Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Game 5: Cleveland 96, Chicago 94 (Cavs win series 4-1)

It was a weird, somewhat choppy game (but 44 fouls and 57 foul shots will do that). The game started off with a scorching hot Antawn Jamison (14 first quarter points from all over the court, including two treys) but the Bulls hung close and trailed by just a point after one quarter (27-26). Jamario Moon gave the Cavs a spark in the second quarter, scoring seven points in a little less than two minutes (a trey, an fast break layup and an alley-oop from James) and Cleveland went into the half with a comfortable seven point lead (55-48). The Cavs then proceeded to sleep walk through the third quarter, scoring just 18 points (going away from Jamison) and went into the fourth with a 73-71 lead. In the fourth, LeBron and the Cavs (with a little help from the refs- more on this in a bit) built themselves a 9 point lead (93-84) with under four minutes to go. They seemed well on their way to closing out the series (LeBron was getting to the rim at will and wasn't settling for jumpers).

The end of the game was kind of bizarre. The Cavs didn't look particularly good over the final three minutes (the Bulls doubled LeBron early and outscored Cleveland 10-3); LeBron missed a dagger three, Jamison was (correctly) called for an offensive foul, Mo missed two jumpers (he did not want to shoot) and Anderson Varejao committed a cringe worthy turnover. Leading 95-92 with 7 seconds left, LeBron split a pair of free throws, shooting (and missing) the second one with his left hand (because his right arm was bothering him... um, *gulp*). Needless to say, LeBron's bum right arm put a bit of a damper in the victory celebration (especially considering that the game ended with Luol Deng scoring a meaningless putback as time expired). I felt bad for the crowd; they were supposed to cheer moving onto the second round but they just watched the MVP brick a freebie with his left hand.

The refs were not good. The previous sentence is an understatement. I have to say, if I was a Bulls fan, I'd be pissed and, as a Cavs fan, I certainly can't defend what happened to Brad Miller in the third quarter. Miller was shown jawing with the refs and was immediately called for two ticky-tack fouls soon thereafter (while Shaq backed him down). Then, Joakim Noah took up the Big Fella and was quickly called for another ticky-tack. Later, the refs took away a continuation bucket for Derek Rose (no review, kinda iffy continuation, in my opinion) and foul shots for Deng (they reviewed it, the 24 second clock expired before the foul). Hell, the Cavs didn't even commit their first foul until LeBron clipped Flip Murray on a three with 2 seconds left in the first quarter. Both Miller and Taj Gibson fouled out for Chicago (while Joakim Noah had 5) and Anderson Varejao and Shaq both finished with 5 apiece.

Shaq was pretty effective (refs or no refs). The Cavs went to O'Neal early to establish the tone inside and the big guy delivered. Shaq finished with 14 points (7-9 shooting), 8 boards and 3 assists. I liked his energy but he was plagued by fouls as well, which limited his minutes (just 26). Shaq's touch around the glass seemed better on Tuesday night; his jump hooks were falling and he even drove to the lane for a slam (though that's easy to do when the opposing bigs aren't allowed to touch you).

Mo's performance does not easy any concerns you might have. Williams finished with 7 points and 5 assists and shot just 2-13 from the floor (2-7 3pt). Late in the game, when the Bulls doubled LeBron early in the possession, Williams was forced into two unsure (at best) missed jumpers. The Cavs survived because of LeBron (of course) and the double digit contributions they got from Jamison, Shaq and Delonte West (16 points, 2 boards, 4 assists).

and finally...

Excellent closeout win (in their first try too) but bring on the Celitcs! This'll be fun. Playoff series are always more fun when teams don't like each and that certainly is the case with the Cavs and Celtics. How can you not be excited for this? Boston is so hate-able; they talk trash (KG), the flop (Pierce), they give cheap shots (Ray Allen) and they're Rasheed Wallace. Plus, we'll get to see how long Garnett can hold off from taking a swing at Varejao (my bet? Game 5) and we get to boo 'Sheed again (always fun). And not that this should surprise you, but I think the Cavs will take the Celts (pending LeBron's right arm) in the next round. The Cavs took Boston to Game 7 two years ago with Wally Sczerbiak and Ben Wallace in the starting lineup and they've since added Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Shaq and J.J. Hickson... with home court advantage.

Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dan Shaughnessy is an idiot

Why the Boston Celtics will beat Cleveland Cavaliers in NBA playoffs (What me? Look ahead? Naaah):

Sure, the Cavaliers had the best regular-season record in the NBA this year (61-21). Sure they have the Most Valuable Player in LeBron James. They added Shaquille O'Neal after their embarrassing playoff loss to the Magic last year. GM Danny Ferry beefed up his roster again with the midseason acquisition of Antawn Jamison. Anderson Varejao is a handful for any opponent.

But the old Celtics match up well with the All-Star Cavaliers. The Celts don't fear the Cavs. And deep down, the Cavaliers know the Celtics can beat them.

The C's and Cavs split four games during the regular season. The Celtics won the season-opener at Quicken Loans Arena back in October. Earlier this month, the Green beat Cleveland in Boston, 117-113. The Cavs beat the Celts twice, including an 108-88 rout at the Boston Garden in February.

Two years ago, the Celtics and Cavaliers met in epic seven-game playoff match which proved to be Boston's toughest test en route to Banner No. 17. The finale at the Garden featured a memorable mano-a-mano featuring James (45 points) and Paul Pierce (41). It kindled memories of the Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins shootout in 1988.


I'm not bold enough to predict three more rounds of playoff victories for this Boston team, but I like the Celts against the heavily favored Cavs.

"I don't think there's a team that our players feel we can't beat,'' said Boston GM Danny Ainge.

The Celtics have the same starting five that won the championship two years ago. OK -- Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen are not better than they were two years ago, but Rajon Rando is a much better player than he was in 2008, and Kendrick Perkins is two years stronger. Glen "Big Baby" Davis contributes much more than he did two years ago and the Celtics have added veteran snipers Michael Finley and Rasheed Wallace.

As much as it hurts to say this, the mercurial 'Sheed might be the difference against the Cavs. He's certainly rested. Wallace started the season out of shape and was content to launch threes throughout the regular season. He was the Secretary of Energy Conservation. He's been claiming he's a big-game playoff guy. We haven't seen much of 'Sheed during the Miami series, but the Heat have been so bad, it's hard to notice any Celtics' shortcomings. Maybe 'Sheed will finally shine at the Q.


But the Celtics know they can beat LeBron. And they know they can win in Cleveland (see Oct. 27, 2009). They also know that the Cavaliers are running with baby grands on their backs.

Couple things here. First (just to get this out of the way), citing Boston's first win of the season as proof that the Celtics can win in Cleveland is, at best, dubious and, at worst, willfully stupid. In the 2008 playoffs, the Cavs margin of victory in Cleveland were 24, 11 and 6 while the Celtics won in Boston by margins of 4, 16, 7 and 5 (with LeBron playing like ass in those first two). Do the Celtics really 'know' they can win in Cleveland?

Second, Shaughnessy points out that the Celtics boast the same starting five that won the title and that their young players (Rondo, Perkins, Davis) have improved. That's all well and good. Rondo is certainly better (I'm scared to see what he'll do to Mo Williams over seven games) and Perkins has improved so much that I've stopped making fun of him (but not really. He still looks like a turtle).

But to cite the improvement of the Celtics while simply glossing over Cleveland's upgrades is kinda weak (and really, Michael Finley and Rasheed Wallace count as improvements?). Here's the Cavaliers' starting five in that Game 7 which Shaughnessy references: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That's a Cavs team that won a whopping 45 games during the regular season. This year's squad is a wee bit different, eh?

