ESPN's Marc Stein tells us that the NBA has decided that it will start fining players for flopping next season. There are a lot of people who I know that hate, hate, hate flopping. One of them is the Plain Dealer's Branson Wright, who fancies himself a bit of a purest. We've sat next to each other for hundreds of games over the years and each time he sees one he'll let out a prolonged moan. I am not in this camp, I think it is part of the game just like other gamesmanship plays are. But the league is obviously trying to reign some things in.
In the 2006-07 season there was a play when Anderson Varejao -- king of the timed response to defensive contact, oh, OK, the flop -- hit the deck on a jump ball. And he was doing the jumping! And he got the call! I felt this was one of the greatest moments of the season, a signature move by a maestro. Branson literally got up from the table and walked away.
Actually, Andy's great play from that season was taking a charge from Rasheed Wallace in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Sheed had just been called for a bad loose ball foul at the other end and was steaming. He pushed and shoved Varejao up the court, he must've hit him five times before he got the ball. Then setting up in the post he hit him twice more. Andy took them all. Then, at just the correct moment when Sheed was making his move, Andy went to the deck. Sheed was hit with the charge and then he freaked out, tackled LeBron and was ejected. To me, that was sheer mastery. And, as Andy's often criticized yet not incorrect agent Dan Fegan once said to me: "A charge is just as good as a block." Actually, it's better because you get the ball and a foul on the other guy.
I think the key phrase in Stein's story is fines will only come on the "most egregious type of flops." Or as some in the NBA would call them: Ginobilis. I certainly recognize that this will change the way the game is played and there's no doubt Andy is a target and will probably feel this rule at some point next season. More than likely, the league will pass out a bunch early on and announce them all with the hope that it will stem the tide, then will let it go in the late season and playoffs.
When there were first rumors of this sort of action last year I asked Andy about it. He pretty much shrugged and told me that it is easier to get a charge called in the NBA than any other league in the world because of the no-charge zone. "Easier to get charges because of the no-charge zone?" I repeated. "Yes, because if you set up outside of it and there is contact the officials have to make the call. In international games, they can let it go. The line makes them blow the whistle," Andy told me. And, you know what, he's right.
So these fines may not be great news for Andy, but I suspect it won't change the way he plays the game at all.
--One more thing more I go, people are still asking me about why I didn't address Carmelo Anthony rumors in my previous blog. I mean, I was giving you guys some credit. Why would the Nuggets trade their franchise player for any reason? I don't care what rumors have come out of New Jersey or anywhere else, this is crazy. And you sure don't trade him for expiring contracts. C'mon folks. Now, if Denver gets off to a bad start next season I could see them looking to trade Allen Iverson (heading into the last year of his deal) and maybe start a bit of a rebuilding because they have a sky-high payroll and have yet to win a playoff series with this group. But you don't trade Melo, you build around him. --Also, on the Jermaine O'Neal rumors. When Chad Ford wrote it he said he checked it out and it wasn't true. You never say never, but I don't see Danny Ferry trading Zydrunas Ilgauskas and I don't see the Pacers moving O'Neal for a guy in his 30s. How does that make sense for the Pacers. He's their franchise player, even if he's been hurt for the last couple of years.
I've gotten lots of e-mails over the last week asking me about players the Cavs may want to trade for this offseason. Nobody asked about the draft, which I wrote about in Sunday's paper. I guess LeBron's comments at the end of the season are the reason for that. Anyway, let me go over some things to answer some questions I've been getting.
A couple of things before we start.
1. The Cavs probably aren't going to be signing anybody to a significant contract straight up this summer. All they have is their exceptions ($5.5 million mid-level and $1.8 million bi-annual). Neither of those are likely going to attract impact players. Considering the staggering size of their payroll, I don't expect the Cavs to use all or maybe any of this money. 2. The Cavs have plenty of trade assets, but there are circumstances. Most of them are expiring contracts, especially Wally Szczerbiak's $13 million Teams who are looking to clear cap space and rebuild want these deals. Not everybody wants to rebuild in the summer, usually that decision happens mid-season. So, in general, expiring contracts tend to become more valuable as the season progresses. That means a major move might well not happen until during next season. Not that it is impossible. Last season the SuperSonics broke down their team and the Celtics cashed in with Ray Allen. The Cavs also have two restricted free agents in Daniel Gibson and Delonte West they could use in sign-and-trades. However, the team likes the both and probably wants to keep them. 3. The season isn't over yet, the draft hasn't taken place, and not all coaches or general managers are in place. Which means there's mostly just speculation at this point and all talk of roster movement would be by definition premature. From the Cavs perspective, I don't even believe their coaches and front office have made certain decisions yet. So anything about the Cavs would be total conjecture. But I am paid to do it, so I will. As I did in Sunday's story.
