Saturday, May 30, 2009
I know some people are gonna wanna blame the refs. And don't get me wrong, the refs were not good. Those early fouls on Anderson Varejao really really (really really) hurt.
But the refs aren't the guys missing free throws. They aren't the guys leaving shooters wide open. And they aren't the.. well, maybe they were standing around watching LeBron too.
The Cavs were out hustled, out rebounded and simply out played. Dwight Howard dominated (40 pts, 14 boards, 4 assists) and Orlando's role players continued to step up. Mickael Pietrus continued to play out of his mind (14pts, 4-7 3pt).
Obviously, this was a bad matchup for the Cavaliers. Delonte West is simply too small to guard Turkoglu. The Cavs don't have the low post presence to make them pay for playing a power forward who doens't rebound. And when the fourth and fifth options are knocking down seemingly every shot, it's gonna be hard to win.
I seriously thought the Cavs were gonna comeback with the way they started the second half. Mo and Delonte hit some shots and the Cavs had cut the lead to 10 about 6 minutes into the 3rd quarter. But they couldn't get enough stops to make a difference. The Cavs shot 44% from the floor and 45% from behind the arc. The offense wasn't great (LeBron had an off night) but it was passable. It was all the little things that beat 'em; they lost the battle of the boards 47-34, they allowed the Magic to shoot 46% from the floor and they shot a pathetic 11-22 from the foul line.
They flat-out got beat.
In the end, I have to wonder if dominating the first two rounds made a difference. On one hand, I think it's fairly obvious that Orlando grew up over the course of these playoffs. This Magic team had an epic second round match-up with the Celtics that went the full seven. They blew out the Celtics at home.
The Cavs did not have the experience of playing in those late game situations. This was basically Mo Williams' first real playoff series. He had the big Game 5 and he played pretty well in Game 6 too (17 pts, 6-12 FG, 3-4 3pt). Hell, I actually thought he should've taken the ball away from LeBron in the second half.
But at the end of the day, playing a few nailbiters won't make Delonte West any taller or Zydrunas Ilgauskas any faster.
(I'm interested to see what Orlando does against the Lakers. The Lakers have Kobe, Ariza and Odom to harass Turkoglu and Lewis (they won't be able to just shoot over 'em) and Pau Gasol could really punish Lewis inside. Plus, Andrew Bynum is big and quick enough (if anyone really is) to guard Howard one-on-one. One part of me would be pissed if Orlando got to the Finals and shot like shit. But another part would laugh my ass off.)
Friday, May 29, 2009
I'm a little concerned about the 1 v 5 offense, but at least he was catching the ball around the stripe. He can take one dribble and get to the rim. And if he settles? It's a jumper he's been knocking down all series (and it's not a long trey).
They have to play faster for the whole game. And I'd STILL move LeBron to Turkoglu. He's just too big for Delonte. Hopefully they can continue the early offense and allow LeBron to expend some energy guarding Hedo. I simply don't think they win in Orlando without a defensive switch.
Also, this whole "well, if LeBron is doing that then what can you do? we'll just shake his hand after the game" goes both ways. Yes, LeBron was insane down the stretch, scoring or assisting on Cleveland's last 31 points. And if you're Orlando, yes, you just gotta tip your hat and say good game.
But the Magic have had these moments throughout this entire series. If Mickael Pietrus keeps hitting ridiculous shots, Rafer Alston is banking treys and Dwight Howard goes 14-19 from the stripe... well, you gotta tip your hat too.
Yes, the Cavs "barely" won with James going nuts down the stretch. But the Magic dropped 17 treys in Game 4 and had to win in overtime. These games have all been really close! These are both really really good teams!! It's going to take an extraordinary effort to advance to the NBA Finals.
Things feel a bit better, right? You believe they got a shot in Game 6, no? Before the series started, if I had asked you if you thougth the Cavs would have to win a road game to move on, you probably would've agreed, no? The Cavs were going to have to win a game in Orlando to get to the Finals.
Now, they've got no choice.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
I'm fairly confident about tonight's game. The Cavs played well in Game 4 and while they've lost three games thus far, they've had a chance in every contest. The Cavs should be able to come out and defend their home court.
I'm fairly optimistic about the Cavs chances in this series. I know it's a long shot, but hell, does anyone remember two years ago? Tribe-Red Sox? Indians up 3-1, C.C. and Carmona were the next two starters... What did Boston do?
Look, I know we're Cleveland. When our team is up 3-1, we lose. When our team is on the other end, it's too big of a hole.
I'm not as sour on the current situation as others and I think the Cavs have a fairly decent shot of playing one more game at home before they're done.
The big thing to look for tonight (for me anyways) is to see who they have LeBron defending. If it were up to me, I'd stick him Hedo Turkoglu. West has done a decent job, but he's too short and it allows Hedo to see (and shoot) over him (especially on the move). Plus, when the Cavs transition to defense, they often have a hard time picking up Rafer Alston. Just stick LeBron on Hedo and be done with it. Sure, they can still switch, but it's better giving up height AND not guarding a guy.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
B) Stop having LeBron guard Rafer Alston. This should've happened a few games ago. LeBron keeps floating off of Rafer to go guard other guys and it's leaving the streaky shooter wide open. Plus, in transition, the Cavs have a hard time matching up quickly because they're chasing after guys who aren't guarding them. Just stick Bron-Bron on Turkoglu and have Williams or West guard Alston. You can't allow this guy to shoot uncontested treys all game.
C) Why the fuck does the offense keep breaking down? The Cavs made a conscious effort early in the game to keep LeBron off the ball. They had a 8 point lead at halftime. But by the end of the 3rd period, it was all LeBron, all the time. Mo Williams was nowhere to be found down the stretch and the Cavs kept letting Bron-Bron initiate the offense 20 feet from the rim.
D) Maybe I'm a dumb optimist, but I still think the Cavs got a shot. These have all been really close games and the Cavs have had late (late late) leads in two of the losses. They've put themselves in a hole where they gotta win three in a row against the Magic. Not good. But the Cavs can win at home. They can compete in Orlando. And if they can somehow get things back for a Game 7, anything could happen. I just don't feel that this squad is done. I just don't see it.
E) I still refuse to feel sorry for myself as a Cleveland fan. Not yet. That was a phenomenal game and it's been a good series. I simply don't believe that this team is done just yet. Not yet. (Please?!)
While the Cavs are on the brink, I don't think they're done just yet. West and Williams played much better and Cleveland showed they can hang with the Magic in Orlando. If nothing else, this should give the supporting cast a little confidence, no? And they're returning home (where the fans have already given up hope) so maybe they'll play a little looser... eh?
At some point I just gotta tip my hat to the Magic, they keep finding ways. Rashard Lewis has hit some monster shots over the course of these four games. They're role players are playing out of their collective minds.