While it's true some Celtics have improved, since the Pierce-LeBron 'duel' (where P.J. Brown was the best player over the last 4 minutes), the Cavs have added Mo Williams, Shaq, Antawn Jamison, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon and J.J. Hickson. I know national writers think that you just can pair any four scrubs with LeBron and get a playoff team, but these additions make a ton of difference. You don't win 60 games in back-to-back season without having some talent on the roster.

The Celtics couldn't be a 45 win Cavs team at The Q back when KG was healthy and they had James Posey to defend Bron-Bron. Now Rasheed Wallace is going to be the difference? The same 'Sheed that quit on the Pistons when they got swept by Cleveland last season? Really? I don't buy it.

Shaughnessy is more or less being contrarian just to be contrarian (and/or a homer). And that's fine. Do what you know. He does make the point that the Cavs are playing with a ton of pressure. Considering they're carrying 40 years of Cleveland sports misery on their shoulders along with the fact that this could be LeBron's last season in Cleveland, I don't disagree. (And by the way, props to ABC for playing the 'Cleveland sports tragedy' montage during a 20 point blowout. God forbid we're allowed to enjoy a victory and feel good about ourselves).

But that's his only point. Sure, the Cavs have the best player, a better team and home court advantage... but Cleveland hasn't won a title in 40 years.

Man, that's gonna be a fun series.

(and while I'm allowed to look ahead, the Cavs should be focused on the Bulls. End it Tuesday, don't drag this out).

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Game 4: Cleveland 121, Chicago 98 (Cavs lead 3-1)

LeBron James is a good basketball player. What else can you really say? James made sure that the Cavs came back to Cleveland up 3-1; LeBron paced the Cavs with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. His night was insanely efficient; Bron-Bron shot 11-17 overall, 6-9 from behind the arc and 9-10 from the line. The dude was feeling it. Coincidentally, LeBron's 37-12-11 occured right after Dwyane Wade went nuts and dropped 46 on the Celtics.

Cleveland started the game a little slow. The game was close for the first quarter and well into the second. The Cavs didn't seem completely engaged; they settled for too many jumpers and didn't box out nearly enough. The Cavs started the game feeding O'Neal in the post, with mixed results (Shaq finished with 6 points and 7 boards in just 17 minutes). Cleveland led just 24-21 after the first quarter and were even trailing midway through the second.

That's when James started to impose his will. Midway through the second quarter, James put the Cavs on his back and they never looked back. He scored 12 points over the last six minutes before the half and the Cavs turned a four point deficit (37-41) into a 10 point halftime lead (62-52).

The Cavs brought the hammer down after halftime. The Cavs came out of the locker room and took it directly at the Bulls; Cleveland opened with a 7-0 run that soon ballooned into a 17-6 blitzing. Jamison (12 points) and LeBron (10 points) paced the Cavs, carving up the Bulls defense with excellent passing and movement. It also helped that the Cavs defensive intensity picked up and decided to stop giving up second chance points. James even hit his first ever dagger half-court buzzer beater at the end of the third, giving the Cavs a 99-76 heading into fourth (take that D. Wade!).

LeBron, as masterful as he was, didn't do it alone. Yes, LeBron had the eye popping stats, but Antawn Jamison finished with 24 points (9-16 FG) and Mo Williams pitched in 19 (6-10 FG, 3-6 3pt). The Cavs had five players in double figures (AP had 12, J.J. had 10). They're defensive pressure was great, especially after halftime. You could tell that the Cavs actually gave a damn (playoffs!) and that they weren't going to blow a big lead and let the Bulls back in the game.

J.J. Hickson got some run, at the expense of Big Z. Hickson got his first extended minutes of the post season, scoring 10 points in 17 minutes. I liked the energy Hickson brought off the bench but he had a couple of instances where he forgot to box out. But he did go 3-4 from the field, 4-4 from the stripe and grab an offensive board. He wasn't great, but he did some nice things. It's unfortunate that he's taking Z's minutes, but I think Hickson's the better fit against the Chicago bigs.

Coach Mike was decent (or even good). Throughout Brown's tenure as Cavs coach, Cleveland hasn't always played the best third quarters. But on Sunday afternoon, the Cavs came out of halftime focused and destroyed Chicago by a count of 37-24. Then in the fourth, when the Bulls cut the 24 point deficit to 19, Brown subbed in LeBron and let King James bury the Bulls. James played five minutes in the final period and record 9 points, an assist and grabbed 3 boards. Brown let's LeBron sit and maybe the Bulls cut it down to 15 or less and make it a ballgame.

Bulls weren't terrible but their role players didn't step up. Derek Rose finished with 21 points and 5 assists, Joakim Noah netted a 20-20 (actually 21-20, with 7 offensive boards) and Luol Deng scored 16. Unfortunately for Chicago, their role players came back down to Earth. Kirk Hinrich (he of the 9-12 FG, 4-4 3pt Game 3 performance) shot 3-13. Brad Miller was ineffective, shooting just 2-8 and missing more than a few layups. The Bulls bench combined to go 7-25 from the floor. For the most part, the Bulls played hard, but they just don't have the talent to matchup with the Cavaliers (it didn't help that Derek Rose rolled his ankle either).

and finally...

End it on Tuesday. Please. Heading home to Cleveland up 3-1, the Cavs are in control of this series; the Bulls simply don't have the horses to keep up with the Cavaliers when Cleveland is hustling. The Cavs only need to look at the Lakers and the trouble they're having with Oklahoma City to realize how important it is to wrap this thing up. The way LeBron and company ended the game, I'm thinking that they'll take care of business in Game 5.

Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com.

Random Thoughts Draft Recap

I had planned on writing a post that discussed how little I know about the NFL Draft but I'd link to guys for ESPN, Yahoo and SI who gave the Browns' draft a B (or A or C). Unfortunately, I'm either too dumb or too lazy to find any Draft Grades on SI or Yahoo and Mel Kiper's Draft Grades are behind a paywall. However, LeBrownsTown has graded the Browns' picks, so head over there.

So ya, from what I know, I like what the Browns did. I love Colt McCoy in the late third round (he was picked later than Charlie Frye), I think I like Joe Haden and while I certainly like their emphasis on defense, I'm surprised that they didn't draft a single linebacker (Haden, T.J. Ward, Larry Asante are all in the secondary). I also read on twitter (lord knows from who at this point, but follow me, @BenCox83) that their late wide-out pick, Cartlon Mitchell was a nice little steal. So that's neat.

If you're looking for top notch draft coverage, go elsewhere I didn't even watch a minute of the draft coverage. I worked during the most of draft and there were enough NBA Playoff games going on that I never felt the need to turn the channel (by the way, if you aren't watching the Spurs-Mavs and/or Lakers-Thunder games, you're doing yourself a great disservice. Just superb playoff basketball. Kevin Durant is for real).

Basically, in the end, I'm just glad the Browns didn't do anything monumentally stupid, like drafting Tim Tebow in the first round or making the Rams a Godfather offer for the first pick. They made some moves, they plugged some holes and they maybe even found their quarterback of the future. I'll take it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Same Page

I agree with LeBron James:
After the Cavs wiped out a 21-point Bulls lead in the second half of Thursday's 108-106 Game 3 loss, James suggested the team may want to play the athletic and undersized Bulls with a quicker and smaller lineup. He went a step further Friday as the Cavs began their assessment of what has been going wrong by openly pitching for J.J. Hickson to get playing time.

"I think personally I would love to see J.J. on the court," James said. "I don't know if he's ready, but I think he will be." Hickson has seen less than two minutes' playing time in the series after he started 73 games in the regular season.

