Now that's an Eastern Conference playoff game. Nothing like a game where every possession counts and the winning team barely breaks 80. This game had everything. Low shooting percentages? Check. Low scoring? Check. Good defense (how 'bout Sasha? That last possession?) Check. The announcers complaining about how ugly it is ("like getting teeth pulled")? Check. Aahh, the Eastern Conference. It is awesome.
LeBron had a dominant, quiet game. It wasn't like he imposed his will on the action, but he finished with 21-11-7. LeBron rebounded well, played good defense (he guarded Carter and Jefferson late) and, while he didn't shoot extremely well (just 8-21), he hit key shots late in the game. He wasn't overly flashy or breathtaking but he was involved with every aspect of the game. We didn't see him take Jefferson to the post (where LBJ dominated last time these teams met) but he at the same time, he didn't simply fall back on his jumper either.
Sasha's breakout game? Pavlovic had 15 points (though 12 came in the first half) and a key block on Jason Kidd (on a breakaway layup that would've cut the lead to 2) on his way to playing his most complete game of the postseason. Did he fill up the box score? Not really (0 rebounds and 2 assists) but he wasn't a walking turnover either. Sasha picked up some cheap foul guarding Vince Carter, but I would say that he was solid defensively for the bulk of the game. Hopefully his success on both ends of the court will be enough for him to snap out of his postseason funk.
Drew Gooden played great. Gooden hit key shots (basically abused Mikki Moore in the post) and hit the glass hard (6/14 rebounds were offensive). Drew outworked the New Jersey big men and he showed off his offensive skills as well. It wasn't his jumper either; Gooden looks very comfortable on the low block (to the point where it might not be a bad idea to run some set plays for him).
Speaking of the post: please learn to throw a post pass. Snow had a terrible pass to James, multiple people had bad passes to Z and Hughes threw it was away trying to hit Gooden on a repost. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea, but they have to make smarter passes to the bigs. The was some talk of the whole rest versus rust thing (New Jersey being tired while the Cavs were rusty) and I can see it a bit. Both teams had some head scratching turnovers and some brain farts on defense.
The Cavs destroyed the Nets on the boards. Maybe it was their lack of rest (though I blame their lack of quality big men), but whatever the reason, the Cavs destroyed the Nets on the boards. Cleveland (who's starting front court each notched double digits in rebounds- while no New Jersey big man had more than two) won the rebounding battle 51-37 and had 20(!!) at the offensive end.
Z cooled off. The big fella only shot 4-12 from the field but it was mostly off jumpshots. Which isn't all bad, but it would've been nice if they could have established him a big more on the block which, in addition to giving the Cavs offense another dimension, would've probably gotten Ilgauskas at least a few free throws (he had no attempts). Z got the bulk of his 8 points (6 of 'em) off of badly missed shots by Hughes and James (Zydrunas finished with 8 offensive rebounds, so he stayed active despite his lack of offensive production).
Larry Hughes was pretty good. Did he shoot a great percentage? No, of course not (7-20) but he did hit some key baskets (a jumper with 35 seconds left to push the lead to 4) and created some havoc on the defensive end (4 steals).
How about that bench? Not that anyone is really surprised, but the Cavalier bench didn't exactly wow anybody. For players combined for 6 points and 8 boards on 3-8 shooting. Not surprisingly, every starter played at least 35 minutes.
So who is supposed to feel good about this game? New Jersey had a single day to get ready, played in Cleveland, shot 37% and lost by just 4. Not a bad showing. But the Cavs hadn't played in 6 days, had to adjust to facing a team that dressed more than one good player and willed out a win despite shooting just 40% from the field, 29& from the 3pt line and a dismal 55% from the charity stripe. They didn't play their best, but they won their 5th straight playoff game (9th overall) to take a 1-0 series lead. Not bad.