What the Cavs have to tell themselves is that they can play well in Orlando. If they can take care of their home court, they can take another shot at a game in the Magic Kingdom. They were close tonight. And from there, you just pin your hopes on a "anything can happen" Game 7.
Obviously, things are bleak. But they Cavs aren't done yet.
(I refuse to feel self pity.... for now).
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
On the other hand, this group is a Rashard Lewis jumper away from being up 2-1. Yes, they've blown leads at home but they got those leads for good reasons (hey, remember when LeBron schooled Mickael Pietrus in the post? That was neat). Have things looked bad at times? Sure, but it's not like no one has ever come back from a 2-1 hole. At some point I also think that Orlando has played about as well as they can play. They aren't going to look any better than they have already. Maybe I'm grasping at straws here, but it's fairly obvious what areas the Cavaliers need to focus on. How much more could you expect out of Lewis, Howard and Turkoglu?
But am I nervous about tonight? Lord yes. While I'm not freaking out over being down 2-1, I'm definitely not comfortable with the idea. I don't want to even contemplate being down 3-1.
You know what's not helping my comfort level? Mo Williams making guarantees.
He better hope that the Cavs win Game 4, because if they continue at their current level of play (including -and especially- Williams), he's gonna come off like a jackass.
Mo hasn't played particularly well (17 pts, 32% FG, 25% 3pt) and he just put a lot of pressure on himself. If this ends well, Mo will come out of a this a Cleveland folk hero. Maybe the Cavs and the city needs this bravado, even if it rings a bit false. False bravado has got to be better than utter despair, right?
The fact of the matter is, this series hinges on the play Mo Williams. The Orlando supporting cast (if you can even call it that) around Dwight Howard has been superb. Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are the reason Orlando owns this 2-1 advantage. If Williams can step up and provide James with some help (not just knocking down open looks, but by initiating the offense and forcing/allowing LeBron to play off the ball) the Cavs will be in a much better position.
For better or worse, I keep reminding myself that this is basically Mo Williams's first 'real' playoff series. Sure, he made it with the Bucks, but they knew going in that they had no shot against the Pistons. We all know the ease of which the Cavs walked through this year's first two rounds. The Magic are battle tested. They've already blown games at home and won a tough fight against the defending champs. This is Mo's first taste of a real playoff series. That elbow from Anthony Johnson may have been the best thing to happen to him.
I'm fairly optimistic that Williams will fight through his struggles. I've seen the confidence he has in his abilities throughout this entire season (and even in his days in Milwaukee). Mo has knocked down big shots throughout the year (at home AND on the road) and when he gets going, he's extremely hard to stop.
Plus, if Mo can take a little more control of the offense (LeBron doesn't have to initiate every possession) maybe it allows LeBron to D-up Turkoglu or Lewis for the entire game (instead of floating off of Rafer). As much as it feels weird to say, LeBron is going to have to do a little bit more; if the Cavs are going to win, they'll have to stop at least one of Orlando's Big Three (Howard, Lewis & Turkoglu) and LeBron (Defensive POY runner-up) is their best bet.
As bad as things have looked, a win tonight puts this thing at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland. Seriously, before the series started, if I would've asked to you to guess the series record at Game 5, would 2-2 really be that far fetched?
And for all you message board commenters already proclaiming this "the biggest choke job in the history of Cleveland sports"- go jump off a fucking cliff. Way to be helpful you self loathing douches. No wonder our teams choke; a little adversity and we all tweak out. Can't you wait til the series over before you start feeling sorry for yourself?
It's the goddamned playoffs. This is a team equipped with the best player on the freaking planet. And if you thought that they were going to waltz through this ECF in 4 or 5 games, you're simply ignorant about the NBA.
Are they in a dog fight? Hell yes. Can they play better You betcha. But being down 2-1 is not an insurmountable hole. A win tonight and we're back to square one (and a loss could put the entire city on suicide watch).
We'll see what happens. (Hopefully Mo and West won't simply be used as spot up shooters. Mo has to run the offense and West particularly has to drive the ball to the rim. Delonte can't be afraid of Dwight Howard. And of course, I'd love to see LeBron post up and maybe even be used in pick and rolls).
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I'll be honest, I thought they were toast. This type of stuff doesn't happen to Cleveland. Cleveland teams blow that game and go down 0-2. This game was a mirror image of Game 1. The Cavs jumped out to a big lead (43-20!!!) and looked to be in complete control of the ball game. But Orlando kept creeping back... hitting shot after shot and the offense bogged down... and Orlando tied the game and eventually took the lead.
LeBron James = Beast. 35 points, 5 boards, 4 assists and a steal. He hits the game winner, he dominates inside and he feeds his teammates for open looks. I'm not sure what else I can say about the guy. He's simply amazing. He ended up shooting 10-12 from the line, but he easily could've gotten 8-10 more free throw attempts.
Hey, where the NBA love when you need it? LeBron and Mo got pounded inside and recieved little love from the refs. You could look at the final tallies (Orlando had 25 FTA, Cleveland 26) and say the fouls were even... but the Magic are a jump shooting team. They weren't going inside. The Cavs were and got no love. Hell, Lebron got called for a travel late in the 4th period (I mean, sure, he did travel, but when the fuck is that called?! At home? In the playoffs?!). The touch call on Pavlovic with 13 seconds left was the killer. It allowed the Magic to have the final shot (without the call, the Cavs would've had the final shot with about 4-7 seconds left). LeBron gets mugged... no call. Turkoglu gets bumped? Whistle. I don't get it.
I'll be honest, I'm just in awe of LeBron's shot. Sure, there was more to the game. Z played well (12 points, 15 boards), Mo seemed to find his shot near the end of the game and the Sasha Pavlovic experiement went fairly well (bullshit foul not withstanding). Mo still didn't shoot well, going just 7-21, but Delonte West shot a more than decent 4-7 to give LeBron some relief. Four out of five Cavalier starters finished in double figures and Pavlovic finished with 9.
This Orlando team is good. I'll be honest, I underestimated this team. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu hit some big time buckets and Courtney Lee is gonna be a player in this league for a long long time. They don't back down. The Cavs can't continue to build big leads and let them sneak back in. They have to keep pushing and not letting themselves get taken out of their game plan. Turkoglu tied the game off a somewhat broken play by hitting a wide open 3 pointer with 48 seconds left. That can't keep happening; you gotta stay home.
How big is David Stern's boner right now? Both conference finals are tied at 1-1. He has a game winner by LeBron. He's got Kobe and Melo going head-to-head in an epic series (which has just been glorious). Also, the defensive player of the year (and Slam Dunk Superman) is pushing LeBron to his limit. You couldn't script this shit any better if you wanted.