Hickson has been too important to just have sit on the bench. J.J. brings a level of athleticism that the other Cavalier big men just don't have and he can help the Cavs get easy buckets inside. I love Varejao, Jamison and Shaq but they simply don't play above the rim like J.J.

However, Mike Brown plans on doubling down with Shaq:
But while James is hoping to get floor time with Hickson, Brown is looking for more minutes for O'Neal.

"Is there any plan of going to J.J. for a few minutes? Not right now," Brown said. "I've got to get Shaq on the floor a little bit more and other than that, that is my main goal right now with my bigs."

Of course there's no plan for J.J. Why would there be? He only started 73 games on a 61-win team (and had good games against the Magic, Lakers and Celtics).

Windy explains Coach Mike's explanation:

"We'll go small if we need to," Brown said. "That is something we always have done in the past if we think it is effective."

But the Cavs have been getting eaten up with the scoring in the paint -- the Bulls lead that area by a stunning 94-70 count over the past two games -- and Brown believes O'Neal can help clean that up at both ends.

Before O'Neal was hurt, he was a reason why the Cavs led the league in defending the paint, allowing fewer than 36 points a game. When O'Neal played well and got 24 effective minutes and three blocks in Game 1, the Bulls scored just 26 points inside. He also scored 12 points in the series opener, helping the Cavs to 42 points in the paint.

Since then those numbers have reversed, with O'Neal not playing as well or as much. Which is why Brown is focusing on O'Neal as the Cavs attempt to rediscover their size edge.

"I've got to get him more involved in the series," Brown said. "He had some great looks that popped out but those will go down. He can be a big factor for us."

I don't necessarily disagree. The Cavs are going to need Shaq to get comfortable, if they want to win the title. After (an adrenaline fueled) Game 1, Shaq hasn't been much of a factor. He missed some easy shots in Game 3, but I'm not really too suprised at the rust (it took him a bit to find his touch at the beginning of the season).

While getting Shaq up to speed is important, so is getting J.J. some minutes (unless Brown expects to sit Hickson throughout the entire post season). Hickson's going to be needed at some point, right? If there's ever a time to let Hickson sink or swim, it's now, against these Bulls rather than in Boston or Los Angeles. (Also, Hickon shouldn't be taking Shaq's minutes, he should be eating into Z's court time).

Friday, April 23, 2010

Game 3: Chicago 108, Cleveland 106 (Cavs lead 2-1)

The Cavaliers put themselves in an early hole and never recovered. The Cavs came out sloppy (Mo Williams threw away a few entry passes in the first two minutes) while the Bulls came out smoking hot. Derek Rose had 15 of his 31 points in the first quarter and the Bulls jumped out an 11 point lead that the Cavs never overcame. Chicago's lead ballooned to as much 21 but the Cavs would get it back down to 11 at the end of each of the first three quarters.

They finally turned things around in the fourth quarter. The Cavs, going small with LeBron at the four (and Jamison at the five), slowly whittled away the Chicago lead, getting it down two (104-102) with 10 seconds left. The Cavs went with Mo-West-Parker-LBJ-Jamison for the bulk of the period. After Rose split a pair of free throws, the Cavs drew up a play to get a three. Unfortunately, they threw the ball to Varejao (who was going to give it back to Mo in the corner) but the Bulls quickly fouled him, putting Andy at the line for two (which he split). Talk about frustrating; the Cavs had a chance to tie the game and didn't even get a shot attempt. Ugh. The Bulls kept the Cavs in it by missing free throws and Cleveland actually had a chance at the end, but Anthony Parker's halfcourt heave barely missed.

The little things drive me nuts (also, do free throws count as little things?). Shaq missed a dunk and many Cavaliers missed some bunnies. Anthony Parker had a foot on the sideline when he received a pass. Mo threw away entry passes. Jamison lost track of Deng in the open court and committed a terrible foul in response. The Cavs just didn't seem completely focused and I thought they settled for too many threes. Sure, they were 40% from downtown but they shot a whopping 35 bombs (every starter except Shaq attempted at least six). The Cavs went just 20-31 from the stripe as a team, with Mo (2-5) and LeBron (7-13) as the worst offenders.

LeBron was great, per usual. LeBron ended up with 39 points (14-26 FG, 4-8 3PT), 10 boards, 8 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. Damn. But he wasn't perfect. LeBron was just 7-13 from the stripe and there were times (like the end of the third quarter) where he settled for jumpers. However, there were also times where the Cavs needed a basket and simply went inside and got it. I'm not sure why he doesn't attack more, it's not like Brad Miller or Joakim Noah are major shot blockers (this goes for the whole team though. 35 threes? Really guys?).

The refs were not good (but not the reason the Cavs lost). There were some fishy calls down the stretch, the most obvious being LeBron's charge that should've been an 'and-one' with 1:17 left. James was also held on the rebound of Varejao's missed free throw and West was called for a terrible travel (on a pass!) that took away a layup for Jamison. There were some weak calls on the Cavs (Varejao had some ticky-tacks and there were more than a few moving picks) but it's not like the refs were really helping the Bulls.

Alright Mike Brown, you're starting to scare me. The refusal to go small (it worked a bit in the second quarter, why wait so long to come back to it?), coupled with the poor start and the last second play (Varejao's free throws) left a bad taste in my mouth. Luol Deng missed a free throw with 3 seconds left but the Cavs were forced into a half court heave since they were out of timeouts. I don't get why J.J. Hickson hasn't seen any time, especially this game (they needed an energy injection quite badly). Brown only played Z for 5 minutes, meaning the big rotation was just Shaq, Anderson and Jamison (none of which had a good game, though Antawn finished with 19-7) yet there was no sign of J.J. I mean, this is a kid who started all season long and he's just gonna sit the whole playoffs? I've always liked Browns game-to-game adjustments, but he worries me in the heat of the moment.

But give the Bulls credit, they played great. Derek Rose continues to light up the Cavalier defense (including LeBron), finishing with 31 points and 7 assists. He's nearly unstoppable when his jumper was falling as it did on Thursday night. Luol Deng played well, scoring 20 points and forcing LeBron to work on both ends of the floor. However, it was Kirk Hinrich who won the difference for Chicago. Every time the Cavs seemed to pull close (say 8 points), Hinrich was there to knock down a three or get an easy basket for a teammate. Hinrich finished with 27 points on 9-12 shooting (4-4 3pt), 5 boards and 5 assists (though he missed some freebies that kept the Cavs alive at the end).

and finally...

Well, at least they aren't going to sweep and get too much time off. Hopefully, this game will serve as a wakeup call. These Bulls aren't last season's Pistons; they're young and they're hungry and the Cavs are going to have to actually work to beat them. I have no doubt that the Cavs will win this series; the Bulls played about as well as they could play, while the Cavs stunk and yet Cleveland still had a chance at the end. The Cavs have to learn (you'd think) that they can't just turn on the intensity in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, the Cavs will take Game 4 and then close out the series next Tuesday in Cleveland.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Big Day Today

Game 3 of the Cavs-Bulls and the NFL Draft (aka the one day a year where the Browns are legitimately interesting). I'm pumped.

I'll be honest, I haven't really been paying attention to any of the mock drafts or Browns news. Like most Browns fans, I want them to take Eric Berry, but I really don't have any more opinions. For what it's worth, most mock drafts (Bill Simmons, Peter King, Don Banks) have the Browns taking Berry (though not all).

However, I won't be watching the draft. The Cavs are playing. You know, Cleveland's good sports franchise? The team that's a title contender, who's had the best record in the NBA the last two seasons and happens to employ the reigning MVP. They're in the place that the Browns are trying to get to: the playoffs. Games that matter.

