October 29, 2008
The script for this one is still the same, same as it was last spring, same as it will probably be all season for these two teams. The Cavaliers have no room for error because of their dodgy offense, and they committed errors, while the Boston intensity on defense and in spurts on offense helped overcome its own iffy offense.
Boston opened the night with an emotional ceremony that saw the team take in some Ubuntu-laced championship rings from David Stern, and raise the 17th championship banner to the rafters of wherever the team plays now. As was mentioned several times over the course of the night, it was likely the most touching and emotional ring ceremony I've ever seen, as the sight of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce finally taking in the hardware had a lot of us choked up.
The C's then choked the life out of the team's offense a little bit, barely shooting 30 percent in the first half while scoring just 43 points. Problem was, the Cavaliers did not take advantage. They should have been up 15 in that half, but took to the locker room with just a seven-point lead of their own. That's not to say that the Celtics wouldn't have stormed back anyway, but the Cavs could have done better.
A lot better. It's not always correct to judge a point guard by assists, especially when he isn't doing most of the ball-handling and is asked to look for his own shot first, but it took new Cleveland PG Mo Williams until deep into the third quarter to pick up his first dime.
He finished with two assists and four turnovers. And good players who go from having to do the work of a great player on a bad team to doing the work of a supporting player on a very good team -- someone like Williams -- should see their efficiency go up on the new team.
Not Mo, who scored 12 points on 10 shots but also was seen popping a 19-footer on a 1-on-3 fast break, and chucking a three-pointer off an offensive rebound with 23 seconds left on the shot clock. An inauspicious debut.
And then there was LeBron James, who had his fair share of breathtaking highlights and finished with a good line (22 points, seven rebounds, six assists), but was on the bench when Boston pulled away in the beginning of the fourth quarter. The second part of the fourth saw LeBron miss a tough runner in the paint and two of four free throws, but he was also a big part of the comeback, so you have to weigh that somewhat.
Still, this guy can not play 36 minutes in a close game. He has to top 40, at least, and he's proven he can keep up the production well into the 40-minute range. Also, Ben Wallace had just four rebounds, a block, and two points in 19 minutes; and while I'm not saying the Cavs should start Anderson Varejao, there's no way J.J. Hickson or any other competent power forward couldn't top that.
It was the C's night, though. They look as championship-caliber as ever, and though there were some holes (which we'll get into as the year moves along), they still pulled out a win over a tough team. This run isn't over.
This was a fun watch as a pro hoops fan, the Bulls have tons of talent, and it was nice to see the minute allotment go the right way, and that batch of talent work to prove that they belong on the court to begin with.
And I'm not saying this because Bucks coach Scott Skiles, who had some issues allotting those minutes as Bulls coach at times from late-2003 to late-2007, was in town. Tyrus Thomas was allowed to play through some tough calls and finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 41 minutes.
Rookie Derrick Rose was on the bench when the Bulls pulled away for good in the beginning of the fourth quarter, but as it rarely was with Skiles, he actually returned to close out the game in the last part of the final frame. Meanwhile, Malik Allen was on the other team.
Rose finished with 11 points, nine assists, four turnovers,
four rebounds and three steals, and looked every bit the top overall pick and
future star despite the modest stats. The former starting backcourt of Ben
Gordon and Kirk Hinrich came off the bench to contribute a combined 33 points
and 10 assists in 52 minutes, and Luol Deng looked to be in great shape;
dunking and slashing and finishing with 21 points on just 13 shots.
Meanwhile, save for a couple of Michael Redd-led runs, the Bucks looked pretty lost. There are some good defensive players on this team, it's obvious Skiles will lean more on rookie Luc Mbah a Moute more a more (not a typo) as the year goes on, though you have to be wary of just how much hustle means to a team. Yes, Luc played good defense, and looked as if he was doing more than he was, but six points, two rebounds, two turnovers, two blocks and a steal in 26 minutes is not all that great. If he did it in 16, maybe, but this is not a rate you want to reward.
And Charlie Villanueva barely played, while Allen (who did play well, I should add, but come on ...) played over twice as many minutes and finished with two rebounds in 20 minutes. You'd think Skiles would be aware of what we're making fun of him over by now.
Not going to read too much into Portland falling apart, or Greg Oden's mid-foot sprain. For all of the team's success last year, the Trail Blazers are still a work in progress. And though we expected a better game on Thursday night, this shouldn't be a surprise.
Mainly because the Lakers are very, very good. The team used its length and touch in the first half to build up a 15-point lead by the break, and Kobe Bryant's brilliance kept the Blazers at bay in the third quarter.
Los Angeles wasn't anywhere close to playing its best basketball, either. 19 assists on 37 field goals is nice, but not at their level, and the team turned it over 15 times. The Lakers didn't get to the line much (15-18), and young guards Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic combined to shoot just 4-14 from the field.
And that's nitpicking at its worst, but you could tell that this was an A+ team with ridiculous potential playing at a B- level ... and still winning by 20.
Once again, not reading much into Portland's struggles, but it's clear that this team needs to throw off last year's shackles and run more. And even in the half-court, the team's guards need to put the pressure on the defense more often. Look at what San Antonio does with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, keeping teams on their heels, and allowing someone like Tim Duncan to find open spaces after a drive and dish, or when TD (or, in Portland's case, their bigs) goes for an offensive rebound.
Injured for most of his first half run, Oden finished with zero points, five rebounds, two turnovers, and a block in 12 minutes. He did look winded at times, but in retrospect it was his foot sprain that prevented him from getting much lift on a couple of post-injury shot attempts.
Last night we put together a marathon BDL live blog, running from 7 p.m. to nearly 1 a.m., and I want to thank the readers for giving us a great time and constant offering some great insight. Skeets and I tip our caps.
And I also want to thank some of this site's friends, who often stop by for no compensation for hours of help that go beyond the call of friendship. So do me a favor and give these sites a daily read, if you aren't already.
*The Blowtorch (goathair)
*Hardwood Paroxysm (Matt Moore)
*Basketball Prospectus (Kevin Pelton)