Wednesday, June 13, 2007

San Antonio 75, Cleveland 72

Well... this is no good. Down 3-0. Ouch. This was the game that the Cavs needed to win and they simply didn't get it done. The Spurs are a better team, but the Cavs had their chances and they blew it (for whatever reason). LeBron played better (25 points, 8 boards, 7 assists) but his jumper was off (9-23 overall and 0-5 from 3) and he got himself into foul trouble late in the first half (and by late I mean the last six minutes of the second quarter).

About that last play. James was fouled. Bruce Bowen intentionally fouled him. LeBron James was intentionally fouled on a game tying 3 pointer, at home, in the NBA Finals and it wasn't called. So I guess the NBA isn't rigged...

And when I say they had their chances, I mean it. The Cavs were down 67-57 with 6:18 to play (and yes, that is 67-57 with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Offense wasn't exactly on display); things looked bleak. But they made a run and cut the lead to 67-63 with 5:05 to go. But the Cavs could not seem to cut that deficit. LeBron missed a couple layups in traffic, Gooden got tangled up for a jump ball (which led to a forced jumper from Pavlovic) and Varejao dribbled the ball off his foot. It took them six chances to change that score (this whole time they actually stopped San Antonio, go figure) and James finally cut lead to 67-65 on two freebies with 1:54 to go.

Then we have the play of the game. Let's set the scene: the Cavs are down 72-70 with 25 seconds to go, they just stopped the Spurs and they're coming down the court with a chance to tie the game or take the lead. The Cavs have their defensive team on the floor (Eric Snow and Varejao) but they don't call time out (Brown was trying to, but the Cavs didn't want the Spurs to set up their defense). LeBron has the ball, drive the lane, gets cuts off and passes to Varejao. This is where things go bad. Some people are going to be bitching that LeBron gave up the ball in that situation (Michael Reghi was making a big deal out of it after the game) but I don't buy it. When LeBron passed to Andy it was because he was cut off and he wanted to reload the play- once LeBron got rid of the ball he immediately bounced out and called for it (meaning, he didn't have his shot and he picked up his dribble). Varejao had two options here, pass it back to LeBron James or drive the ball one on one against Tim Duncan and force up the ugliest finger roll ever. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Varejao chose the finger roll and surprisingly, it didn't tie the game. Should Brown have called a time out? Maybe. But I like the idea of attacking the Spurs while they can't get set; I just don't like the idea of Varejao being the attacker.

Gibson started and didn't do particularly well (Hughes was 'injured'). 2 points, 1-10 from the floor, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 36 minutes; that is a Larry Hughes stat line if I've ever seen one). Maybe the starting point guard position is cursed or something. Part of Gibson's problem was the extra attention the Spurs gave him but he also took some shots that he doesn't normally take. He missed all five of the 3s he took and a lot of them weren't good looks (though on one he was blatantly fouled and there was no call. My best friend is a Spurs fan and even he was wondering what the deal was). The was also a stretch in the first half where LeBron picked up his 3rd foul and the Cavs had to run the offense sans LBJ; this led to some shots by Gibson and Pavlovic that they shouldn't have been taking.

Z and Pavlovic showed up for the first time all series. I'm not really shocked that this happened at home. Pavlovic had 13 points, including a huge 3 with a minute to go and the Cavs down five. Z had 12 points, 10 offensive boards and 8 defensive boards. He missed a couple of makable jumpers, but he scored efficiently enough (6-13 from the floor) and the dude did have 18 boards. This is usually where I say that LeBron will need both of these guys if they want a shot at this series... however, they're down 0-3 so I'll skip it.

LeBron only had eight free throw attempts. Look, again, I don't want to point the finger at the refs; the Cavs had their chances in Game 3 and didn't capitalize. But twice the Cavs were fouled on 3s and nothing was called (Gibson and LeBron). LeBron and Pavlovic each could've gotten to the line at least a couple of extra times (I mean, these were plays where LeBron falls down and Pavlovic gets hit. I know its the playoffs and man up and shit. But come on).

The first half was the best half they played. The Cavs came out strong (had the lead after the first quarter), the crowd was involved and they build the lead up to eight during the second quarter. And they were still down two at half. That couldn't have been a fun locker room. The Spurs ended the half on a 10-0 run to turn a 38-30 deficit to a 40-38 lead. LeBron was on the bench during all of this with 3 fouls. Now, maybe you'd think Mike Brown would have learned to keep LeBron on the floor despite foul trouble (see Game 2) but nope.

Hey ABC, fuck you. Honestly, what the fuck are you doing? OK, this is the first time the Cavs are in the Finals and they're down o-2 to the heavily favored Spurs, what should we do for halftime? Oh, I know, let's show a whole sequence of Cleveland teams losing big games and series. You know, Michael Jordan, John Elway, Jose Mesa, Grady Sizemore losing a fly ball in the sun. All those things. Great. Thanks a lot guys. It didn't help matters that the Spurs closed the first half on a 10-0 run to take a two point lead going into the break. I'm sure the greater Cleveland suicide help line was going off the hook.