Plus, I hate the idea of the Thursday night draft. I enjoy the hell out of the draft, but it's really not that compelling of television. I loved watching the draft when it was on Saturday. Roll out of bed hungover (in college anyways), limp to the living room and plop down in front of the TV and watch while doing various chores or yardwork or napping. It's lazy day television, not must-see TV.

The Cavs are playing a playoff game in what could possibly be LeBron's last year in Cleveland, while the Browns are looking to add players who could be good to a team that might make the playoffs in two years.

I know which I'll be watching.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Game 2: Cleveland 112, Chicago 102 (Cavs lead 2-0)

Now this felt like a playoff game. While the Cavs still ended up winning by double digits, Monday night was much more tightly contested than Game 1. The Bulls played with a lot of energy and too often the Cavs were caught flat footed. Cleveland built a double digit late in the first quarter but let the Bulls climb back in. Give Chicago credit, they played pretty well (three guys notched 20 points); the Bulls aren't easily intimidated (not after their series with the Celtics) and outworked and out-hustled the Cavaliers. However, in the end, LeBron was simply too much to handle.

LeBron was absolutely spectacular. The Chosen One did it all, finishing with 40 points, 8 boards, 8 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. To say James was on fire isn't doing him justice; his jumper was falling and he attacked the rim, going a ridiculous 16-23 from the field (69.5%). Down the stretch James was burying dagger after dagger, but some of his most jaw dropping plays came when he took it to the rim. On back-to-back possessions in the first quarter, James drove to the right side of the hope, only to change directions and spin the ball off the backboard with the 'wrong' hand (right hand on the left side) and then followed it up with possibly the most vicious dunk of his career, a right handed tomahawk over James Johnson. In the fouth, he threw in a gliding, left handed scoop layup. James was great. He rebounded, he set up his teammates (he had a nifty bounce pass to a cutting Antawn Jamison) and the dominated the fourth quarter. He's the closer.

Joakim Noah talked some shit, but he backed it up, no? Sure, the Bulls didn't win, but it was of no fault of Noah. The ugliest man alive finished with 25 points, 13 boards and 3 assists. Noah simply outworked most of the Cavalier big men. Seven of his fifteen rebounds came at the offensive end and those putbacks were a big reason why he ended up with 25 points. Defensively, he guarded Shaq a bit better, but Shaq played only 15 minutes mostly due to foul trouble (which was self induced, I might add. Shaq throws a lot of elbows 'unintentionally').

LeBron didn't win this game by himself. Sure, he has the stats and the highlight plays, but he wasn't out there alone. Jamison had 14, Mo William and Jamario Moon both scored 12, Another Parker had 9, Shaq scored 8 and both Anderson Varejao and Delonte West had 7. Multiple guys scored multiple baskets. Until the end when LeBron became dagger-happy, I thought the Cavs really shared the ball well (Williams: 6 assists to 0 turnovers, Delonte: 5 to 1). I absolutely loved seeing the Cavs start off the fourth with back-to-back plays in the post (first Jamison, then West).

I don't want to alarm you, but the Cavs shot really well from the line. Mo Williams went 8-8 from the stripe (just 2-8 overall, but I liked his aggressiveness), LeBorn shot 6-6 and even Shaq shot an astounding 4-4. As a team, the Cavs finished 22-24 (92%), with only Varejao and Z missing one.

Jamario Moon: Super Sub. Coach Mike gave Moon 20 minutes and Jamario made the most of 'em. Moon played great defense, shot 4-5 from beyond the arc and skyed for three clutch rebounds late in the game. I loved the fact that Moon wasn't afraid to shoot; whenever the ball rotated to him, he simply pulled the trigger and knocked it down (plus, he didn't take any poor shots, they were all within the flow of the offense). In fact, Moon was so effective, Brown kept him in for the entire fourth, opting for a lineup for Mo-West-Moon-LeBron-Varejao (I like this a lot).

I'm gonna need more from Z. Big Z has been playing OK, but he's not finishing plays. He's normally in the right spot (whether on a defensive rotation, a pick-and-roll or for a rebound) but he just doesn't convert. Z had missed layup and got outworked on the glass more than once. I was hoping Brown would throw J.J. Hickson out there and try to give the Cavs a spark, but not such luck. Shaq and Z combined for 11 points and 11 rebounds... meh.

and finally...

Well, that was fun, glad they'll get to do this again twice in the next six days. After having just one day off between the first two games, the Cavs and Bulls will have two days off before Thursday's Game 3 in Chicago and then another two days off before Sunday's Game 4. Lame. LeBron and the Cavs have took care of business and won both games at home. While they didn't play perfectly, the Cavs had stretches where they dominated Chicago. However, the Bulls will certainly a harder out than last year's Pistons team (the presence of Rose and Noah guarantees that) and it wouldn't surprise me if the Cavs drop a game on the road (especially if they get sloppy).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Game 1: Cleveland 96, Chicago 83 (Cavs lead 1-0)

The Cavs showed no signs of rust to start the game. The Cavaliers came out really strong and showed a lot of energy (especially at the defensive end). Offensively, they moved the ball really well and got everyone involved (overall, 27 assists for 39 field goals). The game was tied at 8 when Shaq ran out after contesting a jumper and ended up with a dunk and a free throw and the Cavaliers went on a 22-6 run. They led 32-18 after the first quarter and 56-41 at the half.

The third quarter started out a little too great. The Cavs began the half with excellent ball movement that led to two wide open threes (all initiated by LeBron passing out of the post). The opening threes sparked a quick 10-4 run and it looked like we were in for laugher. But with a 66-45 lead, the Cavs became bored and settled for more of those threes. In Cleveland's defense, these weren't terrible shots (they were wide open) but the threes weren't falling (26% for the game) and the Cavs ended up going scoreless for a good seven minutes. The Bulls trailed 73-60 heading into the fourth and got it to 82-75 with just under six minutes to play, but LeBron and the Cavs were too much. With two minutes to go, James got an and-one in transition which put the Cavs back up 12.

LeBron didn't have gaudy stats, but he dominated the game. LeBron finished with 24 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 4 blocks and a steal. His blocks are such momentum shifters, it's ridiculous. LeBron stalks his victims, almost toying with them, letting them think the coast is clear and then WHAM. It was great to see James set up in the post on more than one occasion (though too often he uses it just to draw the double and kick the ball out). James only attempted one three (he missed) but he still could've been more aggressive, especially considering that Shaq had gotten the Chicago big men into foul trouble. Overall, James was intense (he and Brad Miller received double techs after a hard foul) and focused.

The rumors were true, Shaq is in great shape. O'Neal had 12 points, 5 boards, 4 assists and 3 blocks in just 25 minutes. He ran the floor, challenged shots, showed off some nice spin moves and generally made his presence known. Shaq is simply too much for both Joakim Noah and Brad Miller, though the refs didn't do them any favors. Shaq drew a couple of touch fouls on the Bulls bigs, including one where Miller was whistled for getting his face in the way of Shaq's elbow. He'll learn next time.

The refs were not good. At one point, Anderson Varejao was called for a foul when Noah shoved him to the ground, but it's not like the refs were biased against the Cavs. While the Bulls were whistled for a couple of questionable calls while defending Shaq, the refs made 'em up with bogus moving screens and the like. Somehow, Derek Rose was inside the paint for the bulk of the game, yet only came away with two free throw attempts.

