Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Cleveland 88, Boston 77

That was freaking awesome! The entire game had this epic feeling to it, that everything seemed larger than life. We had LeBron posing for 3s, we had Daniel Gibson playing with a smirk, we had Gloria James getting into it with KG (and LeBron telling her "to sit your ass down") and we had the exclamation point of all exclamation points, LeBron posterizing Garnett to seal the game. Everything just screamed 'playoff classic' and I thought it was (though maybe Celtic fans feel differently). Going in, we were wondering which team would address it's issues; would LeBron finally get on track or will the Celtics finally win a road game. Funny thing, neither happened.

LeBron still didn't shoot well, but he's more than a scorer. James finished 7-20 from the floor for 21 points (which easily led the game) while also amassing 13 assists, 6 boards, 3 steals and 2 blocks. James attacked the rim to get to the stripe (5-8 FT) and also hit some 3s, but his mid-range game was completely ineffective. LeBron it couple of big 3s in the second half to help seal the game (before his ferocious dunk really ended it).

The offense still wasn't that great. Don't get me wrong, this was night and day between the Boston games, but they were still too prone to wasting possessions just standing around. The first quarter was particularly brutal; the Cavs led 23-21 after one, but a lot of their makes came on jumpers taken at the end of the shot clock. They went in, but they weren't good shots and you can't rely on those to fall all game. Thankfully, things got better as the game went on, but there were still too many terrible possessions (including a couple off of timeouts) that need to be fixed before Game 5. One nice surprise was how well the big men passed in the interior; Z, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace all made nifty passes in the lane to other bigs for easy baskets (Smith and Z to Andy and Wallace to Ilgauskas). It was nice to see.

Wally hit some shots early to open things up. Szczerbiak finished with 14 points and was 6-11 from the field (2-4 from downtown). Wally had a big first quarter (5 points, including the game's first basket) and but his third quarter is what really helped. Szczerbiak scored three of the Cavs first four baskets after halftime and forced the Celtics to actually spend effort guarding him and chasing him around screens (to the point where Ray Allen just grabbed him). When he's knocking down shots, which is happening with greater and greater frequency, the offense
is much less stagnant. Defensively, Szczerbiak did a fair job on Allen (15 pts, 4-10) and had flying jumpkick-esque foul on Kendrick Perkins to prevent a dunk. It was awesome, plus, Perkin's missed both freebies.

The bench was absolutely huge. Anderson Varejao played his best game in three months; Andy had 12 points (6-8 FG, though this scares me, we don't want to be encouraging him to shoot), 6 boards and did a terrific job on KG (15 points, 6-13 PF and just 2 points in the second half). Varejao's defense allowed the Cavs to single cover Garnett and stay at home on everyone else (also, we're beginning to see some of the KG-Varejao tension I was so excited about). Joe Smith also had a solid game, scoring 8 points and grabbing 6 boards, while playing the bulk of crunch time. And Daniel Gibson... Boobie hit a couple of big treys, including a dagger to push a 4 point lead to 7 with two and a half minutes to go. Gibson finished with 14 points, 6 boards, 4 assists and zero turnovers. The only other non-starter to receive minutes was Sasha Pavlovic, and he had a mostly uneventful 12 minutes, scoring just two points and guarding Paul Pierce.

The bench play kept some of the starters glued to the pine. I thought both Z and Ben Wallace played well, but both only played just 23 minutes due to production of Smith and Varejao. Both played solid defense and rebounded well (each guy had 7 boards) but Ilgauskas was just 3-10 from the floor and Big Ben was only 1-4. Both have had great series thus far, so I'm too concerned, but it was kinda nice to get these older guys (with their back issues) some extra rest and not lose any production.

I know the story will be that Boston is 0-5 on the road, but can we get some recognition for the Cavalier defense. Lost amid all the talk of 66 wins, road losses and LeBron's shooting woes is the fact that the Cavaliers haven't allowed more than 90 points yet and only had Boston crack the 85 point mark once (Game 2's 89). They've kept Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (13 points, 6-17) in check and they're getting better at guarding KG. The Celtics had their chances to take control of this game as the Cavs only scored 8 points in the first 8 and a half minutes in the fourth. But Cleveland's defense was just as strong and never let Boston tie up the close game.

and finally...

How long will LeBron's shooting slump last? The Cavs can take control of this series with a win in Boston on Wednesday night. They've played the Celtics well for 5 quarters in Boston and they're going to have to be ready for the big emotional lift that the Celts will have on their home court. The Cavs have played well despite getting minimal scoring from King James and you get the feeling that if he can put together a big game, the Cavs would be in a very good position coming home for Friday's Game 6. A win in Game 5 gives the Cavs the opportunity to close this thing out at home and keeps them away from a Game 7 scenario (which might make for good TV, but will do no good for either my heart or my liver). I don't think they'll need a 48 point/Game 5 vs Detroit from James, but if he gets somewhere between 27 and 40, you have to feel good about their chances.

2 comments:

LargeBill said...

They should smell blood and being going all out for the kill in game five. Boston is starting to question themselves. So get into their head early.

Erik said...

The playoffs so far have proven that, while the Celtics are a very good team, they are not on par with the '96 Bulls, '86 Celtics or any of the other all-time greatest teams. The national media has skewed it that way because they are desperate to play up Boston's return to greatness as a major angle of national interest.

The Celtics have some very real flaws that good teams will be able to exploit over the span of seven games. They aren't terribly athletic or terribly big inside. Yes, they have KG, but as he ages, he's becoming more of a finesse player in the mold of Tim Duncan.

The big difference is that Timmy D, even when he's playing soft, is still going to get his boards and points inside. KG playing soft means he's hoisting 18-footers. He can definitely make those shots, but I'll let him take those all night as opposed to letting him carve a foothold on the block. Kudos to Andy for his effort on KG to force him outside last night.

I know the entire basketball-following nation is waiting on that Detroit-Boston EC Finals, but man, I think that's going to be a boring-ass series to watch if it happens. Nobody is going to be able to create inside, ever. The result will be an endless stream of 20-foot jumpers and 31-percent shooting nights from both teams.

If the Cavs get eliminated in this round, I am going to be a proponent of Western Conference basketball for the rest of the playoffs.