other would zag. Dwyane Wade(notes) would cut baseline, but LeBron James would pass to the corner.
14 of the team's 17 turnovers were committed by James and Wade, and you got the same feeling for most of Tuesday's loss as you did during those three minutes Wade and James spent playing alongside each other in the exhibition match against Detroit last month. That it felt like an All-Star Game. A whole lot of respect and over-passing, not a lot of leadership.
But it's early, so we're backing off right now. Rajon Rondo(notes) (the player that LeBron James needs to emulate, at this point, with his penetration) had 17 assists in the win, while Daniels (eight points in 13 minutes) and Glen Davis(notes) (13 and five rebounds in under 30 minutes) were exactly what the Celtics needed them to be. Jermaine O'Neal(notes) had just one point and two rebounds in almost 13 minutes, but his defensive contributions were huge, on top of the two blocks that showed up in the box score. And Paul Pierce(notes) (19 points on seven shots) sure had those shoulders squared.
So, yes, it's time for a deep breath, and 12 steps backwards. Especially with 81 games to go. We'll be around for all of them, with quite a bit to break down. For now, let's let the flow guide us, instead of making rash statements straightaway.
This didn't feel like a 14-point win for Portland. The Trail Blazers deserved the win, and they dominated that final period (31 to 11!), but this was a close game for three and a half quarters, until the Suns fell apart in the final period.
Phoenix's defense, as you'd expect, is miserable. Hedo Turkoglu(notes) was absolutely dominated by Nic Batum in the fourth quarter, Steve Nash(notes) had issues boxing out all night as he tried to check the small forwards he was matched up with, and Channing Frye(notes) would really appreciate it if you wouldn't touch him. It was so bad that the Portland announcers were pointing out what a solid defender Hakim Warrick(notes) was in relation to the rest of his teammates, and Hakim Warrick couldn't even guard a Portland play-by-play announcer at this point.
116.5 points per 100 possessions for the Blazers, which would easily lead the league if kept up throughout the season. The team had 31 assists on 42 field goals (a little bit of home cooking, there), it managed 18 offensive rebounds, and it really should have had a double-figure lead on the Suns throughout.
The problem was that Phoenix just knows how to score. The team had 81 points after three quarters, as the Blazers had no clue how to handle both Steve Nash (26 points) and Jason Richardson(notes) (22 points; he just seems to have it locked in every time he plays Portland). Nash turned the ball over nine times, and a bunch of those were unforced errors. Still, the Suns had it humming for a while, and you get the feeling the team can't help but improve offensively.
Defensively? They're screwed. That team is terrible on that end.
The Rockets looked as if they were a few jitters away from an impressive opening night win. And the Lakers? They look like a team that can acclimate and take on just about anyone at this point.
Even though Los Angeles played behind for most of the game, you just get the feeling that the Lakers have an answer for any style of play from the opposition. And not in the style that we saw last year, when the Lakers continually played down to their competition. Los Angeles got away with one -- pulling away for the win as Steve Blake(notes) (39 percent, career) and Shannon Brown(notes) (33 percent, career, but with a shooting style that looked nothing like what we saw on Tuesday) nailed seven of seven three-point attempts in the second half -- overcoming combined 4-22 shooting from Ron Artest(notes) and Derek Fisher(notes) and a whole host of Rocket shots that should have gone in.
But that doesn't mean the Lakers don't have the finest, most chemistry-laden squad of them all. These are your defending champs, and in spite of giving up all those points, this is still your championship favorite. And it would take about 40 Miami wins in 45 tries, at this point, to dissuade me from that idea. As an aside, though, I'm fully expecting Miami to win about 40 times in 45 tries starting in a month or so.
With the pressure on, Yao Ming(notes) still brought the footwork and the touch in his first game in 17 months, though he still missed seven of 11 shots, turned the ball over four times, played some iffy defense, and fouled out in less than 24 minutes. Outside of clutching his shorts in his night's waning moments, the guy looks about the same. Give him another month, and he'll be the best bit player in the game.
Pau Gasol(notes), at times last night, looked like the best player in the game. 29 points, 11 rebounds, and two blocks for the Lakers' starting center, working as we'd like to see him. As Chris Webber(notes) pointed out post-game, Kobe Bryant(notes) was the master of the quick dump pass, finishing with seven assists and 27 points aided by a needed 11 free throw makes. And while I'm sure his knee is killing him, it was certainly hard to tell as he made play after play in Shane Battier's(notes) face.
The Rockets? Guys like Battier and Yao kept tossing up quick shots, thinking that they were going to be blocked. Luis Scola(notes) had 18 and 16 rebounds, but he wants some of those 18 shot attempts back. Aaron Brooks(notes) was fantastically efficient with 24 points, Kevin Martin(notes) can be a star again (27 points), but there are still things to work on.
That said? A terrific showing, from both teams. I thought the Lakers were a work in progress and the Rockets an iffy playoff contender entering Tuesday night. After this game, we should be really high on both these teams.
God, it's so great to be doing this again.