Derek Rose is fast. Really really really fast. Rose finished 28 points, 10 assists, 7 boards, a steal and 7 turnovers. Rose was the entire Chicago offense. He routinely got in the paint, beating both Mo Williams and Delonte West (though West made him take those 8-10 foot pullups) and slicing through the defense. Too bad the Bulls can't shoot threes (1-7 from downtown). Rose can to the lane at will and when he kicks it out, Bulls like Luol Deng take long twos. Say what you will about Vinny Del Negro (hearing him mic'd up and saying things like "play defense, move the ball, play hard" is kinda hilarious) but they surrounded Rose with no bigmen of note and guards who can't shoot the three. That's rough. They're like the early Cavs; LeBron would drive and then kick it out to the likes of Larry Hughes, Eric Snow and Ira Newble. If the games ever get close, the Cavs should put LeBron on Rose to smother him.

Mo Williams had a nice start to the playoffs. I'm sure Mo has been waiting for this since Game 6 in Orlando and he came out strong (starting off 5-6 from the floor). Williams finished with 19 points, 10 assists, 4 boards and um, 5 turnovers. Mo is going to have his hands full with Rose, so he's going to have to be aggressive offensively. However, the Bulls have Kirk Hinrich on Williams while Rose is hiding/resting against Anthony Parker (awesome, to rest Rose on defense, he guards Cleveland's starting shooting guard). Mo was the only Cavalier who could find the range from three, going 3-7 from downtown (LBJ was 0-1, West 0-3, Jamison went 1-4 and Parker was 1-6).

Antawn Jamison had a nice Cavalier playoff debut. In his first playoff game as a Cavalier, Jamison had one of his typical 50% shooting (7-14 FG), double-double affairs, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 boards. Jamison ran the floor well (he got a great pass from Mo that led to a layup early in the third) and I liked his defensive effort (4 blocks!?). It's really amazing how consistent Jamison is, you don't think much of him throughout the game, then you check the box score and it's another double-double.

J.J. seems to be the odd man out in the rotation. I liked what I saw from Cleveland's bench. Varejao (8 points, 15 boards) and West (4 points, 4 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals) are the two main subs and they played well (Jamario Moon and Z rounded out the Game One rotation). West was in control, rebounded really well (he gets his nose in there and crashes the boards) and set up his teammates for easy buckets (he netted Andy a dunk and a finger roll on back-to-back possessions in the second period). Obviously it's early, but Z didn't impress me all that much (2 points, 2 boards and an assist in 9 minutes) and I wonder if J.J. should be getting those minutes instead (I think they're going to need Hickson's athleticism at some point).

This is really the first time the Cavs have been 100% all season (and we got to see some fun lineups). Shaq, Z and Jamison all suited up together for the first time. For the bulk of the fourth quarter, the Cavs had a lineup of Mo, West, James, Varejao and Shaq (Jamison subbed in for Andy at one point). I love that lineup, especially with Shaq playing so well. I also enjoyed Brown's bench lineup of West, Moon, James, Varejao and Z. The Cavs are really really deep.

and finally...

Hey, remember how the Cavs got fat against weak opponents and then got blitzed by the battle tested Magic? Uh-oh. Am I worried that they might have too many days off between series again? Sure. But I'm not sure what the Cavs should do. Should they blow a few games? Not play hard? I mean, if the Cavs are at full go for the full 48, they'll blow Chicago out. They were obviously quite bored in the second half and they let the Bulls back into the game (of course, if some of the threes fell...). So do you want them growing bored and getting into bad habits or taking care of business and getting extra rest? I'd rather have them get extra rest rather than let opponents hang around and turn blowouts into close games.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It was a very good year

The Cavs finished the season at 61-21, the best record in the NBA and their second best in team history, after last season's 66-16 However, they also ended the season on a four game losing streak.

All in all, I feel pretty good about them heading into the postseason. I'm not thrilled with the way they ended the year (barely even trying), but I do see the logic in it (hell, they saw the Raptors lose Chris Bosh first hand and they nearly lost Jamison against the Bulls). I have a hard time complaining that the team with the best record in the NBA didn't win enough games. (And as for the 'Michael Jordan played all 82' argument, who cares? Jordan was also a competitive maniac who got into fistfights with teammates during practice).

Statistically, the Cavs are quite good. They're 9th in the NBA in scoring, averaging 102.1 points a game (up from 100.3 last year) and are tied for fifth in points allowed, only giving up 95.3 (they were first with 91.4 last season). Their difference of +6.5 ranks second behind Orlando's +7.5 (they were first last season with +8.9) and they're tied for third with Chicago in opponents field goal percentage, holding teams to just .442 shooting (the Magic are first with .438). Their team field goal percentage is up from .468 to .485 and they assist on 53% of their made baskets (3rd in the NBA). The offense is good and the defense is good (I know, you're shocked).

So despite the five win difference, I fully believe that this year's squad is better than last season's 66 win team. The Cavs started off this season 3-3 and finished 0-4, meaning 1/3 of their losses came either while they were still working in two new starters or when they rested LeBron and others after clinching the best record in the NBA. A full third! (Interestingly, they lost to the Bulls during both stretches).

I'm confident in this team because they've passed basically every test they've faced this season. The Cavs were just 4-3 early in the season when they went down to Florida and swept back-to-back against Orlando and Miami. They went 3-1 and 3-2 on their two West Coast trips, losing those three games by a combined 10 points. They beat the Lakers on Christmas Day and again a month later, without Mo Williams. They swept a home-and-home with the Hawks and nearly came from back from a 22 point deficit in Boston (with LeBron missing a three to win).

They added three new players in the offseason (including two, then three new starters), developed J.J. Hickson and Jawad Williams, added Antawn Jamison (another new starter) and Leon Powe midseason, brought back Z late in the year and still managed win streaks of 13, 8, 7, 6 and 5 (twice). Shaq hurts his thumb and the Cavs go 16-2. Mo Williams goes down and they rattle off 11 straight wins. These guys are talented and they are very, very deep.

They also happen employ the best player on the planet, LeBron James. James, a shoe-in for his second MVP in as many years, finished with averages of 29.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists while shooting 50% from the floor. LeBron's chameleon like ability to play anywhere from point guard to power forward (coupled with the Cavs' great depth) allows Coach Mike the luxury of playing any style of ball. They can slow it down and go big or speed it up and go small at a blink of an eye.

If LeBron and the Cavaliers have one weakness, it's free throws. James is shooting 76% from the stripe, down from 78% last season (though still the second highest % of his career) and as a team the Cavs are dead last in the NBA at 72% (down from 75% last season). It's not exactly shocking that the team free throw % took a dip after adding Shaq (who made just 49% from the stripe) but Antawn Jamison didn't help matters by shooting just 50% at the line since the trade (he made them at a 75% clip for the Wizards).

Being last in the NBA in free throw shooting obviously isn't good, but it won't necessarily stop the Cavs from winning a title. The San Antonio Spurs won the championship in 2003 and 2005 and both years were 26th in the NBA from the stripe, shooting 72.5% and 72.4% respectively. While 72% foul shooting isn't acceptable or defendable, it doesn't have to be a fatal flaw.

Things are looking up heading into the playoffs, despite the free throws and four game losing streak. Despite the 0-4 record, I did like the fact that Mo Williams had to carry the load with LeBron street clothes. The Cavs are going to need Mo to play well if they are going to win the title and his 35 points, 10 assist effort against the Bulls was great to see (as was his 19 points through three quarters against Orlando). And while I don't blame Brown for resting guys for health reasons, I really would've liked to see Shaq shake off some rust in a game that didn't matter, rather than the first round.

(I will note that Brown chose to stop competing in crunch time following the Chicago loss (playoff preview!), when the James-less Cavs went scoreless over the final minute and a half, mustering only a forced turnaround from Mo and two ugly jumpers from Varejao. I'm still quite wary of their late game play calling).