Whew... 1-1. Sure, I dunno if you can be really confident after these two games, but while the Cavs could easily be down 0-2, they could just as easily be up 2-0. Orlando is a great road team, but you can beat 'em at home. The Cavs got their work cut out for 'em, no doubt. But they still got LeBron. And that guy may have saved the entire city of Cleveland on Friday night. If they go down 0-2... just put the whole city on suicide watch. But we got LeBron. And he hits 28 foot game winners at the buzzer. Thank the lord.
Friday, May 22, 2009
They basically played no backup guards, only slow bigs off the bench. I think they're gonna need Pavlovic to contribute; he'll be able to stay with both Lewis and Turkoglu on the defensive end (he just has to not F-up at the offensive end).LeBron:
James, who scored a career postseason-high 49 points in Game 1, suggested Brown give Sasha Pavlovic a chance.
"I think Sasha can be huge for us," James said. "Mentally, if Sasha's in tune, he could be really good for us with his 6-7 or 6-8, 240-pound frame, he could really help us on the defensive end, and he's also an offensive threat. You just cannot leave him open on the offensive end because he can make shots. Mentally, if Sasha's in tune, which I think he can be, and if he's called upon, I think he can be really good for us. We need that type of active body on the defensive end who can take a little bit of the load of myself and Delonte. . . . We could use him out there."
Said Brown, "Sasha is a guy we may consider."
It's actually come down to this. Holy God, we need Sasha Pavlovic. I mean, it makes sense. Daniel Gibson (the other backcourt bench player) isn't going to guard either Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis and Pavlovic has the size and playoff experience to make a difference. Offensively, I've liked what I've seen from Sasha throughout the year; he wasn't picking up as many offensive charges (he'd pass the ball off drives) and he knocked down his jumpers (41% 3pt in 08-09).
Though, like LeBron said, we're going to have to see where Sasha's at mentally. If he stays within himself and doesn't try to do too much, he could really help the Cavs out on both ends of the floor.
I'm fairly confident the Cavs will win Game 2 tonight and we'll head to Orlando all tied up at 1-1. As for me, I'm heading to Columbus this evening and then to Indiana for the rest of the weekend. I'm postive that I'll be watching tonight's game, I'm just not sure how sober I'll be post-contest. I'll have something written up either late tonight (full of spelling errors and drunken ramblings!) or earlyish tomorrow morning/afternoon (hung over style).
Also, everyone make sure they're wearing their lucky socks and what have you. I've gotten reports of friends not wearing their lucky shirts or showering at halftime and putting on some Browns gear (STUPID STUPID STUPID!). Come on guys, let's do this shit right- no washing lucky underwear, no clothes featuring this town's imcompetent franchises and no "so when the Cavs face Denver in the Finals, you should come out for a game" comments.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
So, this is what a loss feels like. Through a combination of dominating their postseason opponents and the layoffs while waiting for each successive round rounds to begin, the Cavs hadn't lost a game in over a month. Even their last loss (April 15th against the Sixers) didn't feel too bad, as it was a "meaningless" game that had no effects on playoff seeding. This loss to the Magic, reminiscent of the Browns' 2003 playoff loss to the Steelers (the highest of highs, and ultimately, the lowest of lows), feels like a sucker punch to the collective gut of the fan base. Yeah, this one hurt.Cry Me a Cuyahoga River:
Take 75% of Szczerbiak and Gibson's minutes and give them to Sasha. Keep in mind, I am not a Pavlovic fan. But I just don't see how you can justify playing a guy a) whose feet are glued to the floor, or b) who is undersized and brings nothing to the table right now, over a guy who is 6'7, agile, and can also put the ball on the floor on the offensive end. Listen, I'm well aware of Sasha's deficiencies. I just think that with both Lewis and Turkoglu out on the floor, when the Cavs decide to change things up by going to the bench, the should do it by bringing out a big perimeter player who can bother Orlando's shooters a little bit.Waiting for Next Year:
The Cavs wasted an opportunity in game one of the Eastern Conference finals, and the news isn’t looking any brighter for the Cavs. LeBron James couldn’t get himself off the court as he was hobbled by what appeared to be leg cramps. He finally made his way off the court with a stream of blood running down his shin and the painful look of unfamiliar defeat on his face. It was a depressing finish to an awful second half for the Cavs.
Knowing this Cavalier squad, they will be chomping at the bit to get back into action on Friday night. There will be no excuses as the refereeing seemed to go hot and cold for both teams throughout the night. In the end the Magic played a better defensive game when it mattered most as the Cavs’ offense grew stagnant in the second half.
This was the first legit home loss for the Cavs in over three months. The last one came, as you recall, in early February in a 101-91 defeat against the Lakers. Brown benched everyone that mattered for a meaningless season finale at home vs. Philly, which the Sixers needed overtime to win.
Going by that token, this was also the Cavs' first legit loss in over a month. The last one? How about that 116-87 whitewashing in Orlando back in early April?
There is no way our Cavaliers could dominate their first two opponents so badly and lose this series. I don't care if we played the Washington Generals; we dominated the first two rounds so handily, I'm surprised they didn't give us a bye into the Finals. You're gonna tell me that this ragged bunch of Disney Darlings -- a team that struggled to beat a weak Philly team and barely beat that injury-riddled joke from Beantown -- is gonna come into our house and take us down? I don't think so.
Mo and Delonte have nowhere to go but up from here, and we know what they're capable of. I don't care who you are, you're not going to shoot the lights out all series long, especially playing against our smothering D. That's the downfall of teams that rely on three-point shooters. And for those still questioning LeBron's "clutch..." Remember the last time people complained about LeBron dishing rather than going to the hoop in the final seconds? I think that series worked out OK for us.
Lately, they aren't used to losing around here (let's not forget that 39-2 regular-season record), and the anger fans were feeling was palpable as the sellout crowd filed out of the building. The night began with the collective thought, "When exactly are the Lakers coming to town?" But that was replaced shortly before midnight by the simplistic, "How the heck did that happen?"
Adversity, welcome to Cleveland. Or perhaps we should say welcome back.
"[Adversity] is always good. Nobody said it was going to be easy," James said. "It's one game, and if we just look at it as one game, we'll be fine. If we think the world is coming down on our heads, we're going to lose pretty bad."
For now, we'll put this one down as a bad loss -- a bad loss to a team whose nutritionist was named either Chuck E. Cheese or Ronald McDonald.
Apologies, Cavs fans, if that makes the loss hurt even more. But there comes a time when every champion has to bounce back from something bad, and now the onus is on the Cavs -- if they truly are championship material -- to prove that's something they're capable of.