The Spurs are a great team. I know everyone has been giving the Cavs grief about how they're the worst team to ever make the Finals and how Chicago was better and blah blah blah (while we're here, fuck all of you too. Did the Cavs have a nice draw, facing Washington and New Jersey? Yes. But you know what? Chicago could've had that seed themselves, but they lost on the last day of the season. And the Cavs beat the team that Chicago lost to. So I'm sorry that the Cavs beat all the teams they faced while the Bulls lost key games. Our bad?) but the Spurs are really really really good. It's going to suck if and when the Cavs lose this series, but there is no shame losing to this San Antonio team. It seemed every time the Cavs built their lead, San Antonio would just hit a back breaking 3 (and Tony Parker hit a killer with a minute left that I though would've sealed it, but Pavlovic came right back and cut the lead to two). Bruce Bowen was 4-5 from beyond the arc and Brent Barry was 3-4. The Spurs were 10-19 from the land of trey while Cleveland was 3-19.

Hey, they out rebounded San Antonio for the first time all series. Sure they still lost, but I don't care, they needed to win the rebounding battle if they wanted to have a shot and they did, 48-41. It basically boils down to is this: the Cavs have to play perfect to beat San Antonio (shooting, rebounding, defense, free throws, etc) while the Spurs can win games where things don't go their way (Duncan had 14 points, Parker had 17 and Ginobli had 3). The Cavs may have played well defensively and won the rebounding battle, but they didn't execute on offense and the Spurs gutted out a win.

and finally...

Just send it back to San Antonio, that's all I'm asking for. I know the Cavs don't have much of a shot any more (if any) but I would at least like to them to A) not get swept B) not let San Antonio win in Cleveland and C) just play one solid game during the Finals (just one!). I don't think this is too much to ask (though if I have to ask for anything else, it'd be to get it into Varejao's head that he doesn't have an offensive game and he shouldn't be taking spot up jumpers or driving one-on-one).


Erik said...

I have to get philosophical here and say that this is an education for LeBron and the whole team. You get drubbed and humiliated by the best teams in the league. That's how you learn in the NBA.

Sam "LeBron Isn't Worthy To Carry Jordan's Used Kleenex" Smith of the Chicago Tribune doesn't like any LeBron/Jordan parallels. But I have to think this is exactly what Jordan went through in the late '80s.

The major difference was that the East was chock full of elite teams in the '80s, so by the time Jordan got past the Celtics and Pistons, he was ready to win titles.

For LeBron, the East is the NBA's JV conference, so the only way he learns what is needed to win a title is to face a team like the Spurs.

And this is the Spurs at their best. Better than the '05 team. Better than '03. No team in the East would stand a chance against these Spurs. The Pistons might have taken them to six games or so, but no way they beat them.

I'm sure there will also be plenty of "D-Wade is still better than LeBron because when D-Wade got to the Finals, he won." But last year was more about the Mavs melting down than the Heat winning. But even that Heat team was better than this Cavs team.

I still find it amazing that this Cavs team, in this state, after only really having played together for two years, is in the Finals. I'm really not sure what to make of all of it at this point. But I have to think it will help in the long run.

Ben said...

I agree, this is really good for this team and LeBron in particular. Plus, hopefully a trip to the finals won't blind the management and they'll make some changes.

This is an extremely flawed team. They don't have an offensive philosophy, they don't have players who are money jump shooters (which you need with LeBron and Z) and they don't have any inside toughness (no Charles Oakley type enforcer).

I was worried that a trip to the ECF (and now the Finals) would blind Ferry and co into thinking this team was set (don't want to mess with a Finals team) but this series shows how far the Cavs have to go to become an elite team.

Erik said...

With what you wrote in mind, I'm almost hoping the Spurs finish off the sweep Thursday.

That way, there is no waffling. No "well, maybe we just got caught off-guard at the start" if the Cavs somehow get this series back to San Antonio. A 4-2 series win for the Spurs makes this series look one heck of a lot more evenly-matched than it has been.

I'm with you on the Ferry thing. I want there to be no doubt that Ferry needs to make some significant moves this summer for the Cavs to emerge as an elite team. He might not be able to add every piece he needs this year, but he can start with a point guard along the lines of Mike Bibby or Chauncey Billups.

Bibby or Billups wouldn't toss the ball in to Andy down by two on a must-score possession inside 20 seconds, I know that much.

Ben said...

People are mad about the pass to Varejao, but LeBron was obviously (to me at least) giving him the ball so LeBron could reset and have a new dribble.

This wasn't another Donyell Marshall Game 1 type situation. This was Andy trying to do too much and taking a bad shot.

graham said...

There is no doubt whatsoever that LeBron anticipated getting the ball back. He does it all the time when he loses his dribble (or is about to), and usually AV gives it back. AV just made a really dumb play at a really bad time.

Also, no matter what happens in Game 4 or 5, Ferry will already have realized they need to make some moves.

Ben, you're right. They need shooters and some tough guys inside. The problem is Hughes and his contract though IMO. He's just making way too much money for his production. Ferry needs to work a miracle.

Erik said...

My thought is that LeBron should have anticipated the possibility of Andy making a dumb play. Andy very often doesn't think out there, he reacts.

Even the great plays Andy makes (i.e. the putback slam over Bosh to beat Toronto) are more the product of him exerting himself than any premeditation.

Don't get me wrong, good teams need energy guys who aren't afraid to do anything. Despite all the flopping allegations, I think Andy is genuinely not afraid to sacrifice his body to draw a foul. He flops sometimes, but he also gets drilled a lot, too.

The flip side to that, however, is he really isn't a skill player, and is anything but a thinking man's player, and absolutely should never have the ball in his hands to make a decision with the game on the line.