The Cavs are healthy, LeBron is rested, Shaq has lost 20 lbs, Mo's shot is falling, there's no one like Sasha Pavlovic or Eric Snow in the rotation and they have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. You've got to feel good about this, no?

Plus, as a Cavs fan, you couldn't ask for a more entertaining (potential) road to the title. Should Boston, Orlando and the Lakers take care of business (let alone the Cavs themselves), Cleveland will face the Bulls in the first round, the Celtics in the second round, Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals and the Lakers in the Finals. So they'd start with Michael Jordan's old team, then face the team that knocked them out in 2008, follow that with the team that sent them home last season (one of Shaq's former team) and finally end it against Kobe and the storied Lakers (another one of Shaq's former teams). Awesome.

This should be fun.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


From Frank Isola, NY Daily News:
First things first. The writer of the article, Brian Windhorst, has now known LeBron since the self proclaimed King was a high school sensation in Akron. (Brian thinks of himself as a sensation as well.)

I've got Jerome James on my speed dial and Windhorst has LeBron. Okay, so life isn't fair. I also know that Brian has his resume sitting in the sports office of every New York newspaper and is ready to pounce on one of our jobs should LeBron sign with the Knicks.

I sometimes think that Brian wants to come to New York more than LeBron. He's a huge "Sopranos" fan and fancies himself as LeBron's underboss.

I'm guessing it absolutely killed Brian to write that LeBron is leaning toward staying. It must be true because Brian desperately wants to get out of Ohio and is essentially the best thing the Knicks have going for them: a spy on the inside working on their behalf.

But it appears that LeBron's next move will be to re-sign with Cleveland for the next three years. As for Brian, it essentially means the parole board has rejected his early release from Cleveland. Three more years for you as well, buddy.

Seriously? Brian Windhorst is a spy for the Knicks organization? Wow.

Windhorst is, in my opinion, the best 'mainstream' beat writer in the game. If you want to have any understanding of the Cavs and LeBron, Windy's work for the Plain Dealer is essential reading. The article he wrote for ESPNNewYork.com actually (gasp) made a case for Cleveland (meanwhile, ESPN's most popular personality has movie stars on his podcast begging LeBron to join the Knicks).

As for the article in question, well, I wouldn't say I'm convinced LeBron is re-upping (I won't be sold til he literally signs the paper and has a press conference), but I'd rather read this read this than its opposite:

The vibe being sent out from James' camp -- whether it is private conversations or discussions about new business or plans for the near future -- is that James currently is leaning strongly toward re-signing with the Cavs.

That may sound vague and, as always, it continues to be fragile. Yet there is no denying the gradual shift within James' circle and, it is assumed, by James himself.

James has declined to talk publicly about free agency since November. But as one source said, "I have never been so sure that he's going to stay in Cleveland than I am right now."

So ya. I don't know if you'd read this and rush to renew your season tickets, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

I was actually going to write about this article anyways (before I read that the Cavs beat writer is a Knicks spy), because Windhorst actually quotes some people 'close to LeBron,' something I wish more writers would do.

A few times over the past couple of years, I've gotten into fairly heated email exchanges with two national NBA writers (for ESPN and Yahoo) over some of their 'LeBron to New York' coverage (no names, please). Both guys stated to me (paraphrasing), "look, I've talked to LeBron's friends and this is what they're telling me, do you want me to ignore this?" No, of course not (as I told them), that's not my issue.

My issue is, too often these stories read "LeBron is unhappy" or "LeBron can't wait to leave" rather than "a friend close to LeBron says that LeBron is unhappy" and the like. It's one thing for them to hear from LeBron that he's unhappy, it's another to hear it from a friend or member of his entourage. Maybe I'm nitpicking but I feel that's a meaningful difference. As a reader (let alone a Cavs fan) that's all I'm asking for. Everyone has an axe to grind. I mean, if I'm a hanger-on or groupie, I'd much rather LeBron be based in New York City rather than N.E. Ohio (that's not even a contest, no?).

As a Cavs fan, the fact that Windhorst actually quotes some people (anonymously, but still) saying LeBron is leaning towards staying gives me some peace of mind. Of course, the fact that the Cavs have led the NBA in wins the past two seasons gives me a much greater peace of mind.

And if Brian Windhorst is a spy, he's a fucking great one. He had me totally fooled.

Friday, April 09, 2010

So THAT'S why LeBron goes 1-on-5 all the time

Really? An Anderson Varejao 15 footer? That's what was drawn up? And Andy, the Cavs get the offensive board and you decide to shoot another one? Seriously?

The Cavs had their chances to win (the Bulls missed four free throws in the last 30 seconds) but the failure to drawn up an offensive play bit 'em in the ass. In the possession before Andy's ill advised jumper, the Cavs called timeout and ran a play for Mo (who was having a great night). They ran a play where no one moved and Mo ends up taking a 12 foot fadeaway with Kirk Hinrich draped all over him. Then the Cavs follow it up with a Varejao pick-and-pop.


On one hand, none of this means anything. The Cavs have clinched home court throughout the playoffs and they sat LeBron against the Bulls (Delonte West was out as well). The Bulls had something to play for and the Cavs didn't. Who cares?

On the other hand, there's still things to work on. It was nice to see the Cavs play well without LeBron. Mo Williams had 35 points and 10 assists and Antawn Jamison had 26 and 6 (Jamison rolled his ankle late it the game) and the Cavs put up 108 points without the NBA's second leading scorer. I was glad to see Williams play well, especially down the stretch. He hit some big time threes in the fourth quarter and you can tell he had his confidence. The whole team played hard (Jamario Moon sighting!) and they gave a strong effort in a game that meant practically nothing.

But I'm not gonna lie, the lack of imagination during the final 30 seconds bothers me. Just a tad. I mean, odds are, barring injury or fouls, LeBron is on the court for these last second plays come playoffs, hopefully they won't be in this exact scenario. Watching Mo take a bad fade-away over Hinrich (while the Cavs stood and watched) only to follow it up with Andy bricking a game winner really dredges some bad playoff memories.

I was really interested to see what kind of play they would call with LeBron in street clothes (and Jamison on the bench with a bum ankle). A pick and pop with Mo and Z? Pick and roll with Mo and Hickson? Maybe something really cool that I don't even know about.

I know this game means next to nothing. No LeBron, no Shaq, no Delonte and even no Jamison at the end. I get that. If the Cavs and Bulls met in the playoffs, I doubt the Bulls would even win a game. But twice the Cavs called timeout to set up a potential game winning play and twice they failed to get a good shot. Those two timeouts yielded a play where four Cavs stood around while someone forced a bad jumper and Varejao hoisting a shot he did not want to take. So the results weren't exactly encouraging, especially considering that they got two cracks at it.

*deep breath*

This game doesn't matter. This game doesn't matter. This game doesn't matter. Three more games til playoffs. Three more games til playoffs. Three more games til playoffs.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Cleveland 113, Toronto 101

Solid win, the Cavs played with a lot of energy. In what could be a potential first round preview, the Cavs thoroughly handled the Raptors. Of course, the Raptors are easier to handle when Chris Bosh has to leave in the first quarter with a broken face (he caught an elbow from Antawn Jamison). With Bosh out, the Cavs went inside and got whatever they wanted (this is shocking, but the trio of Andrea Bargnani, Hedo Turkoglu and Amir Johnson don't protect the rim very well). The bigs moved extremely well without the ball and both LeBron (13 assists) and Mo Williams (12 assists) rewarded them for their effort.