Thus, the Cavs must go back to the drawing board, and it's time for them to unearth the one tactic we didn't see Wednesday night: going small.
This may be the only way for the Cavs to survive. It's easier to double Howard with quicker, faster players, while James can slide up to the 4 and lock up Lewis. The Cavs haven't used that plan much this postseason, but it may be the only way they can guard the Magic in this series. Such a lineup might require them to play Sasha Pavlovic, because Wally Szczerbiak can't guard Pietrus, and that's a terrifying thought. But anything would be preferable to the way they've been chewed up during the teams' first four meetings.
I know the Cavs like the idea of allowing James to roam by having him defend Alston, but he's the only player on the team qualified to check Lewis. I'm a huge fan of Anderson Varejao's defensive expertise, but this is a bad matchup for him. He isn't used to defending the 3-point line and had trouble getting back to Lewis on the pick-and-pop plays on which Orlando devoured the Cavs during the second half. And if Varejao guards Howard instead, he may be able to flop himself into a few offensive-foul calls -- which is vital, because putting Howard on the bench is about the only way Cleveland can stop him.
On the other end, having LeBron post up against Pietrus seemed really effective. In fact, pretty much anything that involved having LeBron take a shot seemed to work really nicely. James was majestic with 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting, and in truth, the Cavs played well enough offensively to win on most nights. A 110.4 offensive efficiency mark against the league's top defense ain't too shabby.
Ultimately, it was pretty clear which team has been dealing with some intense playoff pressure for the last month and which team has mostly been smashing teams and resting. The Cavs totally fell into bad habits all over the place, both on offense and defense, and that is what should be most concerning not just the fact that Orlando had one of its patented great shooting nights.
• It has been said often, and correctly, that the Magic are a "pick your poison" team. Well, you can't take both doses of poison and survive. The Cavs decided to let Dwight Howard go in this game and pinch the other guys instead. It worked well for awhile, LeBron James totally flustered Rafer Alston guarding him, Delonte West did a nice job on Hedo Turkoglu with help from frequent double teams and Rashard Lewis was sucked into playing 1-on-1 basketball. Sure, Dwight Howard was making a mockery of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ben Wallace and they weren't fouling him and letting him get great post position and allowing points in the paint like they were the Golden State Warriors. But the Cavs were up 15 in doing so because that was it Howard or bust.
Then when things got tight the Cavs abandoned that plan and went back to denying Howard with double teams. That's when Turkoglu, who was flat out great in running high pick-and-roll in the fourth quarter, and Lewis started killing them. Do you know what you call that sort of violent switching the game plan? Did someone say panic? Well it may not have been panic but in comparing it to how they played all year long it looked like it.
The last good chance came when Delonte West -- who missed nine of his last 11 shots and five of his last six three-pointers -- missed a corner three-pointer in the last five seconds. He had a good look, much better than Rashard Lewis' three-pointer with just under 15 seconds left that beat the Cavs.
There is little defense for not running the red-hot Magic shooters off the arc in such a situation. Dwight Howard had fouled out. The Magic could not have liked their chances without him in overtime.
The last chance of any order of probability at all came after James won a jump ball with one second to play, tapping it to Mo Williams. James' erstwhile sidekick caught it in the air and shot it off the side of the rim. He missed 13 of his 19 shots in the game.
"I look at their team, and Dwight, Rashard and Hedo [Turkoglu] were terrific. I made six of 19 shots. I have to take pressure off LeBron,'" said Williams, seated beside James after both fought off cramps and reached the interview room.
Williams' desperate, shoveled 17-footer at the buzzer had a chance. "I should have made that one after missing ..."
Smiling, James interrupted with "All those easy ones?"
Just because the Cavs lost at home, it's not time to panic. Orlando won for one major reason: The Magic were 9-of-20 on 3-pointers, 7-of-13 in the second half. When they shoot like that -- and when the Cavs play All-LeBron, All The Time on offense, you get a game like this. But the Magic don't always shoot like this, and the Cavs should shoot better: especially as Williams and Delonte West were 10-of-31 from the field.
Both teams are good enough to win on the road. This is Orlando's fifth playoff victory away from home, giving the Magic a 5-3 road record, but they also are 4-2 at home, having lost to Boston and Philadelphia. Those were games where the Magic didn't hit from the outside. But a key for the Magic is tough defense The Cavs scored only 43 points in the second half -- 23 for James, 20 for everyone else.
Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said: "I have no idea what to do with LeBron, not a clue." James finished with 49 points, eight assists and six rebounds. The Cavs were outscored, 18-10, in the seven minutes when James sat in this game. The Cavs need to get more from their bench if they want to win this series. In their last three games -- two at Atlanta and Wednesday against Orlando -- the bench has produced only 20 points in 140 minutes, making 9-of-24 from the field. Joe Smith has 12 points, Wally Szczerbiak has six and Ben Wallace two. They need much more.
Look. This game sucked, don't get me wrong. But they have three more losses before they go home. Don't forget, this same Magic team lost the first game at home against the lowly Sixers in Round One.
It's not time to panic just yet. If they lose on Friday night... well, I wouldn't blame ya for freaking out (but even then, it wouldn't be over by a long shot).
It's cool, it's cool. They had 9 days off and they were obviously tired in the second half. Orlando has absolutely no answer for LeBron. Mo got open looks and just didn't knock 'em down. Despite missing for most of the game, Mo had the fortitude to hit a clutch trey with two minutes left. The refs were awful; the Magic got some seriously questionable calls on Williams (how come when he gets knocked down he gets whistled!) and Varejao (Turkoglu totally jumped into him!). The Cavs executed down the stretch, routinely getting good looks. It's not like they got blown out, they built a 16 point lead for a reason. It's all there, they just can't get into that "stand around and watch LeBron" lull.
Though seriously, the sky isn't falling. They lost a game, their first of the postseason. Did everyone think the road to the title would be easy? They had a bad game. Orlando hit shots, they executed down the stretch and they never stopped fighting. They're a good team, much better than both the Pistons and the Hawks (I mean, they did just win a Game 7 in Boston). Is there cause for concern? Of course; they have to limit the looks for both Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis and they have to get someone else going at the offensive end. But this is what the playoffs is: making adjustments game to game (and it's also what Mike Brown is really good at).
LeBron looks freaking dialed in. The MVP shot a preposterous 20-30 from the floor (3-6 from 3pt) and finished with a playoff career high 49 points. James also pitched in 8 assists, 6 boards, 3 blocks and 2 steals. He was knocking down his midrange jumpers, he was hitting his treys, he got inside and drew fouls and he even abused Mickael Pietrus in the post. His one blemish was the fact that he shot just 6-10 from the line. I hate to tell a guy who just scored 49 points that he needs to do more... but... they can't have him going 60% from the stripe. They lost by one while he missed four freebies. Not saying that's what determined the final outcome, but it's not good in any event.
