The Cleveland Craboliers: On paper, Cleveland's talent level is off the charts, particularly after the additions of Shaq, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. They got to open the season at home, where they lost only twice last season. Less than seven minutes into the first quarter, Shaq hit his third consecutive field goal to put the Crabs up 21-7. They earned (if you want to call it that) a 32-26 advantage at the line and scored 20 points off Boston's 14 turnovers. And, of course, King Crab himself was (as always) scary good (38 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks).
I guess what I'm trying to say is: the Crabs had every reason to win this game. Only...they didn't. Meanwhile, Boston ended an 11-game losing streak in Cleveland (including playoff games) and "snapped a 16-game skid by visiting teams in games between the Eastern powers who figure to meet again sometime in May or June." Yeah, I know. Who keeps track of this stuff?
Anyway, the Celtics showed once again that offensive firepower -- however awesome, again, on paper -- can and will wilt under furious defensive pressure. The Boston D held the Cleveland O to 41 percent shooting, in part because Mike Brown didn't add many new wrinkles to his generic "Give LeBron the ball and let everybody watch" offense set, unless you count occasionally posting Shaq as a new wrinkle. Speaking of the Big Geritol...
Shaq: He looked unstoppable in the first quarter and finished with a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). But from the second quarter on, the Celtics got away with single coverage as Kendrick Perkins simply pushed the Big Creaky off his sweet spots and forced him, as Doug Collins put it, "to make shots." Which he didn't, going 1-for-5 in the second half and missing both of his free throws. But that wasn't the worst of it. They Celtics turned him into the Big Defensive Liability in the closing minutes, putting Shaq into pick-and-roll situations and watching him fail to cover. As a result of the Big Slow Poke deficiencies, Paul Pierce got open for a couple clutch buckets that helped boil the Crabs.
Quick quiz: From Stephanie G.: "Quick: name a C/PF combo slower than Shaq/Big Z. Any year will do."
The Cleveland bench: The preseason talk that wasn't about Shaq and LeBron was about how freaky deep the Crabs are. Well, Boston's reserve corps outscored Cleveland's pine riders 26-10. In fact, Rasheed Wallace (12 points, 3-for-6 from downtown) outscored the Crabs' bench by himself. By game's end, the Cleveland reserves had more fouls (7) than field goals (3-for-11).
The Big Excuse Machine: Said Shaq: "We'd like to start off 1-0, but there are 100 games left. We'll be fine. I've been on teams that started 0-1, 0-5, 5-0, 10-0. Nothing matters unless you win the whole thing." Everybody remember that if the Crabs don't win the whole thing.
Shelden Williams: Teams don't usually let former fifth overall draft picks (as Williams was for the Hawks in 2006) just walk away. But Atlanta did, and for good reason. This kid has a debilitating case of Kwame Hands. Seriously, I haven't seen that many good passes go careening off a player's hands since John Stockton was feeding Greg Ostertag back in the late 90s. Does Shelden pre-soak his hands in Crisco before games? It sure seemed like it.
Update! Rajon Rondo: I almost forgot about how he got crab-blocked last night. Don't be bringing that weak, one-handed, cotton candy stuff, Rajon.
Fun with box scores: Basketbawful reader Murcy says: "NBA.com thinks Woody Allen is on the Celtics."
The Dallas Mavericks: Last season, the Washington Wizards were an NBA-worst 6-35 on the road. That didn't matter last night, as they smacked down the Mavs in Dallas by a score of 102-91. The Mavericks have now lost two straight season openers and three of their last four.
Der Blond Bombermeister scored a game-high 34 points but, as so often seems to be the case, didn't get the support he needed. Outside of Nowiztki, the Dallas O blew chucks, as the Mavs shot 39 percent as a team. Note that, excluding Jason Kidd (who had 6 dimes), the Dallas starters registered one lonely assist.
Shawn Marion: He had 16 points and 7 rebounds, but I find it interesting that the Mavs were -17 points when he was on the floor. Let's keep an eye on this.
Jason Kidd, super-dramatic quote machine: "[Nowitzki] would be dead by Christmas if we're going to let him be the offense. Our team defense stunk. We didn't rebound the ball well. Everything we're supposed to do well was a no-show tonight."
The Houston Rockets: I'll give them points for scrappiness, but if last night's 96-87 loss is any indication, the Rockets may end up leading the league in hard-fought losses this season. I mean, can you really expect better than 37 percent shooting from a group of roleplayers? Speaking of which...
Tracy McGrady: Knee-Mac is still in absentia due to recovery from microfracture surgery. I would now like a show of hands from everybody who's surprised about this. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
The Blazers Butterfingers: Portland might have won by 20+ points if they'd been able to hold on to the rock. The Blazers committed 26 turnovers, which is the most lost balls they've had since the 2007-08 season. On that subject...