--People are asking me a lot about Elton Brand, there is apparently some rumor that the Cavs want him. Well of course the Cavs would want him, so would almost every team in the league. He is going into the final year of his contract, which he has an option to terminate. But since he is coming off an Achilles tear nobody is 100 percent sure he will do that. Either way, the only way the Cavs would be able to get him is in a trade (straight up or in an sign-and-trade). The Clippers don't like spending money, but they wouldn't trade Brand just to clear cap space. He's their franchise player right now and Corey Maggette may be leaving them soon. At this moment, I don't think it is possible. --Lots have e-mailed about Michael Redd. The Bucks have a new coach and a new general manager and may be looking to move numerous players as they look to rebuild. In time, this could be a legitimate scenario. The Bucks have not prospered with Redd as their centerpiece and his maximum contract ties them up. However, this is not the same Redd from three years ago. He's suffered a knee injury since, his shooting percentage has dropped two straight seasons (he only shot 36 percent on 3s this year) and he's coming off his lowest scoring average in four seasons. Now, he is a highly skilled shooter who has experience playing with LeBron on Team USA. We'll have to see how things develop and what the Bucks do with the No. 8 overall pick. --Baron Davis. Several have raised this one to me. Baron is another player who has an opt out in his contract that no one is sure he will use. The Warriors are at a bit of a crossroads, they have numerous free agents to deal with. It appears Davis wants an extension and probably a massive one and the Bay Area media has reported early talks have not gone well. So it makes sense that his name would be floated in rumors. No one has told me the Cavs would have interest and it is questionable as to whether his style would mesh with LeBron because he is a shoot first guard. But it is a situation that could be worth watching. --Andre Iguodala, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor (I've gotten questions on all) or any other restricted free agent from the draft class of 2004. The Cavs do not have cap space required to give out an offer sheet that would scare anyone. As for sign-and-trades, the Cavs don't have the young talent that would make such a deal possible. Teams don't want to give up their young stars, just as the Cavs wouldn't.
I'll have more as things develop and more about the season as a little more time passes. People still aren't talking much.
Celtics 4, Cavs 3...season over
--Excuse my tardiness in posting, my computer is no more. I am still not back in Cleveland and am using another barrowed computer to do this. --The Cavs lost to a better team. I feel they actually played better basketball in the series and even though Kevin Garnett is a great player and a former MVP who geninuely cares about defense, he is not better than LeBron. The Celtics won the series for three reasons: 1. They had homecourt advantage. 2. They had multiple players able to deliver the scoring load. Paul Pierce did twice, in Games 5 & 7, and he was a difference-maker in both games. 3. They had role players they got for free come through in the clutch. Sam Cassell made a few big plays in Game 1, P.J. Brown did it in Game 7. The players the Cavs got for free were Lance Allred and Billy Thomas. --After the game LeBron was very upset. The reason is because he gave his all and lost. He is not used to playing his best and losing, it has almost never happened before. Against the Spurs he did not play well and he knew it and it was easier for him to accept. Which is why he left shaking hands and saying how much he needed to get better then. Yesterday he walked off without looking at anyone, his teammates or anybody else. Then after the game, without being prompted, he said the Cavs needed to make some personnel changes. --LeBron is right, the Cavs need more players. I believe they are better than they were a year ago but the conference is much tougher. The Celtics are 10 times better than the Nets were in last year's second round and I believe the Pistons are better than they were last year. While it may make a difference to the fans and to the owner who got to sell fewer tickets, it really doesn't matter whether you get beat in the second round and the Finals. The Cavs lost when they ran into a better team. They must take steps to reach that level. --Ben Wallace was very strong on Garnett in Game 7. Delonte West showed he can be a contributor and that he's very tough, though I believe the Cavs still need a true point guard and have West as their third guard because West does not handle the ball well under pressure at times and he doesn't get the team into its offense well at times. Joe Smith is a quality veteran big man who contributed in many playoff games. The roster is flexible, so Danny Ferry must take what he learned and apply it. --LeBron was tremendous in Game 7, but he did not trust his teammates enough. When push comes to shove -- and Game 7 is shoving time -- he wanted to control everything. Part of this is something he's got to overcome. It took Michael Jordan six or seven years to truly trust his teammates. Part of it is he's got to be given assistance on offense. I have written that I don't think he respects the system at times so he will break it off. But also the Cavs do not have a realible second scorer or that point guard who will take the ball and tell LeBron to go run a play and LeBron will respect it. This has been said for years. The Cavs play championship quality playoff defense but they just don't have the offense to do it yet, even though they have the offensive player. --If LeBron makes the 3-pointer from the wing with the Cavs down one with about 1:40 to go, I think the game might have had a different outcome. However, I felt it played out the exact same way the series played out. The Celtics got ahead early and the Cavs bit their heels the whole way but just were not good enough to pass them. Boston has enough players and enough options -- and so does Detroit -- that they can withstand some mistakes. The Cavs do not, they have to play at an extremely high level to win. They have done it often and last year against the Pistons LeBron did have a perfect moment that put them over the top. But ultimately they have to become more than overachievers. --Two things that hurt the Cavs in Game 7. Both LeBron and Z were out of the game together for a minute and the Celtics scored five straight points to push the lead from five to 10. The Cavs never overcame that. Not that Z did much in the last four games of the series. Part of it was him, part of it was the Celtics, part of it was coaching. He said he couldn't get shots, that's a coaching issue. But he didn't make many, either, and you could see his technique slipping and that is nerves. The other was the inability to deal with the high pick-and-roll. The Celtics basically only ran three plays yesterday. A Pierce/Garnett pick and roll, a Rondo/Garnett or Pierce pick and roll, and a Garnett post up on the left block. Yet the Cavs never were able to consistently get stops. Pierce made some really tough jumpers, but he got going because he made a bunch of open ones because the Cavs couldn't keep track of him on that simple play. --One thing that is not going to change with this team is Brown. He did a solid job in the playoffs, his in between adjustments were pretty strong for the most part and I thought in the Wizards series his management of matchups was very good at times. Sometimes he is unable to get the Cavs to make changes in the game, part of that is him and part of that is the team (um, LeBron) sort of doing what they want to do on offense and not running anything. He'll have to look inward and decide how to fix it, that is his next great challenge. But he gets the Cavs to play a style that enables them to have a chance to win and his playoff record is very strong. Take your potshots, even those with merit, but he's proven that he is a good playoff coach and one that is still growing and learning.
