Oh. My. God.
There is no way I can adequately describe the level of good feeling coursing through my body right now, while at the same time maintaining the strict moral guidelines that would seem appropriate for blog-literature published on Christmas day. So let's start with this...it's been a while! And I'm thrilled to be returning on a Cavalier high note. I'm still feeling like I'm on a high right now. Moreover, I feel dirty, and dirty in a way I haven't felt since the Cavs beat the Pistons in Game 6 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals in the type of game where everything just went right, with good stuff building on good stuff, culminating in Rasheed throwing LeBron to the ground in commencing perhas one of his more memorable self-combustions, and basically signally an end to the Pistons short lived dynasty. The only difference tonight is that this wasn't the playoffs, and we play them again within a month, in what is sure to be a more heatedly fought game. That said, let's enjoy the hell out of this game. Merry F'ing Christmas everyone.
There is so much to talk about here. Almost entirely good, with the vast majority of the bad coming from my wandering mind wondering if certain things that took place today were sustainable. But the cool thing is...I think most of what took place in Los Angeles today (as with the Orlando game earlier in the season) is replicable. Starting with...
Mo Williams - Good God was Mo on his game tonight. I said to my dad toward the end of the second quarter (when it looked like we might be in for a dogfight) that if the Cavs won tonight, it would be because of Mo Williams. And then the third quarter started. Every once in a while, I look smart. (The other times feature me spouting off such golden nuggets as "Anthony Parker mustn't be allowed a second's time on Kobe"...and then spend the next two and a half hours marveling at how much effect a smart defender can have guarding the guy. Also, can we officially put it into the 'Kobe Bryant defensive gameplan' to send KB toward help and then try to get a hand on his shot when it's on the way back behind his head? At least 3 times that resulted in a block tonight...and we've seen it work numerous times before too. It helps that the refs stopped instinctively calling that play a foul when Doug Christie retired.)
Back to Mo Williams. LeBron graciously took the brunt of the attention, but against a team like the Lakers...that's a lot to deal with. So in the case of tonight, it leaves the onus on a second party to ignite the offense. Enter Duraflammable Mo Williams.
Before we even get to his shooting, let's talk about his ability to handle against pressure...which tonight I thought was very strong. The Lakers started to come back on the heels of their pressure, and the Cavs handled it so beautifully in the second half.
I'm an over-reactor (I feel like it's necessary to continuously point that out), but boy...I would have fought Derek Fisher on the street tonight had I seen him. A threat which is probably emboldened by my steadfastly refusing to leave my apartment for the entirety of said night, but nevertheless...I was angry. This game got really chippy...surprisingly so...and I'm not quite sure what to make of it other then this...I don't think Kobe shares the same level of reverence for LeBron that his image would insinuate, and I think the Lakers follow suit. The more LeBron, and the Cavs as a team, learn to follow suit...the more effective they'll be against the Lakers. Tonight obviously was a step in the right direction.
LeBron vs. Kobe (plus Ron Artest, plus the 20.9 ft. second line of defense)
I want to take a look at LeBron's game tonight:
26 points (9-19 fgs, 2-7 3pt fgs.), 9 assists, 4 rebounds, 7 turnovers (although at least 3 were of the 'receiving player not looking' variety.), and a really great, unbelievably focused defensive effort.
The only negative to me stemming from the game (other then the realization that J.J. Hickson is not quite ready for primetime), was actually one I've not seen pointed out to extensively. LeBron's final tally tonight was very much positive, status-quo LBJ (even the 7 turnovers weren't completely out of the ordinary in gauging them against his recent play), but watching the game, I never got the sense that LeBron could've gone off if needed. Had he been hot from the arc, maybe...but he wasn't tonight, and because of that didn't really have a consistent go to weapon. And that's a rare and disconcerting feeling to have as a Cavs fan. Because really that's our ultimate luxury...that if all else breaks down, LBJ will bail us out. Tonight, we played a perfect game. LBJ faciliated masterfully and seemed to be consistently baiting his defender far away from the action, and, as he is wont to do, getting teammates wide-open shots. And tonight, the rest of the Cavs hit them...they made the plays, and they needed no bailing. Over the course of a seven game series...will that always be the case? Will it be the case four times? The last time I can remember facing a team that LeBron just didn't have an immediate offensive answer for was the 2007 Celtics. He figured them out, but perhaps a little too late. Then again, maybe this team is good enough to win a series without LeBron just flat out kicking butt...
How was LeBron able to get his points today? Well, in a few, but especially successful post-plays in the second quarter, LBJ was able to score relatively easily over Artest. Which makes one remember, even if (and I still give Artest an 'if') Ron can match LBJ's strength, LeBron can just shoot over him. Height matters, and so does jumping ability...
I think it's of the upmost importance to find LeBron better shots against a team like the Lakers. Getting LeBron off the ball seemed to be the key. Running Artest or Kobe off screens is the perfect way to allow LBJ to utilize his speed advantage over Artest, and his strength advantage over Kobe. What LeBron needs is just a sliver of space to get his momentum going
But why does LeBron look a little shakier then usual against the Lakers? Why did he last year as well? The first and ridiculously obvious answer is that Artest is one of the best matchups in the league for LeBron on account of his strength, and certainly that was evident tonight. But when LeBron was running Artest of a myriad of screen and then curling into the lane, he was able to get some of his most makable shots of the evening. And I'd like to think there is no easy fix for the Lakers because if their bigs show harder in an attempt to stop LeBron from getting his "1-2" take off toward the rim, then Shaq or another big is able to finish at the rim.
The fluidity of Carmelo's post game certainly plays a part...but I don't think that tells the entire story.
It's been seven years now, and few and far between are the players LeBron really let's get into his body. And really, no one as much so as Kobe.
Do you recall any of the Kobe-Carmelo battles of the past year? Kobe, of course, has assigned himself to Carmelo whenever Carmelo need be contained. Carmelo proceeds to rip Kobe to such an extent that Phil Jackson, in a rare recent show of "Kobe doesn't know what's best for him...", makes it a point to get Kobe the hell away from Carmelo. In the post-game conference, Phil likens Carmelo to a tiger (or perhaps a bear) of some sort, saying Kobe just can't bang with him down there. So I guess what I'm thinking is...how the hell does LeBron consistently let Kobe get up in him and keep him 30 feet from the basket? It's not like LBJ isn't able to operate as per usual, but I Kobe definitely slows him a bit in this manner.
So what's going on? Minimally, yes, I think it has to do with LeBron's developing (and it is developing) post-game. But even more so, I present this theory: That Kobe Bryant is the last player in the league I think LeBron shows any reverence for. That, and the hand-checking rule has not applied to Kobe Bryant since it's institution.
The BIG Expirings
I wasn't able to post for about two weeks...which gave me a lot of time to think about the state of the team. What was nearly the resulting return correspondence was a lengthy 'State of the Cavalier Union' article...basically landing on the conclusion that the ballsiest, but perhaps most prudent move the Cavs could make would be a 2007-style blowout of the current roster. A call to abandon Plan A, and look for something better for the future...and something completely different for now. I think I stand corrected. The team on the floor is working as we hoped it might in the areas we needed it to.
So, maybe we shouldn't trade both of the bigs. Maybe we should sign and trade Wally. Maybe I was wrong with the massive blow up every tradable asset we had article with which I was planning to burst back onto the scene.
To Be Continued...
Blog post one on the return! I'll be back tomorrow to finish this off in it's entirety!