Cavs take care of business in first two games of playoffs
CLEVELAND – After the Cleveland Cavalier’s first playoff game, Shaquille O’Neal reiterated what his role is with the Cavs: “I said earlier that I’m one of those unorthodox CEOs who has been hired as a consultant,” he said. “This is LeBron (James’) corporation."
In Game 1, a 96-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls April 17, the corporation – thanks in large part to O’Neal – was too big to fail.
O’Neal’s intimidating presence was a key to the Cavs’ triumph. Despite not having played since tearing a thumb ligament against Boston Feb. 25, he gave the Bulls fits, using his large frame to control the paint.
"Tonight was a night when we could all see the hard work that he has put in the last six to eight weeks,” said Cavs coach Mike Brown. “He’s been terrific, working his tail off getting ready for this."
Everything the Bulls tried to get O’Neal off his game failed.
"It’s going to be hard to run or bang with me,” said O’Neal, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds. “I’m built for both. I’ve been around a long time and seen it all.”
O’Neal returned from his layoff in prime condition, which he credited to his workout regime and a special diet. His teammates took notice.
“He looks great,” said Mo Williams. “He lost weight.”
“He made Z (Zydrunas Ilgauskas) mad at his first practice,” added Williams. “He came out in game speed and Z was saying, ‘This is just practice.’ He set the tone. He showed us how he was going to play in the postseason.”
In Game 1, O’Neal’s “welcome back” moment might have been his spin move on Joakim “Ask Me About Cleveland” Noah, a sweet move that resulted in a dunk and left the younger player flat-footed.
“That’s the patented move I’ve been doing for years,” said O’Neal. “That’s the ‘diesel truck with no brakes.’ You see when I get into that move, people get out of the way."
The shots were not falling for O’Neal as often in Game 2 April 19. Early foul trouble and difficulties stopping Noah caused Brown to go with Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejoa in the second half. The game was tied 77-77 going into the fourth quarter, with the Cavs often looking a step behind the Bulls.
Fortunately for Cleveland, corporation head James (40 points) had a bailout pan. Upon re-entering the game with 8:34 remaining in the final quarter, James put the Cavs on his back, hitting jumper after jumper as the shot clock was winding down. Jamario Moon and Williams also helped nail down the win with clutch points.
The 112-102 victory allowed the Cavs to keep home court advantage and added chapter to James’ legend.
"He’s the unanimous MVP this year,” said O’Neal after Game 1. “He plays at a high level.”