Overview: The Cavs survived an early 31-17 first-quarter blitz from the Wizards, dominating the final three quarters behind Shaq’s best game as a Cavalier to date.
First bullet goes to Shaq. I have resigned myself to the reality that I’m going to go back and forth on this trade about 70 or 80 times this season, and won’t really know whether or not it worked until deep in the playoffs. But boy oh boy, did Shaq look good tonight.
Offensively, he was exactly as advertised. Every single time the Wizards tried to single-cover Shaq, the Cavs made the entry pass and Shaq got the score. Power dribble, baby hook, counter-spin, modified baby hook over his right shoulder, the entire limited but effective arsenal was on display. He also got the Wizard bigs in major foul trouble in the 2nd quarter, which really disrupted a lot of the momentum they had going. His passing from the low-post was superb, and the Cavs were playing some wonderful inside-out basketball, rotating the ball for the open three or a cutter finding a seam on the weak side. It looks like MB has figured out that Shaq isn’t Ben Wallace, and has him around the basket offensively full-time instead of trying to have him out on the perimeter trying to free up guards with screens and activity. Yes, let the record show that a human being thought that was a good idea in the year 2009. And 7-10 from the line!
Defensively, I was really worried about Shaq this game. If Raymond Felton was abusing Shaq by pouring in open 18-footers, what was Gilbert Arenas going to do? But Shaq acquitted himself very nicely on the defensive end, not getting stuck in no-man’s land on the pick-and-roll and doing a great job staying home defensively. If Shaq’s good enough defensively so that you don’t notice him on that end, it’s more than worth it to put him out there.
The ball movement has improved every single game, and Shaq seems to fit in a little bit better every game since the debacle in Toronto. Hopefully this trend continues against Chicago on Thursday.
Another day at the office for LBJ: 27/8/6 on 61.3% TS. The four turnovers are still a little high-LeBron did get caught in the air twice that I can remember immediately, and that’s just not a mistake you usually see him make. He’s still adjusting to the new spacing a little bit, but did make some absolutely gorgeous dimes out there tonight.
And for the third game in a row, LeBron was completely within the flow of the offense tonight, which is great to see after the team was forced to revert to LeBron vs. The World so much in the 1st and 2nd game of the year. He wasn’t taking many shots off the dribble, he was running the floor, he was working on the weak-side and finding seams, everything. And he revealed his new post-move, a modified hook over his left shoulder from about 10 feet away. According to AC, this is the move that LeBron’s been working on obsessively with Chris Jent over the off-season. LBJ went 1-2 with the shot tonight, and I do like it as a back-up option. However, I’d like to see LeBron get a little closer so that he could utilize his excellent left hand around the basket. LeBron’s gotta look at Shaq and realize his post game doesn’t have to be fancy to be effective-one or two moves over either shoulder and you’ve got more than enough. LBJ’s just as physically dominant among wings as Shaq is among bigs, so I’d like to see him get a few ugly buckets with his back to ‘/ basket.
Maybe the best news of the night: The Cavs were +7 in the 12 minutes LeBron was on the bench tonight, including an amazing +10 run in the 4 minutes LeBron sat in the 2nd quarter. And guess who started the 2nd quarter on the floor? Shaq. Was that really rocket science?
Mo Williams also had a great game tonight, and over the first 5 games it has seemed like the team’s ups and downs mirror Mo’s ups and downs. He had another great game passing the ball, made the big basket when he was required to do so, and kept his mistakes at a minimum. And how about that up-and-under on Foye late in the game?
In the bad news column, Anthony Parker. Sorry, but he’s not working in the starting lineup. 2-12 tonight, and while his defense was decent and he bricked a few open threes he’d normally make, his shot selection is not as good as advertised. Could someone tell NBA wings that faking a three, taking one dribble to the side, and pulling up from 20 is one of the worst possible shots in basketball? If you get run off the line as a spot-up shooter, either get to the rim or give the ball up. That pump/dribble/huck move was Larry Hughes’ signature during his time with the Cavs. I can’t go through that. I won’t. Add that to missing a chippy right around the basket and taking some ill-advised off-balance shots, and I am just not a fan of AP as a starter right now.
