Shaq vs. Kobe has become a holiday tradition along the lines of Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Story. Every year, it seems, regardless of where Shaq is playing, the NBA schedule-makers like to send Shaq's team west to face Kobe. It was no different this season as the Cavaliers met Kobe's Lakers at Staples Center. LA, who beat the Cavaliers twice last season, had won 16 of 17 and came into the game with the NBA's best record. Kobe Bryant is possibly having his best season and the Lakers look like they are going to make look easy in getting back to the NBA Finals.
Someone forget to tell the Cavaliers.
Behind Mo Williams and a stifling defense, the Cavaliers overcame a bit of a slow start to dominate the Lakers 102-87 for their 3rd win in a row. The Cavaliers won the final three games of the holiday road trip and improved to 23-8 on the season.
You likely read or hear that the Lakers were disinterested, that they didn't bring their 'A' game. You'll probably hear about the officials as well. Don't believe it, the Cavaliers earned everything they got and then some. It took Mike Brown just 3:22 to bring Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the game, playing along-side Shaquille O'Neal. An early-season disaster, the pairing was much more effective on both sides of the floor and the Laker had no answer.
Kobe Bryant, playing 45 minutes(including every minute of the first 3 quarter, did score 35 points, but the Cavaliers forced Bryant to take 32 shots to get it. Bryant was 12-12 from the Free Throw line, but was a -18 for the game. No other Laker had more than 13, and Ron Artest's 11 gave the Lakers just 3 players in double figures as Gasol, Artest and Lamar Odom combined to score just 30 points on 11-26 shooting.
A different story for the Cavaliers, who got a solid contribution from starters and bench-players alike. Mo Williams proved his All-Star worth by leading the Cavaliers with 28 points. Williams shot 8-13 from the field and 9-10 from the FT line. During a critical juncture in the 3rd Quarter, when the Lakers were still trying to win the game, it was Williams who seemed to make the plays, not LeBron.
Speaking of LeBron, it wasn't a typical LeBron James game - at least compared to his lofty standards. James did score 26 points on 9-19 shooting, but was 6-11 from the FT line and 2-7 from 3. James also committed 7 turnovers. Perhaps that is what pleases me the most about this game - the Cavaliers played against the defending World Champs and won easily without LeBron being, well, LeBron. At one point James even bounced an easy lob-dunk off the back of the rim. James wasn't the same after that moment, despite just missing a half-court shot at the end of the Half(replays showed it was barely on his fingertips when the buzzer sounded)
Thanks to the defense, he didn't have to be. The Lakers shot just 37%, 28% from 3. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, shot 54%, 39% from deep. If they could only hit a free throw or two(19/30 - 63%), the Cavs would have won the game even more easily.
Playing his best game in the past 3 or 4, Shaquille O'Neal took advantage of the Cavs size advantage for several easy dunks and rebounds. His 11 points and 7 rebounds was not indicative of the impact Shaq had on the game, especially on defense.
When it comes to the bench, the Cavaliers really dominated the Lakers, proving that many of the moves the Cavs made this summer are working out just fine. The Cavs' unit outscored the Lakers bench 31-17, though 6 of those points were scored in garbage time.
The game was marred by questionable officiating on both sides, much of which caused a deterioration of the action on the court. Derek Fisher, playing like the dirty player he is, shoved Mo Williams to the floor minutes after Kobe Bryant did the same to MoGatti. Lamar Odom was ejected in the 4th Quarter after receiving his 2nd Technical, and Laker fans, usually laid back, showed their displeasure by throwing foam-fingers onto the court.
Maybe they were just in the Christmas spirit.
It was a solid effort by the Cavaliers in a game where their best player wasn't playing his best. After losing to Boston opening night, Cleveland has come back with road wins over Orlando, Los Angeles and Phoenix. So far, so good with the Shaq experiment.
Next up for the Cavaliers is a visit from the Houston Rockets on Sunday.