I'll have more, including some postseason player-by-player breakdowns in the next few days.
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Officials Ken Mauer, Eddie F. Rush, Bennett Salvatore...Mauer is the most demonstrative of the three, Salvatore the most experienced. Over the years, Rush has seemed to give James the benefit of the doubt.
--You can feel the extra tension in the building today, this is two rounds from the Finals but it has a near Finals buzz. There is a general belief that what happens today could be memorable/historic which adds the extra layer. --That said, the Cavs are keeping it business as usual as much as they can. Mike Brown was reasonably relaxed before the game and said the same things he's said all along. It's a one-game focus. Today that is very true. The locker room was a little more quiet than usual but everyone is going about their routines. --LeBron said before the game that he is looking forward to this and is very confident. You never have to worry about LeBron's confidence level. What is more important is how aggressive he is and how much he tries to get others involved. While everyone in the large media gathering here seems to be guessing how many LeBron will score today, I believe his assist total will be just as important. That's not to say he doesn't have a 40-game in him, he has done it before and he's been warming up. But I continue to say the way he played in Game 6 in Washington is when he can be at his best and that sort of performance (27 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists) is more repeatable than the 48-point effort last year in Detroit. --The game plan is the same. The Cavs have to limit Rondo's drives and stay up on Allen and Pierce. On offense they have to move the ball and attempt to get Z involved. One thing they have not done is run after rebounds, they have stopped to compose themselves instead of pushing it. Offensive rebounding will be important because they have yet to shoot at a very high percentage. Also limiting turnovers to avoid big Celtics runs is vital in this building. But if you have been watching this series you already know all of this. Enjoy.
Halftime -- Celtics 50, Cavs 40 --The Cavs are lucky to still be this close, they are still in the game. But they cannot win unless they make some changes. First off, they have got to come up with a new way to cover the high pick-and-roll with Paul Pierce. He is playing very well, but he's getting space because of the way the Cavs are letting him come off. That is basically the only play the Celtics are running but they are executing it and the options off it very well. Mike Brown must earn his money here. Might be worth giving Devin Brown a look. If they give up 50 in the second half it's a blowout. --LeBron is attacking and that is good, but he is not playing a good game at all. He has one assist and one rebound. He continues to back the ball out and not run the offense. He's playing 1-on-1 ball and he's losing. He must create for others, otherwise he is not going to lead the Cavs to a win. The Cavs have just five assists but a large reason is LeBron is stopping things. --That said, the Cavs' role players have been terrible with the exception of Joe Smith. The starters other than LeBron are 1-of-9. Z has to make some of the shots he gets, he is shooting tight, you can tell my his release. Wally Szczerbiak has done nothing, either. Sasha Pavlovic is maddening, he's had a couple OK defensive possessions but otherwise he has not contributed. I think you could sum up his season by the possession when one of his weak drives resulted in his shot being blocked by two different Celtics. --The Cavs are not offensive rebounding and not running off rebounds. They are going to need 6-10 fastbreak points and about the same second chance in the second half, they need the easy baskets.
Cavs 74, Celtics 69 --This was just horrifying basketball from both sides. But that happens in the playoffs, especially with defensive teams like this. The Cavs scrapped and brought a lot of energy to the table and they were just slighty better across the board. It seems to be the home court difference. --LeBron held this game tight. He never wanted to let go control, especially at the offensive end. He had 32 points and six assists, two that led to 3-pointers. When you add in the passes he made that led to free throws he was responsible for more than 50 of the Cavs' 74 points. He also made some terrible offensive judgments, pulling the ball out like it was Game 5 of the Wizards series all over again. I simply have no idea why in a tight spot inside two minutes with Glen Davis having five fouls and six fewer inches than Zydrunas Ilgauskas that there was nothing done to set him up. Wally Szczerbiak hits that crazy 3-pointer from like 26 feet but it was a bad shot in that spot. LeBron also had eight turnovers. You can live with that because of his ability to make plays, but to win in Boston the Cavs are going to have to figure out a way to compose themselves on offense under pressure. Turnovers have killed them there and stagnant offense will be a loss. LeBron has to realize this, in many ways it is on him. He can make an impact by coming out and whipping the ball around. If I were him, I would not watch any of this game film and instead go back and watch Game 6 in Washington. That was his finest game of this postseason, the Cavs need that again. --I felt the charge LeBron got on Paul Pierce with 49 seconds left was a massive play in the game. I have not seen enough angles to say for sure, but it appeared to be a bad call. LeBron said he thought the ball was out of bounds on him. He's trying to make a play there, but it was risky to maybe put Pierce at the line up just five. He got the whistle, which really upset the Celts. In my opinion it evened out just a bit a few moments later when Wally Szczerbiak was called for a foul on Ray Allen's breakaway. On that play, with the ball hitting the side of the backboard I believe that it was not a goaltend. But I could be wrong. --The Cavs did a strong job on Rajon Rondo, mostly they brought a big man to him to block the paint on pick-and-rolls. Plus he was just not as aggressive getting into the paint as he was in Boston. He will make an adjustment I am sure, but keeping him under control got the Cavs stops they needed to win. --It