I can't stress enough how great the passing was (80% of their field goals were assisted). The Cavs racked up a season high 38 assists (on 47 baskets) and they made it look easy (and a lot of fun). Anderson Varejao checked in late in the first quarter and immediately netted two wide open layups off of passes from LeBron. The Cavs notched an assist on every basket they made in the third period (where they took control of the game), including the five baskets Jamison scored in the first four minutes after halftime. The play of the night also came in the third; after a defensive stop, Mo threw a full court pass (football style) to a streaking LeBron, who then made a perfect bounce pass to a trailing Hickson for the slam. Just beautiful.

Nice game from Anthony Parker. I'm still not completely sold on AP, but this is the second game in a row where I've liked what I've seen. Parker was aggressive and didn't just settle for jumpers and, like Jamison, he really moved well without the ball. AP finished with 18 points (his Cavalier high), 8 boards and 6 assists. I hate when he just parks himself in the corner and waits for the pass (not saying it's his fault exactly, the Cavs have a tendency to stand around and watch LeBron). I'm not looking for him to post 18-8-6 all the time, but he needs to fill up the box score.

The Cavs had six players in double figures (which makes sense, seeing how they had 38(!) assists). Jamison led the Cavs with 20 points, LeBron had 19, Parker scored 18, Mo had 14, Jawad Williams scored 13 and both Varejao and Hickson notched 10. There were times the Cavs went to Jawad in the midpost and I came away impressed. Jawad is very deliberate when he gets someone on his back and he used a variety of jab steps and ball fakes to clear space to knock down his faceup J. I loved the energy I saw from J.J. on both ends of the floor (he's become great at filling the lane and he's a very active defender). Speaking of energy, you couldn't tell that Andy just returned from injury (he made a great bounce pass to J.J. for a weakside dunk).

The Cavs really only played 8 guys. Z, Varejao and Jawad Williams were the main contributors off the bench (Powe, Moon and Green got some garbage time minutes). We still don't quite know what the team's playoff rotation looks like, since the Cavs still aren't at full strength but Coach Mike slowly seems to be shortening his rotation (I'm assuming Jawad got Delonte's minutes, as West missed the game due to back spasms). I'm still intrigued to see what Brown does once Shaq returns (who's minutes get cut, J.J. or Z? Or will it be determined by matchups?).

It was nice seeing the Cavs take this game seriously, despite having the top seed locked up. The Cavs beat the Raptors by sticking with their offense (again, 38 assists!) and playing timely defense (they weren't super aggressive all the time). They didn't stand around and take bad jumpers, they didn't give up a ton of easy baskets (though Jarrett Jack, 23 points, 7-12 FG and Amir Johnson, 16 points, 7-8 FG, torched 'em) and they kept their focus for the full 48 minutes (they didn't need to flip a switch in the fourth). LeBron was content to set up his teammates and he didn't take much contact in his 36 minutes of court time.

and finally...

There has got to be a better nickname for Antawn Jamison. Austin Carr has dubbed Antawn "The Jumpshooter," and proceeded to hammer it home roughly 15 times over a 30 second clip... of Jamison making layups. The Jumpshooter. Makes sense for a guy like Parker or Daniel Gibosn, but notsomuch for the dude with all the crazy hook shots. But whatever. The Cavs have the top seed, why not let Austin Carr call Jamison "The Jumpshooter" a billion times over the next week or so. The Cavs are in Chicago on Thursday, face the Pacers at home on Friday, play the Magic on Sunday afternoon and end the season with Atlanta next Wednesday.

Cross-posted at LeBrownsTown.com

Monday, April 05, 2010

Boston 117, Cleveland 113

This game was simultaneously both frustrating and awesome. The first half sucked; the Cavs trailed 64-49 heading into halftime and they clearly weren't interested in playing defense. They weren't playing terrible, but Boston seemed to be getting all the loose balls and hustle plays. The Cavs stormed back in the second half and they were led by that LeBron guy. James scored 32 of his game high 42 points in the second half, seemingly willing himself to the rim, despite whatever Boston threw at him. Down by as many as 22, the Cavs fought back and even took the lead a few times in the fourth but they couldn't hold on and Boston escaped with the victory.

LeBron was the reason the Cavs were even in the game, but he still needed to be better (as weird as that seems). It's crazy to think that the guy who had 42 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists, a steal and block needed to do more, but it's true. Despite going full on Video Game James to end the third and start the fourth, LeBron shot just 14-22 from the line (63%), including two big misses with under a minute to go. I loved seeing LeBron put his head down, attack and simply will himself to the rim but I hated how he settled for jumpers late in the game.

There were two jumpers that stood out. Down 115-113, Kendrick Perkins missed two free throws and LeBron grabbed the board, raced down court and shot a pull up trey over two defenders with 4 seconds to go. Yes, James could've (and maybe should've) driven on the two Celtics, forcing a foul. But he also had Antawn Jamison all alone, right in front of the rim. Had LeBron missed short or the had the ball gone off the backboard, Jamison was in perfect position for a put back (instead, the ball careened to the left and out of bounds). Personally, that shot doesn't bother me nearly as much as the jumper LeBron hoisted two minutes prior. The Cavs had the lead (104-103) and the ball with just over two minutes to play and LeBron chucked a 20 footer with 15 seconds left on the shot clock. Ugh. If you run a good play to net a bucket and extend the lead, you've put a ton of pressure on the Celtics. Instead, LeBron settled for a long two without even making them work. This was doubly frustrating since James was getting to the rim whenever he wanted.

The refs were not good. Both the Cavs and the Celtics were jawing at the referees (and each other) throughout the afternoon (not without warrant). Coach Mike was kicked out after a tirade that came on the heels of a Mo Williams tech. To their credit (kinda) the Cavs had a legit beef. Mo was blatantly held by Tony Allen (like, literally grabbing the arm) which allowed Rondo to shake free for a wide open layup (all of this occurred right in front of the Cavs bench). The Celts weren't happy with the refs either; Rasheed Wallace picked up another tech (shocking) and Rondo got a T late (after they missed him getting hit in the face). There were also BS plays, mostly some touch fouls in the post (on both sides) as well as Paul Pierce getting an absurd continuation late in the first half. Bad refs or no, the Cavs didn't exactly handle themselves well when things didn't go their way. They picked up four techs total (LeBron showed up a ref in the fourth) and ended up losing by four points. I'm not saying that the techs cost them the game, but they sure didn't help.

LeBron actually had some help. Sorta. While I wouldn't say any of the other Cavs had standout performances, all five starters were in double figures and Z pitched in 10 off the bench before fouling out. Mo Williams started out hot and went 6-6 from the floor, but just two of his 17 points came in the second half (Mo sat the entire fourth). Both Jamison and J.J. Hickson finished with double-doubles (16-10 and 14-11, respectively) and each made a big basket in final period (Jamsion hit a three to make it 101-96 while Hickson put them up 106-105 off a pick-and-roll with James). What suprised me the most was how great Anthony Parker played. His bank shot with three minutes left gave the Cavs their first lead of the game (104-103) and he hit LeBron cutting baseline with a great pass (off of an offensive board) that led to some free throws. Also, AP's defense on Rondo forced the Celtics into a 24 second violation late in the game.

Besides Ray Allen and Rondo, no other Celtic really played well. Rondo was great, scoring 16 points and dishing out 14 assists. He absolutely killed Williams (including a three to end the half, after Mo let him roll ball up, allowing the Celtics to keep the game clock at 2 seconds). Allen finished 33 points, shooting 10-17 overall, 6-9 from behind the arc and 7-7 at the stripe (including those techs). Allen always seemed to hit a three right when they needed it (including one where J.J. blocked a shot directly to Allen). Meanwhile, KG scored 19 but went 5-14 from the floor and Paul Pierce shot 4-13 on his way to 16 points. The biggest difference (besides giving a crap for 48 minutes) was the fact that Boston shot 31-38 (81%) from the charity stripe while the Cavs missed double that, going just 24-40.

and finally..