The starters weren't awful, but they weren't great either. On one hand, each other member of the starting five finished in double figures, so it's not like they were completely useless. However, Mo Williams finished a grisly 6-19 from the floor (2-8 3pt) and Delonte West didn't fare any better, going 4-13 (3-8 3pt). The Cavs won't be able to win with their backcourt shooting 30%. Z was alright, going 5-11 from the floor for 10 points and he grabbed 10 boards. However, he's gonna have matchup problems defensively this entire series; he's not quick enough (or strong enough) to deal with Howard (though few are) and he's useless guarding someone like Rashard Lewis or Turkoglu (Boston faced the same problem). Also, Varejao played well, going 6-8 for 14 points, but only grabbed 6 boards (and just 1 offensive).
Hey Mike? These guys might need a rest. The Cavs haven't played a game in 9 days and Mike Brown has Williams, James and West all play over 40 minutes (West played 47!!!). Now that stretch where they sat around and hoisted treys makes sense: they were beat. I know the bench was awful (and it was- 5 points, 6 boards combined) but do you really not trust Daniel Gibson (3 minutes) and Sasha Pavlovic (DNP-CD) that much? Only Wally, Joe Smith and Ben Wallace got significant minutes off the bench. They basically played no backup guards. Only slow bigs off the bench. I think they're gonna need Pavlovic to contribute; he'll be able to stay with both Lewis and Turkoglu on the defensive end (he just has to not F-up at the offensive end).
Let's give the Magic their due. This is a squad that won 59 games. It ain't like they're in the conference finals on accident. They played a good game. The Cavs tried to single cover Howard and he made them pay (30 pts, 14-20 FG and 13 boards). Orlando took advantage of their speed and beat Z and Varejao to the rim (or out to the 3pt line). The Cavs tried to hide LeBron defensively on Rafer Alston (to conserve energy), but the Magic used their height to shoot over West and Williams. Rashard Lewis hit some freaking HUGE shots. Lewis had 8 points in the final three minutes (12 in the quarter), including the go-ahead 3 with 14 seconds to go. Hedo Turkoglu also had a great final period, scoring 9 points (all in the final five minuets) and had a whopping 7 assists (he finished with 14 in total). Also, while LeBron owned Mickael Pietrus, he stuck in there (I thought he gave good energy the entire game) and he hit some tough tough shots to cut into the Cavalier lead.
This is just a bump in the road... for now. This is just one game. Sure, they lost at home, but that happens. If Orlando was going to steal a game in Cleveland, it would be the one where the Cavs had the previous nine days off. Hell, the Lakers lost Game 1 in the last round. These things happen. What's comforting me is the fact that Mike Brown usually does well in these extended series. While I'm not totally sold on his in game adjustments (Delonte West played 47 minutes!!) Brown makes good adjustments from game to game during the playoffs (think the two Detroit series from 2006 and 2007). Now, they do have some things to change; the bench has to produce more than 5 points and they have to figure out what to do with Z on the defensive end. While this sucks, at the end of the day it's just one game out of seven. What? You didn't think that this city's first title since Meet the Beatles would be easy, did you?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Adding Griffin to Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas and co. would've been nice. Or you put him in Oklahoma City and you at least have a shot of building a contender around Kevin Durant before he could walk.
But the Clippers? With Memphis at number 2? Stern is losing his touch.
As for the game, the Nuggets showed why they're the Nuggets. They outplayed the Lakers for most of this game. They were more aggressive, they attacked the Laker defense and they showed why people think they could win this series. However, they missed a ton of free throws and made some bone head plays down the stretch (K-Mart fouling Kobe on a reach in, George Karl having Anthony Carter inbound the ball against a much bigger defender) allowing the Lakers to come back and steal the game.
I will say this: it was nice to see Carmelo Anthony on a big stage. I know everyone wants a Kobe-LeBron Finals, but LeBron-Melo wouldn't be bad either. Hell, I actually think that'd be a more intersting matchup. This whole Kobe-LeBron "rivarly" seems sorta forced to me. At least LeBron and Melo are actually friends (and the same draft class, close in age, etc).
Monday, May 18, 2009
Charles Barkley, what did we ever do to you?
The NBA great and basketball analyst for TNT, who seems to have made it a habit of bashing Cleveland at every opportunity, was at it again last night following Game 7 between the Magic and Celtics.
Like he did back in March, Sir Charles once again referred to our city as "Mistake by the Lake" (Original, Charles!) and picked the Magic to beat the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Close watchers of TNT may recall Barkley picking the Cavaliers to win the NBA Championship earlier in the playoffs.
Uh, say what, Charles?
So, what's your take on Charles Barkley, his Cleveland bashing and flip-flopping? We want to hear from you! Tell us why you're ticked off at Chuck in the comments section below.
Do we really need this? Should a newspaper really be stirring things up between a national commentator and a (disgruntled, out of work) fan base? Meh. I mean, I'd rather have actual basketball information or at least more stats on Delonte's hair.
I dunno, this just seems stupid and unnecessary to me. Plus, for some reason I guess I'm one of the only Cleveland fans who actually likes Sir Charles. I find the guy hilarious and I'm glad that the Eastern Conference Finals are on TNT simply due to their studio team. Plus, the more we goad the guy, the more he'll rip on the city.
I'm not sure why we care, every Clevelander I know loves this thing (I know, I'm late), so why get worked up over the Round Mound of Rebound?
The Cavs went 1-2 against Orlando this season, losing both games in Florida and winning their home contest. The last time they faced each other, this same Orlando team beat the Cavaliers 116-87.
While I'm still confident that the Cavaliers will win this series (I mean, seriously, who's gonna guard Mr. James?) I'm a little wary of this Magic squad. Do I trust them for a full seven games? No. But their 3 point shooters could get hot and allow the Magic to steal a game in Cleveland (conversely, if those shooters go cold, the Cavs should waltz).
While part of me is sad that we don't get a rematch of last year's conference semi-final, I am glad that the Cavs are going to have to face some adversity. If Boston had made it out of the 2nd round, the Cavs would've just steamrolled them. They were just too old, banged up and tired.
This Orlando team will pose some definite challenges for the Cavaliers and it's going to be interesting to see how they deal with it. They haven't had a nail biter all postseason, so they may be a bit rusty come crunch time.
But no matter, I fully expect the Cavs to win this series, maybe not handily, but convincingly nonetheless.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
2. I'll be honest, I don't think I've seen 9 outs of the Tribe's season.
3. I've kept my eye on 'em, don't get me wrong. But I'm not following along game-to-game. I just know they're losing.
4. I don't usually turn my full attention towards baseball until the Cavs are out of the playoffs (even then, maybe not til the Finals are over). Can't say I feel like I'm missing out.