is fair to criticize Mike Brown for his offense, heck knows I have been doing it for years. But the guy takes so much abuse in this town. His defensive principles are responsible for the win, maybe not as much as the star power of LeBron, but these are the types of games that Mike spends so much time preparing his team for. Perhaps the weaknesses will decide the game Sunday but there are strengths and important ones. The Cavs shot 32 percent and won. Think about that for a minute. --To answer a popular quesion: No, I do know know why Devin Brown isn't playing. Mike has shown that he will live and die with Sasha. He thinks he is more dynamic on offensive and likes his length. Devin is a much better finisher around the rim and runs the offense better and he scraps. But considering Ray Allen isn't making a dent on Sasha or Wally and both are doing OK in limited time on Pierce, I don't think you'll be seeing a chance. Then again, I didn't understand why Damon Jones played tonight. As blog readers know, I think Damon should still have a role on the team, but it wasn't a good idea to just throw him out there. He played tight, getting up two not so good shots in his first minute on the floor, and then he was upset on the bench because his run was so short. But he couldn't stay with Eddie House on a pick-and-roll and that was probably all Mike needed to see. --Kevin Garnett is playing amazing in this series, I am not sure anyone is realizing it. I suppose the Cavs will have to do something about how he's coming off screen rolls and getting open 20-footers. This season he shot around 45 percent on jumpers, which is pretty good, but he seems quite a bit higher in this series. --The Cavs getting 16 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points was key. They have not gotten those rebounds in Boston, it will be important if they are going to have a chance Sunday. --For the next day and a half you will hear about how the Celtics are 15-3 all-time at home in Game 7s. Do you know what that means? Absolutely nothing. They are 7-0 at home in these playoffs, that is what means something. I will have to look this up, but I'll bet there are not many of the key players in this series who have a Game 7 victory in a series on their resume. From the Cavs' perspective, it does not matter than this is the second round. They are playing the No. 1 seed in a one-game shot. They have, in my opinion, the best player. Considering what has happened this season and the circumstances, it is a grand opportunity. I think it will be an extreme challenge, I said after Game 5 that I am not convinced the Cavs as they are currently constructed can beat this Celtics team in a playoff game in Boston. LeBron has proven people wrong for years, this is another chance.
Starting lineups Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Dick Bavetta, Joe DeRosa, Joe Forte
--The loss of Daniel Gibson hurts the Cavs on offense but he's been streaky and not in a good way this series. On defense he was often a target for Rondo to attack. I would not be surprised if LeBron spends some time on Rondo with Sasha Pavlovic and then Devin Brown getting some time as well. Brown can defend both Allen and Pierce as well as Rondo. --The Cavs were very intense before the game, they picked it up a notch. Oh, and Ben Wallace is got the fro going. --It will be interesting to see how much Rondo attacks, he's been a different player on the road in this series. I expect the Cavs to jump out more on screens to try and block his path. --The Cavs need a role player to step up to win the game. I expect the Celtics to push hard to and for all three of their All-Stars to play well. --Z needs to be more involved in the offense. The Celtics have been reading the plays and denying him so I expect some more isos, especially when the backups are in the game.
Halftime -- Cavs 42, Celtics 33
--Horrible ugly first half...which probably favors the Cavs. They took the lead with a 17-2 run to close the half, which was fueled by their defense. The shot at the end of the half by West, though, is an emotional moment. The Cavs need to carry that into the third quarter, which as everyone knows is a challenging time for them. The Celtics will make their push and probably try to do it right away. --The Cavs are shooting just 32 percent but are ahead. How? Terrible offensive execution but combined with defense and offensive rebounding. Which should be slogan of the 2007-08 Cavs. They really defended the basket area well, led by Z and Wallace, both of whom challenged and changed numerous shots around the rim. The Cavs have five blocks and have forced at least five more missed layups with activity. They have 10 offensive rebounds, which kept them in the game in the first quarter. --The offense has been terrible and stagnant. Just five assists and eight turnovers, five of which belong to LeBron. It helped them the game was so junked up because the Celtics lost Z on the perimeter a few times. They are going to have to move the ball more, period. The Celtics will score more than 33 points in the second half. --Ray Allen is getting older my the minute. He cannot stay with Szczerbiak coming off screens, he just grabs him. He tried to dunk and couldn't make it up there and he tried to shoot over Wally and got it blocked right back in his face. This does not bode well for the Celts no matter what happens in this series. --I didn't think Damon Jones should play considering he hasn't played a meaningful minute in a month and it showed in his three minutes on the floor. The Cavs and West are doing a good job on Rondo by blocking his path with a big man on drives. But the matchups may call for some tougher decisions in the second half. --LeBron only rested 1:30 in the first half, that could come back to bite. He has worn down when playing more than 45 minutes in my judgment.
Stars LeBron, 32 points, 12 rebounds, six assists KG, 25 points, eight rebounds
Quotes Doc Rivers: "I thought the charge call on Paul was, well, you guys can take it from there. That's a huge call in this game to make. We played hard. I'm just going to stop there." LeBron: "It was either win or go home, I'm not ready to go home...(Game 7) is going to be electrifying. We'll have to give it all we got. This is really a life or death situation for both teams. You've got to prepare to give it all you got."