Greg Oden: The big fella didn't do much scoring (2 points, 1-for-3), but he helped dominate with 12 boards and 5 blocks. Of course, he offset some of that good play by bobbling the ball away a game-high 7 times. I guess, like Shelden Williams, he had a case of the Kwame Hands. He also had, not surprisingly, 5 fouls.
The Los Angeles Clippers: What can you say? They are who we thought they were, you know?
You should have run, Blake. You should have run.
Amazingly, the Clips actually could have won this game had they not committed 20 turnovers (including 9 in the first quarter), thereby giving the Lakers 24 bonus points. That's kind of a big deal in a seven-point loss. Said Baron Davis: "We really felt we could've won this game. If you take away a lot of mistakes that we made at the end of the first quarter and all the turnovers we had, it would've been a different ballgame." Speaking of Davis...
Baron Davis: Get ready to be shocked. I'm serious. Get ready. Okay, are you ready. Here goes: Baron is hurt already. Good luck finding the socks that just got blown off your feet. Speaking of feet, B-Dizzle has a bruised right foot, which might explain the 1-for-10 shooting. How much did the Clippers spend on this guy again...? Oh, right: $65 million for five years.
Ron Artest's offense: Crazy Pills went 3-for-10 from the field, 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, and 3-for-7 from the line. Maybe he should spend more time at shooting practice and less time at the barber shop.
Here's a closer look, courtesy of Dan B.
Ron-Ron did have a game-high plus-minus score of +14 though. Does that make him the Lakers' MVP? On the other end of the spectrum was...
Luke Walton: In three minutes of lacktion (0-for-1, 1 steal), the Son of Walton managed to earn himself a team-worst plus-minus score of -8. Good thing Mitch Kupchak locked this kid up for five years at the low, low price of only $30 million back in the summer of '07. But at least he's not:
Despite the win, if I was a Celtics fan I'd be a bit worried for one reason alone: KG doesn't look good at all. It might be just rust though, that's definitely plausible. But it didn't look like KG's timing was off, it looked to me like he had hardly any of his athleticism and explosiveness out there. I had to keep reminding myself to watch what he was doing because for long stretches he was just... invisible. Boston's so loaded that they'll be able to hide whatever shortcomings KG might have (if he's indeed gonna continue to play like this), but against Orlando or LA/SA in the playoffs, they're gonna need him to be what he used to be if they want to have a chance to win.
If I was a Cleveland fan I'd be plain worried cause that team doesn't look to be good enough to be considered one of the 5 "true contenders" this year. It's the same ol' story: LeBron and a bunch of minnies. Shaq looks to be a really, really poor fit for that team, and Mike Brown is totally clueless about what to do (which is why once again the offense is to give it to LeBron at the top of the key and let him create everything). Orlando and Boston will lay treadmarks all over the Cavs if this is all they've got.
The Lakers looked either disinterested or just out of sorts due to the ring ceremony (or Artest's hair or Odom's new bride or take your pick). LA's bench was plain awful tonight, though that'll probably change a bit when Gasol comes back and Odom is a reserve again. Nevertheless, as I said after the first preseason game, if Artest is gonna be that unselfish and Bynum is gonna be that dominant, it's gonna be very, very hard to beat this Laker team. As always though, it was against the Clippers so take it all with a grain of salt. Too bad due to the uber-cushy Laker schedule to start the year, it's really gonna be a while before we'll get to see what they're made of (unless they collapse, that is, then we'll know they're just way overrated).
Greg Oden -- 26 minutes, 2 points, 5 fouls, 7 turnovers. Combined with the Vanilla Godzilla and LaMarcus "5 years/$70m" Aldridge, the supposedly imposing Blazer frontline was only able to score 15 points combined against a miniscule Houston frontline of Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola and Carl Landry.
Wasn't Dallas supposed to be much improved this year?
Lacktion report (by Chris):
The opening tip-off has arrived, so bring out the awful Craig Sager suits! Get paranoid over labor unrest! Conjure all the rumors of King Crab signing in Brooklyn come summer 2010! And don't forget figuring out which team honcho will be out on the street in 15 months, via that person's unlucky acceptance of the Coach of the Year award! But of course, in order for this to be officially another year in the life of the Association...
we've gotta have lacktion, and luckily some of the usual suspects were available to aim as low as they possibly could. Again.
So let's focus on our only honorees for October 27th...
Wizards-Mavs: Washington's Javale McGee kicks off this season of lacktion with his tribute to the unemployed plumber from the Peachtree State, taking a 42-second moment of silence (on the scoresheet) to put down the very first Mario of the year. Helping the Wizards out in their winning effort was Dominic McGuire, who fouled twice for a +2 suck differential in 2:20.