Coach Mike Brown didn’t want to show too much emotion on the bench. Coaches in the NBA know not to do that when their teams are running roughshod over an opponent. No, they must sit there and bask in the moment. They can’t be sure how long moments like these will last.
With the Cavaliers, Brown is expecting to see plenty more moments like this one, a 102-90 win Tuesday night over the Wizards. His Cavs played the way Brown had been wanting them to play this season: They hustled on defense; they moved the ball crisply on offense; and they got Shaquille O’Neal involved in all of it.
Brown’s smile afterward? Ear to ear.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s like Christmas.”
Don’t go unwrapping those presents just yet, coach. Christmas won’t come for your Cavaliers until June -- if they can last that long. For if they make it deep into June, they’ll be in the NBA Finals, which is the reason they brought Shaquille O'Neal to Cleveland in the first place.
But bringing a talent like Shaq to Cleveland and using him aren’t the same thing. Brown had to figure out a way to get the most out of Shaq. No youngster at 37, he couldn’t be expected to put in the minutes he did a decade ago, and people have questioned aloud whether could run the floor and occupy two defenders inside.
No need to raise those questions anew, because if the victory over the Wizards, a team with postseason aspirations that are legit, attested to anything, it was this: Shaq O’Neal has plenty of skills left in his aging body.
For long stretches against the Wizards, Shaq looked as if he had drank from the fountain of youth. He pushed center Brendan Haywood around like stick figure, muscling inside the lane for high-percentage shots.
“I gotta lot ’em know I’m still here and am a force to be reckoned with,” he said as he sat in front of his locker stall.
They know, Shaq; they know. They can’t but know after seeing you score 21 points and play 28 1/2 minutes. The eight rebounds showed plenty as well, because they were statistics that complemented the inside play of LeBron James and Anderson Varejao.
Bigger than all of this was the fact, finally, Shaq fit in.
“Probably my first game where I was very, very aggressive,” he said. “The other games I was trying to fit, and I hadn’t been really taking a lot of shots; I was just trying to make sure everybody else gets involved.
“I think the guys know whenever they need a basket, they can throw it down there.”
“Down there” is in the paint -- Shaq’s domain. The weak need not venture there, and even the strong might be wise to avoid it. When Shaq can play like he did Tuesday, he can do marvelous things for a team who needs him to.
Brown would love to see Shaq play like this every night. So would LeBron and the Cavs fans who pack The Q. That might be more than Shaq can give them. Then again, who knows for certain what Shaq has left in his fuel tank. He surely ain’t running on empty, which is the reason Brown could smile.
"That was fun to watch," he said.