Great way to start the season. Loved the defense, and Rondo was superb. But, as a 56-year old worrier, I saw lingering issues that bother me:
- The turnovers. The great majority of them unforced errors. Garnet--who shot well and played fairly good defense--turned the ball over way too often, with lazy passes. Turnovers have been a problem with this club all through the last 3 seasons. I surely hope we can start to value the ball. Had we not turned the ball over, we could have won by 30.
- Giving up offensive boards. Not as much improvement there as I would have liked to see with the O'Neal brothers added and a healthier Garnet. I always wonder if we give up boards because we help so much on D. Well, you can't cover everything, I guess. Offensive boards were close to nonexistent. We need to rebound better.
- Inconsistent ball movement, especially defending a lead late in the game. The pundits after the game kept comparing our fine ball movement to the Heat's stagnation. And Rondo did deliver lots of great assists, with others chipping in. Yet I still see so many empty trips that exhaust the clock with pointless, stand still dribbling.
- KG's offensive hesitation. Now, I loved the way KG shot the ball without hesitation when he got an open look on an assist pass. But, when he got the ball down low, he was still hesitating. Once, he stood and pump faked for about 4 seconds while the clock went off. I know--he has always been a reluctant low post player. But the hesitation and indecision are so frustrating to watch in a great athlete who ought to be able to blow people away down low. Well, I live in Minbnesota, and T-Wolf fans know all about that issue. Hopefully, with a deeper front line and some more scoring from various players, it won't be such a problem all year.
- Shaq's age. This of course is not a lingering issue, but a new one. To me, Shaq has lost some explosiveness. I know--he looked mobile and energetic. That's great. But it's game 1, and he won't keep that up all year. And here's the thing. In his limited minutes, you want points in the low box. But what I noticed was that he was having more trouble than I remember FINISHING around the hoop. OK, maybe it's rust. But he just seems to me to be less explosive vertically than he used to be and more vulnerable to help defense from behind and the side.
- Shaq's free throw shooting. You know, it was weird after all these years having to pull for Shaq to MAKE some free throws. And, like fans of all of his teams, we will have to get used to lamenting those bricks. Damn--that must be the ugliest FT shot in league history. I know--nothing new here, but it's a new experience to see him in a green shirt bricking those shots. That's why he needs to finish better than he did tonight. If he can't finish at a fairly high percentage in his few minutes, he is going to be a drag on the team.
OK. Enough whinging. Set those worries aside, and what did we see tonight?
A team that, if it remains healthy and the aging guys remain relatively fresh, will win #18. Straight up, that's the best team in the league. It really is. And with an improved bench!
Also, I was ultimately surprised at how lame MIA was. They will surely improve, but I did not see the same immediate sense of emergent greatness that we had 3 seasons ago. They'll win a lot of games, but I am not sold on them yet.
Given continued health, we are still the team to beat in the East, as Rondo said after the game.
If only we could overcome the horrible habit of going into long scoring spells ...