Celtics 96, Cavs 89
--When the Cavs lost Game 1 here it was a missed opportunity because they didn't play as well as they could have and still nearly won. Tonight, I felt like they played pretty well and still were not able to win. They were not flawless by any stretch, they fell into some old habits, but you sort of get the impression that they just may not be able to beat the Celtics on the road. They got the game they needed from LeBron James tonight, the type of performance I thought would put them over the top. But it still wasn't enough and it wasn't close to enough. And it makes you wonder what would be enough. --It would be a mistake to count the Cavs out of this series. They have an excellent chance to play well at home on Friday and force a Game 7. In those spots anything can happen, but the Cavs may have to play perfect to win here and I just wonder if they genuinely have it in them. The Celtics have a lot of firepower and their roles players play well at home and it makes it daunting. I still question whether the Celtics have enough poise to win the title, but when they are at home they are just flat better than the Cavs. --LeBron was not transcendent tonight, but he was great. In the scope of this series, scoring 35 points on the road is akin to scoring like 45 or maybe more in a regular season game. He struggled for a bit in the third quarter and that is why it wasn't one of his all-time greats. But that is my point, it seems like it will take an all-time great. He did only have five assists, which showed a Cavs weakness tonight. They had 11 assists and 16 turnovers, but that is what happens here. It is a flaw in their mentality and their offense, they just don't handle pressure well a lot of the time. Three games is enough data to realize that. --Two key moments in the game, Rajon Rondo hitting the two 3-pointers in the second quarter to start a 14-3 run and the three Cavs' turnovers to start the third quarter. On Rondo, you are going to have to live with that. With the turnovers, that cannot happen if you are going to win this series. But it has happened consistently here. --Otherwise, I actually feel like the Cavs did pretty well. The turnovers killed them, but their defense was strong for a lot of the game. I felt like their rotations were solid and so was their effort but Boston just got red hot and made great passes that beat it. At one point the Celtics made 19-of-28 shots. Kevin Garnett is making jumpers, he's great when he's making jumpers. Paul Pierce broke out, he's an all-star, you had to figure it would happen. --Doc Rivers did a nice job with Rondo by putting the ball more in his hands so it was hard for the Cavs to cheat off him. Then Rondo was aggressive in driving. I thought this was going to be a major problem at the beginning of this series because when Rondo got in the lane in the regular season it killed the Cavs' defense. Tonight he was comfortable and aggressive and Delonte West and Daniel Gibson could handle it. That is a weakness of theirs at times. Rondo also threw in some crazy floaters and that's going to happen for guys like him at home. West worked hard to challenge him at the other end and played well. Rondo was just better tonight. --I've heard from some people who think free throw shooting was a factor. I say not really. The Cavs shot just a little below their average and LeBron and West were a combined 21-of-26. So Andy Varejao missed some, he does that, that's why he was fouled. Didn't decide the game. The Celtics shooting 62 percent in the second or third quarters did. --After the game, LeBron made a little proclamation: "A LeBron James team is never desperate." I sort of differ on that one, but his point is fair. There's no doubt that he has personal confidence going and if the Cavs play they way they did at home in Games 3 and 4 on Friday then there is a lot more interesting basketball left. But the Cavs now have no room for error and this team makes a lot of mistakes even in the best of times.
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Officials Ron Garrettson, Tony Brothers, Dan Crawford
--This could be a memorable game. I feel like this is a must win game for the Celtics for so many reasons. I don't think they win in Cleveland if they've lost three straight. I think there's pressure from both sides. And watching LeBron this morning and before the game I get the sense that he's confident and locked in. It's not an exact science, but when he's like this he often has big games. --The Cavs role players need to make shots tonight. Nobody has to score 25, but West, Wally or Daniel Gibson need to make some shots to take the pressure off. Also, LeBron doesn't need to score 40 for the Cavs to win. If he scores 30, in this series, it would be highly impactful. --I wouldn't be surprised if Doc Rivers makes some changes to his rotation tonight, maybe giving Tony Allen or even Eddie House some playing time. I don't know how much longer he can trust Sam Cassell. --The game plan for the Cavs is the same it has been all series up here. They need to keep it close going into the fourth. Absorb the runs and deal with the fans, who are very, very loud here. When the Celtics get up 10-15 points they are almost impossible to come back on at home.
Halftime -- Cavs 46, Celtics 43 --The Cavs played a strong first half for the most part. Obviously LeBron is finding a comfort on offense. He's attacking from different angels and making multiple moves to get to the basket plus his jumper is working the best it has in the series. Defensively the rotations have been good and for the most part the Celtics have been taking the shots the Cavs want them too. --Paul Pierce is also getting going and in general the Celtics are moving the ball better. They are just not getting many open looks. But I do think Pierce is forcing things a little bit, which may come back to to hurt him later in the game. --I don't think the Cavs are playing great offense. They are shooting at a high percentage, but they have just six assists on 16 baskets. They are doing a good job attacking and they've gotten 14 free throw attempts. A little too much dribbling, which may come back to bite them. Also, they have turned the ball over 12 times is a big reason they are not up more. --Expect this game to be skin tight heading down the stretch, we'll see if LeBron can be the differencemaker.
Cavs 88, Celtics 77
--Last season in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, in the fourth quarter LeBron James came out of traffic and dunked over the top of Rasheed Wallace. Looking back, I felt the series sort of turned with that play, the Cavs were able to get that win and they never looked back. It is possible that LeBron's dunk in the fourth quarter over Kevin Garnett could have that affect in this series. Maybe not, lots of basketball to go and the Celtics are a different team at home. However, he is starting to figure out where some driving lanes are and his shot is slowly coming around. We'll see. Anyway, they must have showed that highlight six times over on the videoboard during the timeout after the play. --Anderson Varejao was a huge difference-maker in this game. His ability to defend Kevin Garnett 1-on-1 down the stretch was huge. Not only did he basically stop Garnett (who was 1-of-7 in the second half) but because he didn't need double teams it enabled the Cavs to stay at home on their men. The Celtics ran a few iso plays to take advantage of the matchup but Varejao bumped him out of his comfort zone several times. He also made some shots, which helped the Cavs on offense, but that was less important. --It was a flashback to five years ago late in the first half when Gloria James jumped in from her courtside seat to defend LeBron after Pierce's hard foul on a breakaway sent him into the seats. When LeBron was a senior in high school he was undercut on a dunk by Roy Hall (who later played football at Ohio State and now plays with the Indianapolis Colts) and Gloria went out on the floor after Hall. She's been pretty tame since, until this moment. She ran right up to Garnett and got in his face. KG was cool about it, he was telling her to settle down. Then LeBron got up, saw her and he yelled: "Sit your a-- down." Classic. here's what he said about it after the game:
"Even though that is my mother, you can't have fans going after players like that. The Commissioner doesn't care if it is your mother, I can't afford her not to be at every last one of my games. I told her to sit down in language I shouldn't have used. Thank God today wasn't Mother's Day."
