Saturday, May 12, 2007

New Jersey 96, Cleveland 85

Well... they had to lose sometime... The Cavs didn't exactly bring the energy Saturday afternoon; a problem which was amplified by New Jersey playing in front of the home crowd. To be fair, the Cavs weren't entirely listless, they just spent all their energy attempting to get back into the game and never had enough in reserve to push themselves over the hump.

The start of the halves killed them. This was a problem during the regular season but it hadn't reared its head thus far in the postseason. Well, it came back to today. The Cavs started the game by spotting the Nets a 15-4 lead and they also offered New Jersey a 8-0 run to start the third. The third quarter run especially hurt, because it undid all the hard work they put in erasing the deficit before halftime.

The two stories the media will focus on will be the rebounding difference and the lack of big plays from Pavlovic. The Cavs only had 5 offensive rebounds (after having 20 and 19 in the first two games, respectively) and they were out rebounded by a score of 43-30. As for Sasha, he didn't have a particularly strong game (though no Cavalier exactly stood out) and he finished with just 8 points on 2-5 shooting. I definitely could've used more shots from Pavlovic, he didn't exactly get a whole lot of plays called for him. (And can we please, please, please get past this "offense is my defense" crap? The Cavs played on national TV a billion times this year. And the quip was mentioned then and in every playoff game so far. Basketball fans know Pavlovic- and if you're watching Cavs-Nets at 5pm on a Saturday, you're not a casual fan. We don't need this story anymore. End it. We're done. Sasha may have to say something even more dumb just to get this to stop).

More rebounds. No Cavalier tallied double digit rebounds. Not one. Z paced the Cavaliers with 8, LeBron had 6 and Drew Gooden had just 4 (ya, um... that won't cut it). You could tell Jersey was mindful of the boards and they had everyone crashing the glass; often you'd see Z, Varejao or Gooden fighting 4-on-1 for a board.

One of the refs (I'm pretty sure it was the guy with the black eye, who I think is Ron Garretson) did not give the Cavs a decent call all game. Z's tech, that rebound that went off of Kidd yet it went to the Nets and a late game LeBron drive (where he was mugged by Collins) with no whistle to be heard- Black Eye Ref was involved in all of 'em. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming this game on the refs or saying there was a bias or anything (the Cavs were sluggish, the Nets were hot and the Cavs didn't play defense or rebound- they deserved to lose) just that when Garretson had a borderline call to make, it didn't go the Cavaliers way. I just want to get that off my chest. That guy sucked. Take that Black Eye Ref!

Why is Eric Snow in the game when the Cavs are losing? You're down 14 points, the offense is under performing and Brown brings in Snow, Marshall and Varejao- talk about instant offense. Plus, Snow always comes in for Pavlovic (God forbid Larry Hughes logs under 40 minutes), who has been playing good defense on Vince Carter anyways, so it's not like Snow is providing that much of a defensive upgrade. The Cavs had multiple possessions where Snow held the ball until the shot clock was at 13 and then handed the ball off (that is fantastic clock management). This is maddening to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, how 'bout Larry Hughes? He would face guarding Kidd but not actually looking at him, he let Carter get behind him on a break away (after Hughes shot and missed) and he had 4 turnovers to go with his usual shaky decision making and shot selection. Larry Hughes took 20 shots. Two. Zero. That is a lot. Especially since LeBron had 16, Z had 7 and Pavlovic had just 5. That's right, Z and Sasha combined doesn't equal Hughes. Do we wonder why this game was ugly and almost unwatchable? Larry had 20 shots, 4 turnovers and 1 assist. That is good point guarding.

Speaking of the offense: who are you afraid of on New Jersey? I guess I'm just confused on the lack of inside game today. Take the ball to the hole! There's no one on the Nets who is even remotely intimidating and yet the Cavs were content to shoot jumpers all day. And when they did go to Z (or LeBron) on the block, no one cut. No movement, a ton of jumpers... let's just say it was a joy to watch.

The defense wasn't completely shot, until the end. I thought the Cavs were halfway decent on the defensive end, at least early on, but New Jersey kept making jumpers (I mean, Jason Kidd was 5-6 from downtown, I'm sorry, that is ridiculous). A lot of New Jersey's early offense was on jumpers but as the game wore on, the Cavs gave up more and more easy/second chance/inside baskets (again, they used all their energy staging two comebacks and eventually just gave way).

LeBron's streak that we learned about last week has ended. That whole consecutive 20 point games to start a playoff career streak ended with LeBron only notching 18 points (I know, I'm crushed...). He wasn't as aggressive as I'd have liked him to be (again, Hughes should never end up with more shots than LeBron) but he did pass the ball well (finishing with 12 assists). As far as I can tell, James took just four shots in the fourth quarter and three of them were 3s- not exactly efficient.

How soon before Mikki Moore punches Anderson Varejao? Next game? Game 5? Moore can get pretty worked up (he was too anxious on a couple rebounds and received two offensive interference calls) and Varejao can get pretty annoying. There's been some posturing and jawing so far, so I wouldn't be surprised if Moore becomes the guy who finally clocks the Wild Thing.

and finally...

It's only one game. Were the Cavs ever actually really in it? Even though it was just 2 points at halftime, it never really seemed like they were. You knew Jersey was going to be pumped up coming home and you have feel (at least a little) pleased that the Cavs were within striking distance despite playing so poorly (again, LeBron had just 18 points and Hughes had 20 shots- this game could've/should've been worse). If they win on Monday and grab the split, they can close out at home and Game 3 is nothing more than a small blip. But if they lose Monday, they'll be getting themselves into a long, contested series (which they certainly don't want, because Detroit is efficiently and brutally dispatching the Bulls).


Erik said...

The Sasha "offense is my defense" reference is like Vlad Guerrero hitting balls on the bounce.

Every freaking time he steps to the plate, some announcer has to say "Vlad is a tremendous bad-ball hitter. Heck, he once hit a ball on the bounce!" Which, of course, elicits an Ed McMahon belly laugh from the color guy.

It's like Carlos Mencia open mic night at the Improv. I want to ram my fist down my throat.

But as far as actual basketball is concerned, Game 4 is huge for the Cavs. They really need to win. Not only because another Nets win ties the series, but because another loss might signify the beginning of one of those two-week mental funks like the Cavs had in early April.

Obviously, if they lapse into one of those now, New Jersey could storm back and take the series 4-2 and all the Cavs-haters in the national media will be singing high choruses of "I told you so."

Ben said...

Carlos Mencia... I hate that guy. What Carlos, Asians can't drive? What won't you say?!

You're right, it's going to be interesting to see if this is just a bad game or an omen for things to come. If they go into one of their "what's a post up" stretches, this series could be a lot closer than it should be.

At some point someone needs to box out Jason Kidd.