New-look Cavaliers get jump on Bulls Lakers hungry to defend title
CLEVELAND — They've got more depth. They've got more size. They've got Shaq. And, of course, they've still got LeBron James.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have a different look this postseason.
"We," James said, "have the look of a champion."
Completely healthy and well rested, the Cavaliers took their first step toward an NBA title yesterday as James scored 24 points and Shaquille O'Neal looked and played 10 years younger in a 96-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series.
O'Neal, playing for the first time since tearing a thumb ligament on Feb. 25, had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 24 minutes as the top-seeded Cavs won a testy opener between two teams that obviously don't care for each other.
"I have no friends in that locker room, except for Danny Green," said Chicago's Joakim Noah, who was plagued by foul trouble and booed for much of the game by Cleveland fans. "I don't really know nobody on that team and I don't really care. I just want to win."
The Bulls, who trimmed a 22-point deficit to seven in the fourth quarter before wearing down, will get a chance to even the best-of-seven series tomorrow night in Cleveland.
Derrick Rose had 28 points and 10 assists for Chicago, which had the misfortune of being the first team to face the Cavs in these playoffs. Cleveland has been rebuilt for a championship, adding starters O'Neal, Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker to a team that made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year.
After they were eliminated last May by Orlando, the Cavaliers went out and traded for O'Neal, a four-time NBA champion and icon. O'Neal was brought in not only to combat Magic center Dwight Howard but to help James win his first title and deliver Cleveland its first in any major pro sport since 1964.
The Cavs need 15 more wins to get it.
"Everyone knows it's the first team to 16 wins," O'Neal said.
Leading 68-46, the Cavs were coasting to an easy win when the Bulls, who have been in playoff mode for the past two weeks as they fought for the No. 8 seed, stormed back. They scored 12 straight and were still within striking distance, down 73-60 entering the fourth.
Chicago cut it to 82-75 on Brad Miller's basket, but James converted a three-point play with 2:29 left and Mo Williams followed with a 3-pointer to put Cleveland up 94-81 to secure the victory.
HAWKS 102, BUCKS 92
ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks are off to a good start in the playoffs, even though they barely showed up for the second half. The Milwaukee Bucks are short-handed but at least showed a little fight.
Led by Joe Johnson and getting production from all their key players, the Hawks blitzed the Bucks early, survived a lackluster showing after halftime and held off Milwaukee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference series yesterday. Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night in Atlanta.
"We probably played as good in the first half as we've played all year," Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. "We jumped them right away."
The Hawks had mismatches all over the court, taking advantage of the gruesome injury that took out Milwaukee center Andrew Bogut late in the season. The home team never trailed, building a 20-point lead in the first quarter and going to halftime with a 62-40 edge.
CELTICS 85, HEAT 76
BOSTON — Kevin Garnett had 15 points and nine rebounds and the Boston Celtics played Miami-style defense to beat the Heat 85-76 in the opener of their playoff series last night.
Trailing 44-41 at halftime, the Celtics held the Heat to 32 points in the second half. And with substitute guard Tony Allen shadowing Dwyane Wade, the Heat star scored 26 points after averaging 33.7 in three regular-season games against Boston.
"When you get Game 1 at home, you don't find yourself back pedaling and pressuring yourself to go out on the road and win," said Paul Pierce, who led the Celtics with 16 points.
NUGGETS 126, JAZZ 113
DENVER — Carmelo Anthony scored a playoff career-high 42 points and J.R. Smith's fourth-quarter flurry of 3-pointers helped Denver pull away from Utah in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series.
"We need that," Anthony said after Smith scored 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. "I know I said that earlier our team's success falls on me, but J.R.'s a big part of what we do and how far we go. We need him to play the way he played — under control."
Anthony, whose previous playoff high was 41 points against Dallas in the second round last year, benefited from the absence of Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who re-injured his strained left calf in practice Thursday and won't play in the series.
Although Carlos Boozer (rib) returned to Utah's lineup and scored 19 points, the Jazz lost center Mehmet Okur, who aggravated his left Achilles' tendon injury in the first half, and C.J. Miles also missed some time because of nausea after colliding with Chauncey Billups in the second half.