--The Cavs have held the Celtics under 80 points twice in this series, which only happened to them twice during the regular season. Their rotations and energy level at the defense end is so strong right now. They are really recovering well and are taking advantage of the Celtics not being in a rhythm. For this series the Celtics are averaging just 81 points and are shooting 40 percent. --The ball movement in this game was again superior. You could really see on several occasions how the Cavs beat the Celtics rotation with the extra pass, which is what wasn't close to happening in Boston. The Cavs had 24 assists and just seven turnovers in Game 4. Over the last two games they have 63 assists on 74 baskets. That is remarkable. --LeBron has 10 steals and seven blocks in this series, he's making an impact at both ends. I also think he's in Pierce's head a little bit. Sometimes after LeBron scores you can see in Pierce's body language that he wants to score. He's taking shots out of their offense at times and taking a lot of shots with a high degree of difficulty.
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Steve Javie, Bob Delaney, Mark Wunderlich
--Anderson Varejao is going to play, he sat out practice yesterday to let his knee recover from the bruise he got in Game 3. Wallace also is a go. --LeBron got here about three hours before game time to work on his jumpers. The Celtics continue doing a good job keeping him out of the paint, but he's been allowed 15-18 footers. He's got to make them or else he'll continue to struggle. That is what he was working on. --David Stern is in the building, for whatever that is worth. Perhaps he can meet with O.J. Mayo, who is supposed to be here as well. I'll bet they could have some interesting conversations. --The Celtics had an intense practice yesterday, so much so that they skipped shootaround today. They were working on their defense, which slipped big time, in Game 3. I think you will see a much more focused Celtics team across the board tonight. They know if they win tonight the series will basically be over. --The Celtics felt they overplayed LeBron and Z in Game 3. The Cavs adjustment was to run more of a high post offense with the two to free up space in the corners and blocks. That's why Z got so many assists (6) in the last game. So look for the Celtics to maybe loosened up their double teams. --Kevin Garnett has not gotten many shots in the last two games. The Cavs have been double-teaming him more in the post. Also, Delonte West has been cheating off Rondo to help clog the lane. Perhaps some more isos for Garnett and some different spacing from the Celtics will be employed tonight.
Halftime -- Cavs 45, Celtics 43
--This is the type of game many expected, very tight. The Cavs got hurt a bit with LeBron having to sit the last four minutes with three fouls. But he hadn't been out of the game yet and he needed his rest no matter what. --Cavs are playing excellent defense. They are just leaving Rondo alone and living with it. Pierce has hurt them with Sasha Pavlovic guarding him a little, but he's still making him work. Garnett is just being masterful, the guy is having a big time series. He's playing like an MVP. Though I thought Andy Varejao did a pretty good job bodying him in the post in the second quarter. --The Cavs only have four turnovers in the half, which has been key because they are not getting second chance points. They continue to get outrebounded in the series, which is largely due to Garnett. --LeBron's jumper isn't falling again but he's been able to find some lanes to the basket. You have to figure this game is going to come right down to it so his ability to create is probably going to be vital again.
Stars LeBron, 21 points, 13 assists Szczerbiak, 14 points, Varejao, 12 points, six rebounds Garnett, 15 points, 10 rebounds
Quotes Mike Brown on the dunk: "I wanted to flex my muscles but I don't have any muscles. So I just flexed by jaw and gave LeBron a five." LeBron: "We held down homecourt, they held down homecourt. The better team has to win on road to win the series." Doc Rivers: "You think LeBron is struggling? You only look at the field goal percentage, we don't. We look at the way he's playing his total game and he's making plays. Clearly no one right now is shooting well from the field, but let's give him some credit."
Cavs 108, Celtics 94 --Definitely a get well game. Not a surprise at all that the Cavs won, every lower seed has won Game 3 at home in the second round, but they way they jumped ahead and stayed ahead was surprising. I think it is a reminder that the Celtics are vincible and that when the Cavs move the ball they have a chance to score points. They will not shot 54 percent like this very much, but they can get better shots than they were getting in Boston. --LeBron didn't shoot the ball well again and that is an issue. At some point he is going to have to make the mid-range jumper to punish Boston for giving it to him. He's not a great jump shooter, but this season he was very much improved from the mid-range and he's yet to show it. More important tonight was his four steals, three blocks and only two turnovers. He managed to be a playmaker without scoring much. That is the sign of a superstar. His block on Rajon Rondo when he basically ripped the ball out of the air was amazing. I've watched him block shots over the top like that since he was 15, opposing players just aren't used to dealing with his athleticism. By the way, this was an awful night for Rondo, LeBron messed him up a few times and he had no assists in 23 minutes. A reminder he's a role player that is streaky, too, just like many Cavs. --As I mentioned at halftime, I felt Ben Wallace was a major difference-maker. That is the type of game where he can make an impact. The scoring was a bonus. But he had seven offensive rebounds, blocked two shots and took two charges as well. --What was more amazing from Zydrunas Ilgauskas tonight: his career playoff high six assists or the dribble drive layup down the lane when, believe it or not, he did not travel. --It was a little comical that James Posey was getting booed in his hometown. I guess don't mess with LeBron in Cleveland. He probably didn't mean to do it, but it was flagrant. --Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West played well tonight. That's great. Let me see it again before I give a great deal of credit. --The Cavs defense has been pretty solid throughout the series. I think Garnett has been great and he was tonight, but Wally is doing a nice job staying with Ray Allen, who I thought was going to have a big series. He's not getting the ball much and he's almost never getting clean looks. Paul Pierce is having to work very hard to get shots, too. The Celtics defense is getting a lot of attention, but the Cavs have not let them crack 90 points yet and Boston is shooting just 41 percent for the series. --This was an expected win, Game 4 will decide whether this is going to be a series or not. The Celtics are starting to fell heat again because of their road troubles and the fact that the Pistons look like they could close out the Magic very soon.
