Hoooowah! That was just fun.
Yes it was only one game. Yes I’ve seen season openers where Lorne Woods looked like a star, and Jelani McCoy looked like a beast. Yes last season they started nicely and look what that lead to. But this felt different than all that. This game was not just about some nice surprises. This game was about every last player showing their intent to come together and do what they need to do.
All the big question marks were answered. Could DeRozan contribute on both ends? He had a very nice nose for the boards, brought some great energy, and blocked Shaq under the basket - not a bad start. He did have a weaker second half than first, being a fairly big part of the lead being eroded, with mistakes in his perimeter coverage. But that also came at just the wrong moment when there was some fatigue showing, some bad shots taken by everyone on the floor, and some bad calls made by the refs. I can’t really make him into a goat for a few mistakes there. The biggest thing for me was that he looked unfazed and unintimidated in his first outing. He just might have the star qualities that Colangelo sees in him. I’m not saying he’ll be the Rookie of the Year, but he looks like one of those guys who can make an impact on a good team (something which should actually get more play when it comes to the Rookie award).
Could they defend as well as they talked? So far so good. I particularly enjoyed what Jose and Belinelli were able to do. Compare those two to last season’s version of Calderon, and Kapono, and that all just looks like a fading bad memory right now. Beli moved his feet very well, and did not look at all like a weak link while guarding Lebron and AP. Jose put out the energy to defend nicely and still had enough left over to run an offense at a pace much faster than a snail. That’s my guy that I fell in love with a long time ago. I hope that one stays around. This is the guy that deserves all three names. Jose. Manuel. Calderon. And if he gets his stroke back, I’ll give him the fourth name too. C’mon Jose - I know you’ve got another name in there. I liked how he forced Mo Williams smack into a waiting Wright for the charge call. I loved how he applied more pressure defending than he was effected by when he had the ball. And he got to the line just like I wished he would. He showed me a lot in one game.
Could they be in synch in the early part of the schedule? They looked pretty good. There was a lot of nice motion and ball movement and they all looked like they knew what they were doing. And when they didn’t - guys like Bosh and Hedo were communicating well and making sure the spacing was there on offense. Bosh and Hedo themselves still look like they need to get into better game shape. That was another big part of the problems in the third quarter. But the team as a whole looked like they were in control through most of the game. The focus and concentration, outside of the collective lull when they had that big lead, was there with everyone. Bill Russell always talked a lot about concentration, and you can see where that ingredient can really be what makes the difference for this team. There is a good natural fit to all the pieces, and with the right focus, they will allow that to shine through. There is always going to be the threat of teams getting hot beyond the arc, but that is the case with a whole lot of good teams. And the same principles that allow for some of that hot shooting from the outside, do much to rectify the issue with rebounding. Shooters were still run off the line pretty decently, and the overall emphasis on stopping the ball at the point of attack worked well. Cleveland did not give them much of a test as far as transition defense goes, so we’ll still have to hope for the best there.
What makes this start different from other past starts, is the way they went about answering all those questions that were out there. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the RF forum, you might find my prediction of the Raps finishing in third. I looked at how this team was put together and thought they could either go very far, or or simply not be able to meet the challenge. The three returning core guys were either going to do or die this time around, and I thought they had enough character to simply do. And I am one that firmly believes that adding a vet like Hedo Turkoglu reaps far more benefits than the oft quoted poor shooting stats, the suggestions of poor defense, and the projected decline in performance. Jarrett Jack doesn’t hurt a bit in that regard either. And there was Rasho last night, when Bargnani had to sit with 5 fouls and momentum seemed to be shifting the Cavs’ way - stopping Shaq and then heading the other way to clean up a miss from the rookie. Composure, along with the concentration will go far. So unless they suddenly forget about what they need to do, they are not going to beat themselves, as they have been apt to do in past seasons at the very least.
Now, being a little less foolish than usual, and completely realistic, I’d think that they should be as good as a 3rd seed by the end of the schedule, even if the record doesn’t reflect that. I’d expect to see a team that could be thought of as a top three team going into next season, without a stretch of any kind of imagination. But don’t exclude the possibilty of foolishness becoming reality. If they cross some kind of threshold at some point in the season, they could just as well, with a few breaks, cross that threshold sooner rather than later. That’s the way I need to look at things in order to hold onto an interest in this team at a level that is in itself foolish.
The other aspect of my prediction involved one of the “big three” teams in the east faltering. There is already a hint that Cleveland might allow that to play out for me. They’ve got one guy losing control of his personal life, and another guy shaving the superman logo into the side of his head, as if being called Boobie wasn’t enough for him. They’ve got a guy like Ilgauskas needing to adapt to coming off the bench after being a pretty good leader there. And there’s the whole question of whether Shaq and Lebron are a good fit. So they’ve got too much thrown into the lap of a Parker that would be best suited coming off the bench right now, too many expectations for a guy like Jamario Moon, and problems with the overall team identity due to the addition of an O’Neal that is not what he used to be, all conspiring to make the efforts of their star player not amount to W’s. Does that sound a little like a failing team we are all to familiar with from last season? Of course the comparison only goes so far, and these guys are going to win some games, but it’s not that hard seeing them drop out of the top half of the seedings.
You know what. With all that said - why don’t we just call it a season? No?