5. I recorded a podcast on Wednesday (it'll be posted some time soon... right?) and made a vow not to discuss the Indians until Wedge is fired. So this may be the last Tribe talk you hear from me for the near future.
6. Speaking of Cleveland teams I'm angry with, I have almost no opinion on the Browns' draft (I know, I'm late). I like the general idea of trading down and stockpiling warm bodies.
7. While this team has had problems with nailing picks, they've also had zero depth. Their starters have been decent, but once one guy gets hurts, it always seems like they're signing guys off the street. Getting extra guys never hurt.
8. Also, it'll be nice to root for Brian Robiskie in a Browns uni. I'm not a huge "Browns must pick Buckeyes!!!" guy, but I will admit that I dislike these guys ending up on the Steelers.
9. I decided not to DVR today's Lakers-Rockets Game 7. Maybe that's a dumb move, but I fully expect L.A. to win by 20+.
10. I did DVR the new Kobe documentary (Kobe Doin' Work) but haven't brought myself to watch it. I'm not sure I want to sit through a doc about a player I dislike.
11. I haven't really thought about the Lakers losing to Houston, but if they did, Phil Jackson should take some of the blame.
12. Let's not forget that Phil and Kobe have lost their last two final appearances. If they somehow manage to lose today, that should be a mark on both of their records. It's been seven years since they've won anything.
13. As for Boston/Orlando... I'd rather face Boston (because beating the Celtics would just feel right) but I'll also celebrate if they lose.
14. I do the same thing with Michigan in bowl games. Sure, it's better for the Big Ten (thus, OSU) if Michigan wins their bowl game, but it's not like I don't enjoy a Michigan loss.
15. Honestly, I could see tonight's game going either way. I could totally picture Boston riding the home crowd (coupled with an Orlando choke job) to a Game 7 victory.
16. I could also see a younger, angrier Orlando squad running a tired Celtic team ragged. If Dwight Howard actually shows up and take it to the Celtic bigs, then the Magic should be OK.
17. I'd guess the Cavs would rather face Boston. Either way, I don't expect them to get through the next series unscathed. I like this squad a lot, but I'll be shocked if they swept the next round.
18. I don't think Mike Brown has gotten enough credit. I've had my issues with the guy in the past, but the job he's done this year has been fantastic. He's far and away Cleveland best coach since Mike Hargrove.
19. I'm still thinking about those 90s Cavs teams. You let Ron Harper age with Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty and you prolly see them win 60 games in 91-92.
20. Also, while moving I found my old Price and Daugherty rookie cards. Faaaaantastic.
21. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think Cavs fans really hold any grudges against Craig Ehlo. The guy played his butt off for this squad for a number of years. People always forget that he scored the basket that gave the Cavs the lead before The Shot.
22. Bill Livingston reminds people that the Cavs can win some close games too. I'm not sure close wins against the Clippers and Warriors are the best examples to make when arguing that the Cavs are battle tested.
23. I'd rather have rest. Sure, this postseason has been a little boring so far, but I'd rather get guys like Ben Wallace healthy.
24. I like this move.
25. It's finally happening... the beginning of the end of a series I started in 1995.
26. Will Ferrell hosted SNL last night and while they've had better Celebrity Jeopardy sketches, Saturday's was fantastic. I thought the entire episode was really solid. There were some misses, but they weren't cringe inducing.
27. Quick movie reviews: I really enjoyed Star Trek; there were moments that were kinda lame (I didn't care for the beginning at all) but I had a great time. I also liked Wolverine... wasn't great, but it wasn't Daredevil either. As for DVDS, just saw The Spirit. Did not like. The visuals were neat but it was overly campy and a little bit dumb. However, I did really really really like Frost/Nixon. Can't recommend it enough.
28. I'm enjoying these Dos Equis commericals more than I care to admit. It's like Chuck Norris jokes written by actual writers.
29. Also, these Kobe-LeBron ads ain't bad either.
30. Another movie I must pass along is Southland Tales. This movie is written and directed by Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame). It's really weird (I won't even begin to explain), it's got a crazy cast list (check the link) and it contains this delightful scene:
Friday, May 15, 2009
Did it really take me that long to read this book? Hell no. But it may have taken me a month or so to actually get into it.
I'll be honest, I'm always wary when friends ask me to give opinions on their work. Why? Well, I'm opinionated and I don't like bullshitting. So if I don't like it... I'll tell ya (which I guess is good, but can be uncomfortable). And at first, I didn't care for the book and I put it off.
It was stupid, pretentious, riddled with spelling errors (though purposely) and had a cast of characters I couldn't follow at all (nor cared about). Like I said, it took me awhile to get into it. But eventually, something clicked and I just 'got it' and from there on, it was really fun.
There is a certain charm to the book. Spaeth parodies Hollywood films and archetypes very well (similar to South Park, if that comparison makes any sense). Sure, he makes himself the main character, uses (what I assume are real) Facebook chats for entire chapters, he breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, he's included inane quizzes and the book is filled with inside jokes and bizarre references (Calvin Stadiums!). Somehow it all works and I was actually pretty bummed out when it ended (to the point where I'm actually intrigued by this Brad Radby book).
The book probably isn't for everybody- however, the chapters are short (Da Vinci Code style) and each one features a chapter number so large that you don't need a bookmark (so it's got that going for it). However, to say you have to suspend disbelief is an understatement. Though despite my early apprehension, I'm really glad I finished it (kinda like how I was with Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell- though these books couldn't be more dissimilar). Was my first impression (this is really dumb) off the mark? Probably not. But Prelude to a Super Airplane is deceptively clever and well worth the minimal effort that I put in.
(and speaking of minimal effort, it only took me 10 days since I told Brian I'd have a review posted! huzzah!)
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Writing on ESPN's Media Zone Water Cooler, Daugherty, now an ESPN NASCAR analyst, said, "It'd be very difficult matching up and defending LeBron, much like the problems we had to guard Michael Jordan. LeBron continues to groom his outside shot, being able to make 15- to 18-footers, and that's what's making the difference in him being the player he is today as opposed to the player he was three years ago.
"If we played them, and he started making 18-foot shots consistently, he'd be a problem. But I think we could have altered some of his shots, and we could have thrown a couple of really top-notch defenders at him. Larry Nance could guard out on the perimeter, he could guard a 3 or a 4, and Hot Rod Williams was an excellent defender. When you got past them to go to the basket, the game was still on because they could come from behind you and block your shot."
Daugherty, the No. 1 pick in the 1986 draft whose career was cut short by a back injury, thinks he and Mark Price would have given the current Cavs some problems, running their perfect pick-and-roll, which would have drawn center Zydrunas Ilgauskas away from the basket.