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Officials Bennett Salvatore, Jim Clark, Greg Williard
--Ben Wallace is feeling better and is going to give it a go. He did not take part in shootaround this morning and said his head has felt like it's been in a "wash cycle." He said he's been OK when he's sitting but not so foot on his feet. So we'll see. --The Cavs may look to spread the floor some more, but more than anything the Cavs just need to hit some shots. The Celtics defense has been good, but they are allowing LeBron to take 15-20 footers and he's got to make more than one out of every five. --Mike Brown has made a point for the team to finish plays more, in other words, keep passing the ball. The guy who usually stops it is LeBron, so we'll see if he does. Against the Wizards in Game 6, his ball movement was excellent and he had 13 assists.
Halftime -- Cavs 52, Celtics 35
--I thought the energy Ben Wallace brought to start the game was huge for the Cavs, it energized the team and the fans. They only gave him credit for three rebounds, but it seemed like more and his activity led to numerous points. --Anderson Varejao has a bruised knee, which happened on the drive when he was called for a charge. He's questionable to return. --The Cavs have 16 assists on 19 baskets. Most of all, they are just making shots which is why there is such a turn around. But they are moving the ball much better and it is leading to higher percentage shots. That and karma is throwing them a few extra bounces. --Because it happened at high speed it looked bad and LeBron milked it because he was on the ground, but I don't really think James Posey was trying to hurt LeBron on the flagrant foul. Which is the fourth LeBron has absorbed this postseason by the way. In the past Posey has committed very hard fouls in the postseason, even getting kicked out of a game when he was with the Heat if memory serves me. --LeBron has continued struggling with his shot, but the Cavs have really let Delonte West run things and it has kept the offense from being bogged down. But LeBron has five assists, which shows he too is looking to pass. --The defensive play when Paul Pierce took a charge from James on a fastbreak was one of the best defensive plays I've seen this season. But LeBron made it easier with a bad angle. --The Cavs are shooting 66 percent, which I don't think can last. They are going to need to continue to play good defense to maintain the lead. Their rotations in the first half were excellent, which led to the Celtics taking lots of contested shots. But the Cavs also got a little loose with the ball at the end of the half, committing seven turnovers in the last eight minutes. That has to stop. --Wally Szczerbiak seems like he's just gotten a bit of a hot hand with 14 points. But he was also successful on posting up. He's going to get 1-on-1 post ups with smaller guys, that should be used more often because the Celtics are just fouling him as well. Wally played so well that Devin Brown and Sasha Pavlovic did get off the bench. At the end of the half, LeBron thought he was doing the interview with ABC but they wanted Wally. It was a little awkward for a second.
Stars LeBron, 21 points, seven assists Delonte West, 21 points, seven assists Joe Smith, 17 points, six rebounds KG, 17 points, nine rebounds
LeBron: "I haven't shot the ball like I like, but a win is all that matters. Even if I am not making shots, I'm able to do more. It was just key that other guys stepped up.. I can't allow my shot to affect the way I play the game. Every shot I took tonight I felt was going in and I made some key shots during the course of the game."
Ben Wallace: "I think everybody knew what we were facing tonight, so everybody stepped up and did whatever they could do to help this team win tonight. That’s what basketball is all about."
Ben Wallace got a complete check up at the Cleveland Clinic today. The Cavs released the following statement:
"Cavaliers forward/center Ben Wallace experienced dizziness with 8:20 remaining in the first quarter of the Cavaliers game last night at Boston and did not return to the game. Exams and testing done at The Cleveland Clinic today determined that he has allergies and a viral inner ear infection in his left ear with dizziness. He is currently listed as doubtful for Game 3 versus Boston tomorrow night (Saturday) at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland."
Take it from someone who had a left viral inner ear infection back in October, they are no fun. I ended up needing minor surgery to clear out fluid so I could hear and fly again. Ben's symptoms are different than mine and it's not clear how long Ben will deal with this but often dizziness can take awhile to go away. So can inner ear infections.
It appears Anderson Varejao will get the start and defend Kevin Garnett. This is not ideal, but Varejao did a solid job on Garnett at times in Game 2. With the thinner frontcourt and the offensive problems, if I were Mike Brown I may consider going small with LeBron at the power forward and shooters all around him. It would make it harder for the Celtics to stay big because it would force them to stretch the defense. But I'm just an observer.
