This is the Shaquille O'Neal that coach Mike Brown and the Cavaliers were hoping they would get. This Shaq, all 325 pounds of him, proved an indomitable force inside; this Shaq scored points; this Shaq guarded the paint like a Secret Service agent. He made a dynamic complement for LeBron James.
Now, perhaps I overvalued this one performance. Sure, Shaq finished with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), but he did so against the Trailblazers, a team with a few fine pieces like Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge but with no one capable of pushing Shaq around inside.
"Anytime we can attack the rim, anytime that we get 'The Big Fella' playing with the will and the force that he played with, we can score a lot of points in the paint," said Brown, who bordered on giddy about a 104-99 win his Cavs came away with Friday night. "It showed in this game."
Brown got all he could ask of "The Big Fella" in a game the Cavaliers needed. They had limped back to The Q with two losses from a short road trip, and in those games, Shaq didn't dominate as Brown had hoped.
Shaq was all but invisible Wednesday night against the Rockets, a smallish, quick team that gave the Cavs fits inside. The loss to the Rockets is behind the Cavs. He doesn't have to figure out how the Cavs can better matchup against a team like Houston.
For the Rockets aren't a concern of Brown's now, not that he was happy they had beaten his team. But they aren't in the Eastern Conference, and the only way his Cavaliers will meet Houston is in the NBA Finals in June. That should give Brown ample time to devise a strategy that might be more effective.
I'm a former journalism professor at Ohio University, and I still enjoy teaching, although I don't do it anymore in a formal classroom. I have long felt that teaching is the most noble -- or selfless -- thing a person can do, which is why I value it so highly. But I'm also a sportswriter, which I enjoy doing nearly as much as I enjoy teaching. ... Justice B. Hill