However, seeing as to how the team’s true starting shooting guard had charges officially filed against him today, I’m not sure how easy of a solution there is. Delonte did come back to Earth today, only going 2-7 from the field, but played the right way, racking up 4 assists and 2 steals. And 2 of those misses are thanks to incredible plays by JaVale McGee. (You had the crushing block, but perhaps more impressive was JaVale bothering Delonte’s corner 3. JaVale was maybe a step outside of the paint when Delonte caught that ball. McGee’s got talent, man.)
However, there is unexpected good news at the 2-guard position: TITS GIBSON IS BACK, BABY. He’s out there drilling those threes again, and was finishing a lot of the sets that a Shaq double-team started. If he’s cold-blooded like he was, it’s a major boost, especially with Delonte’s personal problems and AP’s basketball problems. I got to use this picture legitimately maybe once last year. After 5 games this season, I have now used it twice. (By the way, Boobie’s 09-10 so far: 12-23 from 3-point range, 2-9 from 2-point range. Wow.)
Defensively, the Cavs were chasing a lot in that miserable first quarter, but a lot of the scoring explosion had to do with Arenas and Butler feeling it on deep 2-point jumpers, which in general you’ll live with from great scorers. Also, the offensive rebounds absolutely killed the Cavs in the opening stretch-at the height of the Wizards’ run, I think the Cavs were snagging defensive boards at about a 50% clip. After the first, Butler and Arenas cooled down, and the team wasn’t really able to get their momentum back-setting up good offense always pays off later in the game. Although I will note how well the Wiz were moving off the ball when Arenas and Butler were forcing shows early. Flip Saunders flat-out knows how to coach offense. A bit of a Peter Principle guy? Maybe. But a team could do a lot worse with a head coach.
25 assists on 36 field goals. Yeah baby.
Bullets of Randomness:
Things that do not make me happy: the Q cheering when Stevenson took a hard foul from Shaq. I understand, I really do. But the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. Stevenson deserves indifference.
Before I forget: for how talented of a shot-blocker McGee is, he is freaking horrible defensively. I have never seen a center matador with that level of gusto. He plays D like he’s hiding a Fabergé egg on his sternum. Look at Andy-you don’t need to be wide or strong to be effective as an interior defender in this league. You just have to be willing to get wide.
Foye really killed the Wizards in this one-too many ugly 21-foot jumpers off screens, very few tough drives, 1 assist in 20 minutes and a game-deciding mark of -14. Apparently, he has a good game every other night for the Wizards thus far, but if I was a Washington fan I’d be gulping about taking him over all of these fabulous rookie points.
And Mike Miller continues his bizarre protest of shooting, attempting only 3 field goals in 35 minutes.
Should I even say anything about Wizards fans? I mean, more than a third of the Wizards’ points tonight came from the free throw line, and the FT attempts were 41-27 in favor of the Wizards. But on every Wizards blog, all the Wizards fans want to talk about are how the refs fixed the game. Reading these comments, you’d think Mo distracted the refs as Shaq and LeBron beat up Caron without being tagged in. This is a hard game to officiate. If you’re biased towards a team, you’re going to find a number of “bad”calls in every game. Fred and AC sure thought there were some bad calls that went in favor of the Wizards tonight. Let’s all of us maybe get a smidgen of perspective on how objective we are when it comes to evaluating calls. Wizards fans, if you want a rivalry with the Cavs, have a rivalry with the Cavs. Right now, it feels like the Cavs are the middleman in your rivalry with the referees. I get the anxieties, and apologize for game 3 in 2006, but it’s drifting into self-parody. I’d really like to start talking about things like basketball.
Alright, to finish on a happy note, here’s an acoustic version of a collaboration between Weezer and Sara Bareilles, who is on the Baron Davis list of “People this blog forgives for going to UCLA.” The other day, I was talking about the 2nd-album slump phenomena with a friend of mine, and he offered up Pinkerton as an example. I have never had a piece of my childhood crushed so efficiently in my life. Pinkerton was freaking awesome. I refuse to ever believe otherwise. I guess this is what Wizards fans feel like. Anyways, this is an awesome cut. Tonight, we saw the Wizards sink like the Titanic, and it did not make us sad.