I'm strangely confident after this game. Yea, the Cavs just lost to Boston and missed a billion free throws. But Cleveland played about a poor a first half as you'll see 'em play, were down by as many as 22 and yet they still had a chance to win in the end. Plus, the Cavs were without both Anderson Varejao and Shaq. The game got quite chippy down the stretch and you can tell these guys plain just don't like each other. I can only hope and pray these teams meet in the second round.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Cleveland 93, Atlanta 88

Solid victory. I attended the game and going in, I was a bit concerned about the Cavaliers' effort Heading in, their Magic Number was just 2 (so they're pretty much locked up for best overall record) and the Hawks were looking for some payback for the loss on LeBron's birthday (the game with a the 24 second clock malfunction and Varejao's three). But the Cavs played with good energy (though the third quarter was kind of a stinker) and they kept the pressure on Atlanta.

LeBron doesn't fail to disappoint. James finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals. One of his steals was just stupid; he stole a lazy Hawk pass around the halfcourt line (he was basically playing both the man with the ball and the passing lane) then drove straight for the rim and finished off an 'and one' opportunity. There were times where the offense bogged down (there were some bad possession in the third) but, except for a couple of dagger treys in the fourth, the Cavs and LeBron weren't standing around.

Last season's Mo Williams made an appearance. When Mo has a good game, the Cavs are nearly unstoppable. Williams finished with 24 points (7-14 FG, 3-7 3FG) to go along with 4 boards, 2 assists and 4 blocks(!?) in a team high 40 minutes. If the Cavs are going to win in the playoffs, they're going to need Mo to have games like this. Williams needs to be aggressive and looking to score, he can't just play facilitator, that's not his game.

Antawn Jamison left the game with a shoulder injury. So there's that... Jamison played alright, he wasn't great, but he wasn't terrible either. He fumbled away a (low) pass that could've led to a wide open corner three (the Cavs a couple of plays like this, bad pass or fumbled boards) and he split his two free throws (but hell, that should raise his Cavalier average). Antawn finished with 12 points and 7 boards.

The role players played well. I loved what we saw from J.J. Hickson. J.J. finished with 8 points and 16 boards (7 offensive) in 30 minutes. He was really skying for a lot of those offensive boards and he had a couple of nice putbacks. Delonte West also played well, despite going just 3-10. I loved Delonte's defense (Jamal Crawford finished just 6-18 from the floor) and offensively, he put this fake on Mike Bibby that was absolutely gorgeous.

The coaching and subs were good, for the most part. Not gonna lie, I like the fact that West played 26 minutes to Anthony Parker's 24. Lineup I liked (you'll be shocked): Mo, West, LeBron, Jamison and Z lineup (last year's 66 win starting five plus Jamison). The lineup I didn't care for: Mo, West, Jamison, Powe and Z. Well, it's not the lineup I didn't care for, but the fact that with Jamison, West and Mo on the court, the Cavs went to Leon Powe on the block for three straight possessions.

and finally...

60 wins. Again. Kinda cool, no? Man, the Cavs are good. LeBron is playing at a level that I haven't seen before. It's just a joy to watch (I mean, even his goaltend was awesome). I'm not sure how I feel about the Cavs late season schedule. The Cavs face the Celtics on Sunday and then still have games against Orlando and Atlanta. With their Magic Number at 1, these games no longer really matter. I'll be honest, at this point, I'm just scared of injuries (Varejao's game to game, Jamison just tweaked his shoulder). It's too bad.

Friday, April 02, 2010

45 Minutes of Goodness*

Speaking of LeBron and New York, that was just one of the topics covered in the second Coxcast on LeBrownsTown. I sat down (over the internet!) with Brian Spaeth and we discussed the Cavs, LeBron's future, Lost and his new business venture... Turtle Calls. It's pretty awesome.

*[Edit] Ok, so the Coxcast itself is about 25 minutes. The raw, uncut, uncensored version of the podcast can be found right here: 45 minutes of goodness. If you're looking for just the Cavs stuff, go to LeBrownsTown (though I think some of the latter Cavs stuff (re: post-Turtle Calls conversation) got cut).

FINALLY, an ESPN that focuses on New York


Not surprisingly, there are some stories about LeBron coming to the Knicks (if you're surprised or outraged by this, you haven't been paying attention). One is ridiculously pro New York and other is written by the Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst. I'd suggest reading the pro New York article first and follow with Windy. I did the opposite and, I'll tell ya what, Ian O'Connor's case for New York City scares the crap out of me (short version: LeBron, you could be Babe Ruth).

Right now, I'm leaning towards him staying, but I really have no idea (obviously). At the end of the day, I just can't see him leaving a Championship team to go start over somewhere else.

So no pressure, fellas.

These playoffs could very well be the death of me.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Encouraging News

Shaq sounds motivated:
Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal says his surgically repaired thumb is healing ahead of schedule.

Looking remarkably fit, O'Neal, who has been out since tearing a ligament in his thumb on Feb. 25 and having surgery, said he plans to resume basketball activities soon. He said his thumb is "good" and that he's looking forward to getting back on the court.
How motivated?
Shaq said he's sworn off cheeseburgers since getting hurt. It shows, too.
Since getting hurt. Awesome.

He apparently is ahead of schedule (or so he says):

O'Neal took part in some of practice Thursday, although coach Mike Brown isn't counting on him being back before the playoffs.

O'Neal has been sidelined since tearing a ligament in his right thumb Feb. 25. He had surgery and was expected to miss the rest of the regular season. On Wednesday, the 14-time All-Star said he was ahead of schedule.

Not bad news, no?

I just hope cheeseburgerless O'Neal knows that he's still 38 years old. The news that he's in great shape is all well and good (though I'd like to see some photographic evidence of this svelte Shaq) but they need him to not overstep his role.

(I also assume he's laying off the pulled pork sandwiches)

45 to 9

I had to work last night, so I didn't get to see any of the Cavaliers' victory over the Bucks, though I did hear the end of it. It was nice to see (well, hear from Joe Tait) that the Cavs actually ran a play at the end of a game, rather than just watch LeBron dribble and chuck a jumper.

The Cavs were down four with about 3 minutes to go and they fought back and got the victory. The Cavs nearly blew the game by missing so many free throws (Jamison and Hickson went 2-6 down the stretch) but thankfully Mo made his late and the Cavs held on. One could say the game down to free throws.

And if I were a Bucks fan, I'd be quite pissed. The Cavs missed more free throws (16) than the Bucks even attempted (9). Overall, the Cavs went 29-45 from the stripe while Milwaukee went 8-9. John Salmons went 7-7 and Andrew Bogut went 1-2 and that's it. 9 free throw attempts to 45. No other Buck was fouled while attempting a shot? The Cavs were clean besides those two?

Again, I didn't see this game. I know Milwaukee is really aggressive on defense, so it's not a big surprise they picked up a ton of fouls. And the Bucks did shoot 25 threes (to the Cavs 16) and they're not a bruising inside team, but still. 45-9? As a Cavs fan, I have a hard time defending that.

But whatever. A win is a win is a win is a win. I'll take it. Sure, it looks awful, but is the NBA really fixing a regular season game in late March between the Cavs and Bucks? Somehow, I doubt it.

Anyways. 29-45? Seriously guys? I can't imagine this poor free throw shooting not affecting them at some point in the playoffs. I hope I'm wrong (or it won't cost them a game or, god forbid, a series), but stuff like this has a way of making an appearance in the playoffs.