But he said Ron Harper would have been the X-factor.
"Ron was a very, very difficult opponent for anyone," Daugherty wrote. "You can ask Michael Jordan. When we traded Ron, Michael said that's the best thing we could have ever done for the Bulls. Ron was very good at moving and defending the basketball, he was a good rebounder, and he could score at different angles, outside or inside.
"LeBron offers all kinds of problems for anyone who has to guard him, but I think with our basketball team, especially if we had Ron Harper, there's just no way that they could have matched up with us to stop our offense because we were too efficient."
Here's the thing, I'm sympathetic to Brad's argument. Nance and Williams protecting the rim, the Price-Daugherty pick-and-rolls, Harper wrecking havoc on both ends... that's a nice team.
But I do believe he's wrong.
Part of the problem is, that Cavs squad wasn't together long enough to become a great team. The team that won 57 games in 88-89 and lost on The Shot would've lost to this Cavs team (they were too young). The 91-92 team (also 57 wins) would fare a little bit better, but by that time they didn't have Ron Harper (as I punch myself in the face) and Price was coming off major knee surgery.
You keep that core (Price, Harper, Nance, Hot Rod and Daugherty) together and lord knows what they do or how far they go. But they were never in their primes with each other. Harper got booted and both Price and Daugherty got hurt.
But yes, a healthy, in their prime core of Price, Harper, Nance, Williams, Daugherty and Ehlo would give these Cavs a run. Hell, they'd give anyone a good run, that's what makes that era so bittersweet, those nagging "what might've beens."
But I don't see current squad losing to either the 88-89 or 91-92 teams. First off, there's LeBron. There's no answer for that dude. This squad also much better defensively and they'd make Price and Brad expend some energy on the defensive end by chasing around Mo and following Z out to the 3pt line. Plus, the current Cavs could stick Delonte on Harper and let LeBron coast against Mike Sanders or Winston Bennett (or whoever Lenny Wilkens would start so Hot Rod could come off the bench).
All that being said, I would give up major body organs to be able to watch a seven game series between these two squads.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
I tried to get into the Blue Jackets this year, but just couldn't do it. I like hockey, I really do. Some of my best memories of college is playing D-League (below A, B and C) intramural hockey at 1:30 AM. I wasn't that good (though I hustled my ass/shoulder off), but a few of my friends were quite skilled and we even won multiple D-League championships (sadly, I couldn't repay the favor in our intramural basketball league).
So I like hockey. I understand the game, I've played here and there. But I don't watch.
Some of it is due to the fact that Cleveland didn't have a NHL franchise when I was young. That's how I chose my teams: if they played in Cleveland, I liked 'em. I wasn't gonna jump to the Red Wings or the Penguins... I mean, fuck Detroit and Pittsburgh.
And now... well, I just don't have the time. I follow basketball very closely, I keep up with baseball and football pretty well (despite the lack of updates to my fantasy baseball roster- Christ, you think I'm bad with the blog?!) and I have other interests as well. The NHL, not on ESPN, with no Cleveland team... meh.
I won't bash hockey (or even soccer) but I will say I don't (or rarely) watch. Maybe if I grew up in a town with an actual hockey team (Lumberjacks!) it would be different. I'd like to say that if I enjoy tonight's game, I'll watch more hockey in the future, but that's a lie. You won't see me jumping on the Blue Jackets bandwagon any time soon (though I wish all the best to my Columbus compadres).
Ya, it ain't my sport, but even this guy is excited for a Game 7.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
First off, a band named Underpaid Packy. Some of these guys are from Solon though they're based in Champaign, Illinois. Since my friend produced/mixed the album at his studio, I'm kinda biased but the CD is really good (it's been playing in my car nonstop for the past week and a half). I'm not sure what genre you'd put them in (jazzy pop rock? Early Billy Joel?), I just know I'm enjoying the hell out of their album. You can find some of their music at their myspace page but they have one of my favorite tracks streaming here.
Secondly, Paul Nowell, a friend from high school, wrote a theme song for the Ellen Degeneres Show and I must pass it along:
I'm proud to say I won some "Best trading solos" award (or something similar) in high school with Paul (we both played trombone) and he was (and is) way better than me. While I can honestly say I've never seen Ellen's show, if this was the theme song, I'd at least consider it.
LeBron was merely good, oh well. James may have only went 9-22, but he had the Hawks on their heels the entire ball game. James continued to shoot well from behind the arc, going 3-6 from downtown (but just 6-9 from the line). There were times when LeBron decided that he was going to the rim and no Hawk put up any resistance (while it's great to see him attack, he won't be getting those open lanes in the next round). LeBron also guarded Joe Johnson for large chunks of time and did a great job of keeping him in check.
There were some good things, but the Cavs got away with some mistakes. Don't get me wrong, I loved the fact that Cleveland's defense made life hell Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby (and let Josh Smith hoist jumpers to his heart's content) and they they still out hustled the Hawks even in the final minutes (Z and Andy pulled down late offensive boards). However, the Cavaliers shot a dismal 14-26 from the foul line and they simply gave away possessions in the final period (West gave one up on a trap, Williams committed both an illegal screen and a travel and the Cavs somehow let Atlanta's defense force them into three shot clock violations). They held their poise down the stretch and pulled out a clinching win on the road but the Hawks were just too banged up (and tired/disinterested) to make them pay for any of the miscues.
Delonte West was fantastic. West had a terrific Game 3 (12 points, 4-8 FG, 4 boards, 2 assists) and he stepped it up a notch in Game 4. Delonte finished with 21 points (7-13 FG, 2-4 3pt), 6 assists and 4 boards. He got to the rim often (and threw down a sick dunk off a baseline drive) and he hit a big trey to hold off Atlanta's late fourth quarter comeback. West continued his strong defensive effort, helping the Cavs hold Atlanta's guards (Bibby, Johnson, Murray and Evans) to just 12-41 shooting (29% for those scoring at home. The Hawks were 31.5% at a team).
Varejao and Z continued their strong play. Big Z finished with 14 points (6-13 FG, 1-1 3pt, 1-4 FT), 10 boards and 2 blocks. Though Andy finished 0-3 from the floor (2 points), he did manage to grab 11 boards in his 32 minutes of court time. Both guys did great work on the offensive end, 7 of Varejao's 11 rebounds were offensive and the same can be said for half of Z's total. While I'm eager to move on to the next round (re: something interesting), I will say I'll missing watching Varejao and Zaza Pachulia piss each other off. I love watching Andy complain with a straight face about Pachulia's cheapness. Good times.
