The NBA certainly knows how to entertain. What a night of drama and excitement it has been.
Firstly, I must point out that currently being based in the United Kingdom, it is rare to get to see NBA action live. Not only did we have the honour of watching a preseason game between the Miami Heat and the New Jersey Nets a couple of weeks ago in London, but tonight I was simultaneously able to watch the Cleveland Cavs v Boston Celtics game on free-to-air television, whilst also watching the Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers on the internet. Totally legally too.
TNT has a great new invention this season called OT Extra, which broadcasts select games live on the net, including multiple camera angles. They designate a camera to follow a player from each team, as voted by us, the loyal fans. The connection was a bit flaky for me tonight, however I'm sure that this was a factor of both distance across the Atlantic and the fact that every man and his blog was trying to watch the Oden-extravaganza. More on that later.
Celtics 90-85 Cavs (boxscore)
You could tell that it was opening night for a number of reasons. Firstly, everyone was jumping out of their skins with excitement and jitters. That was both beneficial and detrimental in some instances. LeBron was doing his best impression of a super-hero as always for the Cavs and he certainly did a good job of pushing the defending champions all the way on the night of their ring ceremony. His 22 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists were typical King James numbers. However at the end of the night he pulled up short, missing a shot with less than a minute to go which could have brought the Cavs within one point.
Anderson Varejao was performing his jack-in-a-box routine in the waning minutes, as he coralled rebounds that shouldn't have been his and had a dominant effect in the final quarter. He finished with 9 and 9, along with 3 steals.
Mo Williams did not seem to be completely integrated with his new teammates as yet, which is to be expected for a point guard taking charge of new sets. He committed four turnover and five fouls in the game and just did not seem in synch.
Paul Pierce dominated the score board with 27 points. His +/- on the game, of +12 was matched only by Leon Powe, who came off the bench and neutralised the performance of Varejao with a similarly enthusiastic performance, which fans became familiar with in last season's Finals.
It was a tight final couple of minutes, but the Cavs could not spoil the Garden party, as the Celtics enjoyed their championship memories for the last time before embarking on a quest for back-to-back trophies.
Bulls 108-95 Bucks (boxscore)
Greg Oden was not the only #1 pick stepping out for his debut performance tonight. That treat also belonged to Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, a Chicago native, who had flashes of brilliance during the victory with 11 points, 9 assists and 4 turnovers.
The big question with the Bulls has been how new coach Vinny Del Negro was going to split playing time, particularly in the crowded backcourt. Part of that problem was answered with a recent injury to Larry Hughes. However he started Rose (32 minutes) and athletic Thabo Sefolosha (11) at the guards and brought long-time running mates Kirk Hinrich (26) and Ben Gordon (26) off the bench.
Tyrus Thomas showed some of the promise expected of him with 15 and 10 for a solid double-double, whilst Luol Deng's 21 points led the team's scoring as the Bulls were ahead at every quarter break.
Michael Redd put up 30 points for the Bucks, who are integrating Richard Jefferson (15 points) into the lineup as well as Luke Ridnour at the point, following the departure of Mo Williams. Andrew Bogut played 25 minutes for 9 points and 7 rebounds, despite recent injury concerns.
Lakers 96-76 Blazers (boxscore)
As has been mentioned both on this site and on various others such as Blazers Edge and the Oregonian ad nauseum, these Blazers have been overhyped all offseason long. It's not that this team doesn't have a tonne of potential and it's not that they won't perform well this season and great in the long-term. The thing is, they are just not ready yet.
They are not ready for a Kobe Bryant-driven Lakers team that came so close to a title last season and have since re-loaded with Andrew Bynum (who was unavailable during the playoff run). They are not ready to blow teams away. They are not ready to harness the power and skill of Greg Oden just yet.
Oden has shown many things in the short time he has been on a basketball court. He has shown that he has amazing brute strength and an inordinate amount of skill to go along with that. He has also shown that he is yet to combine that all into one package and this gets him into foul trouble. This was the case early on in this match, as the TNT crew were forced to re-direct their Oden-Cam to Travis Outlaw -- the only Blazers starter who was providing any semblance of a game.
The big rookie did manage to block Bynum early on, in what was always a much-anticipated matchup. He also snared a few rebounds. However the cogs were not turning for the Blazers as they got significantly behind early against a smooth-running Lakers team. It was not until Rudy Fernandez came off the bench that the Portland coaching staff saw some scoring punch on the court. Both Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge failed to impress, shooting horribly from the field in what can only be described as opening night jitters.
The thing that has to be remembered is, this is a Portland team that is integrating four key rookies into an already young squad in an attempt to improve upon a .500 record from last season, playing against a seasoned Lakers squad that can argue itself to be the best team in the league. Anyone who was drinking from the media bandwagon Kool-Aid that said the Blazers were going to come out and surprise the LakeShow were kidding themselves. To suggest the Blazers may do it by the end of the season is another story, but now? No way.
As a Portland fan, this game was difficult to watch. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't see the potential of the team unfolding before our eyes, it's just that it is always hard to watch a game where your team is clearly not in a position to challenge for the victory.
It has almost become a cliché with this Blazers team that injuries are rife. Well, Oden even managed to injure his right foot in this game (according to Yahoo! Sports), limiting him to 12 minutes of action. The extent of the injury is not known at this stage. Let's not go any further into that for the time being.
Outlaw managed 18 points for the Blazers, followed by Fernandez with 16. Joel Przybilla proved his workmanlike self, with 11 rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench.
For the home side, Pau Gasol scored 15 points (most of them early on), whilst Kobe went for 23 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 turnovers in what was a sloppy game. Trevor Ariza proved why he has been in consideration for a starting role, with 11 points in 24 minutes. The "other" big fella, Bynum, finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 3 blocks in 27 minutes.
The Lakers cruised through this game but surely have plenty of things to fine tune, as tonight's oppposition was clearly not on the top of their game. Portland will be looking to get the "Big Three" combination of Oden-Roy-Aldridge better acquainted as the season goes on and will be crossing their fingers that Oden does not have any lasting injury.
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