The bench had some nice moments, but they weren't anything special. Wally Szczerbiak finished 3-4 from the field for 6 points, 2 boards and a steal (Wally actually threw down a one-handed slam in traffic. Never thought I'd see the day...). Meanwhile, Joe Smith finished with 6 boards, a steal, a block and an assist in 20 minutes. But besides Smith and Wally, there's not much more to talk about. Ben Wallace was basically nonexistent (2 boards, 2 fouls in 13 minutes) and both Gibson and Pavlovic managed to commit a turnover in their respective 3 and 4 minute stints. They're gonna need more.
Who ya want? On one hand, if the Cavs don't get to beat the Celtics, I'm gonna be pissed. I hate those bastards (and their fans) and I want LeBron and co. to knock out the Champs. On the other hand, with no KG, they aren't the same group of guys that sent the Cavs fishing a year ago. At this point, Orlando would be probably tougher simply due to fatigue. I don't take much stock in the beatdown the Magic laid on the Cavaliers. Orlando is definitely a good team and they can beat the Cavs on any given night. However, over the course of a seven game series, I think the combination of the Cavs' defensive toughness, LeBron Jamesness, Mike Brown's preparedness (the tape room just got a week off) will be too much for Orlando to overcome. Either way, don't expect the Cavs to win many more playoff games by double digits.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Things are setting up nicely. The Cavs are on the verge of sweeping and both Boston and Orlando will have played at least six games in both of their series. LeBron has gotten less minutes this season (hello blowouts!) and with the Cavs plowing through the first two rounds, he's gonna have as close to a full tank as you can get at this point in the season. His averages are all up across the board thus far.
Terry Pluto is just loving this:
Yes, it's fear, NBA style. Fear that James will "poster you," with a slam through the rim with your frightened face caught on camera.
It's fear when you think you have an open lane to the basket, but you hear the thump ... Thump ... THUMP! of James' footsteps coming closer, closer, closer. You fear he will block your shot from behind, as he has so many times this season in being the runner-up to Orlando's Dwight Howard as the NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
It's also fear when James is near and the whistle blows. James does receive the benefit of the doubt from officials -- at least, that's what players from other teams whisper.
He has scored 108 points in 108 minutes against Atlanta. In the Cavs' 7-game playoff winning streak, he's averaging 33.7 points, 10 rebounds, 6.6 assists and has only 10 turnovers in 271 post-season minutes.
In the dressing room after Saturday's game, James' head and upper body was wrapped in towels. He had ice on his knees, his feet were in buckets of ice water. His eyes were closed. He looked very human.
But on the court, James is extremely scary to anyone not in a Cavs uniform. You can be sure he knows it, and Cavs fans do, too. And you have to love that!
These guys are smart, they know Boston and Orlando will be slugging things out for a while, a sweep here would only put them in a better position. Their players will remain fresher (which is huge for the bigs, as three are old and one runs around like a chicken with his head cut off), the defense will remain top notch and James won't be out of gas for the money rounds.
The only problem is, we won't be able to watch them play for another week. It kinda sucks, but it's more than worth it.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
LeBron was insane. LeBron attacked inside (the Hawks could neither stay in front of him or rotate correctly), he road a hot streak (5-10 from 3, 15-25 overall) and he thoroughly cleaned Atlanta's clock. He stifled the crowd's enthusiasm by nailing a 25 bomb to close the first quarter (which pushed the Cavalier lead back up to four) and he gave the Cavs the smallest of halftime leads by hitting a free throw to finish the half. LeBron found his teammates for 8 assists (often feeding Z for wide open jumpers and dunks) and he led the Cavs with 12 boards, as they dominated the Hawks on the glass 46-23 (Cleveland had 13 offensive boards... the Hawks had 15 defensive boards). Overall, Bron-Bron finished with 47 points, 13 boards, 8 assists, a block and a steal... during prime-time on ABC. Not bad.
LeBron went off, but this wasn't a one man show. Sure, LeBron scored nearly half of Cleveland's points and there were times where he dominated the offense (a little Le-Iso, but not much) but he had help. Three other Cavalier starters scored in double figures and the one who didn't (Varejao) ended up with 6 points and 10 boards. Z, West and Mo each had their moments. Z scored 7 points in the first quarter, knocking down open shots and opening up the lane for LeBron (Z finished with 14 and 8). Mo kept the Cavs close during Atlanta's second quarter push (the Hawks opened the period with a 10-2 run) and he hit a trey with about 3:00 minutes left to squash any hope of a late comeback (Williams finished with 11 points, 3 assists and 2 boards).
I thought Delonte could've done more, if needed. I really liked what I saw from West. He finished with 12 points, 4 boards, 2 assists and a steal in 45 minutes of court time. He routinely got to the rim and he finished more often than not. He did a good job defensively (Joe Johnson needed 19 shots to get 21 points) and I thought that if LeBron needed it, Delonte could've scored if called upon. West wouldn't do anything for a few minutes and suddenly he's hitting a layup in traffic. Delonte looks dialed in.
The hustle was good, the bench... notsomuch. Again, the Cavs doubled up the Hawks on the glass, 46-23. Varejao had 7(!!) offensive boards, LeBron and Z and two each and the Cavs just wanted it more. Joe Smith was the only bright spot off the bench, scoring 7 points (3-4 FG) and 8 boards in 26 minutes. Gibson and Szczerbiak combined to go 0-5 (0-4 from 3) with 2 boards and 2 turnovers and Ben Wallace didn't look comfortable at all (routinely not even looking to shoot and he made a couple of bad decisions).
The Hawks showed some life, sporadically. After Joe Smith scored a bucket to open the second period, Atlanta went on an 18-6 run and actually had a 36-30 lead. They also got themselves a lead in the third period, up 65-64 with 2:00 minutes to go before the Cavs closed out the quarter with an 8-0 run. But the Hawks were fighting an uphill battle; neither Marvin Williams nor Al Horford gave 'em much, Joe Johnson had stretches, but disappeared for much of the game and Josh Smith fell in love with his jumper. They got out worked on both ends and they needed better games from their stars and their role players (nice job by Zaza Pachulia getting himself kicked out. Well done).
It was nice to see them respond so well to adversity. The Cavs aren't going to waltz through every round of the playoffs. This was the first game that Atlanta made even somewhat close and the Cavs dropped the hammer authoritatively whenever they were pushed. Sure, you could be a little concerned about the lack of bench production (or by the fact that LeBron accounted for more than half of their scoring output) but they're still up 3-0. This is a really good team that still has a giant safety net in one LeBron James. The Cavs weren't at their best (though they still shot over 50%) and they still won by double figures. They go for the series sweep on Monday night and judging from LeBron's body language, I expect them to get it.
PS - thanks for the patience w/missing games and what. Finally moved in, everything is now all set up. Things be good, things be good.