Celtics 89, Cavs 73 --The Cavs now have some serious regret about Game 1, that turned out to be their chance to steal one. The Celtics blow teams out at home, they have done it all year and they will continue to do it as long as they advance in the playoffs. This game had all the markings of one of their typical blowouts. This series is far from over, but the trends obvious do not favor a drastic turnaround. However, I would advise you to limit your frustration from this game and not to rule the Cavs out yet. But they have a lot of work to do. --The Celtics defense is excellent and very sound, they don't make many mistakes. The reason for this is they have athletic and generally intelligent players. Even Kendrick Perkins does what he is supposed to do. They are very good when they can set up and they are good defending the pick and roll because they bring in their athletic big men to form a back line. With LeBron they are allowing him to come around the screen (as in not trapping him unless he's way out on the perimeter) and then the big is guiding him to the baseline so he can't turn the corner and create a scoring angle. They are also extending their arms outward instead of upward to take away passing lanes. None of this is unheard of. Again, though, I do not understand why the Cavs continue to play into this strength by running the same pick-and-rolls. I asked LeBron this after the game and he said that pick-and-rolls are 85 percent of the offense. OK, but not from the exact same spot on the floor. Anyway, adjustment time for Mike Brown. Didn't work so well from Game 1 to Game 2. --In the first quarter, Zydrunas Ilgauskas made five shots and four of them came off passes with assists (as opposed to straight post ups). This is a result of ball movement. Guess how many more he got in the game? One. An example, again, of the Cavs offense getting stuck in a rut. But I'm not going to rehash old discussions. --It is still not clear what happened to Ben Wallace. He said he started having an allergy attack and then he got dizzy about three minutes into the game. He said he thought some of the smoke from the pregame fireworks contributed to it. When it got bad, he just committed a foul and walked over to the Cavs' bench with a wild look in his eyes. Everyone on the bench got up and it was a chaotic scene for a few moments, LeBron came over while the game was going on to ask what was happening and so many players were standing up around him that the bench was pouring onto the court. First the Cavs said he had vertigo and was not coming back, then they said he was. He warmed up for the second half and didn't seem to be unsteady on his feet but he went back to the locker room and did not play. He's going to get some tests in the morning.
Here's what he said: "It was like a tough headache, my head was spinning, I couldn’t really turn my head up or down...I got light headed, my head started spinning, there was smoke in the first quarter. You cant play basketball with your head spinning like that." --Anderson Varejao is now 8-of-32 from the field in the postseason. Last year he was a great pick and roll partner with James because he was great finishing at the rim, it was a weapon the Cavs needed. Right now he's an offensive disaster across the board. I understand his season took a turn when he stepped on Sasha Vujicic's ankle on that afternoon in L.A. I believe that ankle is still not right. But how do you explain his offensive breakdown. I cannot. --Brown is going to have to make some personnel adjustments in my opinion. I believe Devin Brown needs to play, as I have written several times. Also, Daniel Gibson and Delonte West are a combined 5-of-23 and 1-of-8 on 3-pointers. If they do not get it going soon, I would consider Damon Jones. Mike has abandoned him because of defensive issue, but the Cavs offense needs 3-point shooting so badly to be successful. Though I doubt it will happen. Not that these really will turn the tide, LeBron needs to return to form for there to be any chance.
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kedrick Perkins
Officials Derrick Stafford, Joey Crawford, Bill Spooner
--LeBron was named first team All-NBA today. He got 117 out of 127 votes first team votes. You'd have to wonder which 10 people thought he wasn't one of the top five players in the league, but whatever. He was first team two years ago and got all 127 votes then. Last year, though, he slipped to second team. He is the first Cav ever to be named to the first team twice. Mark Price is the only other player to make the All-NBA team. --Expect the Cavs to attempt to move the ball more from side-to-side in this game. It was too easy for the Celtics to set up on half the floor. But the real point is there can't be so much dribbling, from LeBron especially. You have to make the Celtics move on defense, otherwise they'll shut you down. --I expect the Celtics to reallt try to get Ray Allen going and early. I also expect the Cavs to look to double team Garnett more when he's got the ball in the post, which would open things up for Allen. Him getting just four shots in Game 1 was as surprising as him not scoring. --Mike Brown said he was happy with the way Sasha Pavlovic played at both ends in Game 1, so he'll see more time tonight. I guess that is bad news for Devin Brown, who I honestly believe helps the team because he actually runs the offense all the time. But there is only so much room and Mike believes in Wally, too. --Cavs are going back to their blue uniforms tonight, for whatever that means. They were 2-1 in the reds. --Game 1 was a defensive struggle and all that, but the teams combined for more than 40 turnovers which made it sloppy. I figure those will drop tonight and it will become a cleaner and higher scoring game from that perspective alone.
Halftime -- Celtics 44, Cavs 36
--Total failure in the second quarter at both ends of the floor. The Cavs made two baskets in the period, going 2-of-17. The Celtics are playing strong defense and they are really swarming in the paint. But the Cavs are making it easier by not moving the ball. Dribbling and waiting for picks does not work against the Celtics, I am not sure why it is taking the Cavs so long to figure this out. They had eight assists in the first half and most of them were passes to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, passes that made the defense move. Also, LeBron has lost faith in his outside shot right now and he's turning tenative. At the end of the quarter he started attacking more and got to the foul line. --The Celtics bench was fantastic in the first half, especially Sam Cassell and Leon Powe. The bench points are 26-3. Ball game right there. Also, I though Mike Brown made a strange choice when he kept LeBron in to start the second quarter. This meant he had to take him and Ilgauskas out for a spell and it resulting the beginning of the offensive woes. Again, I might suggest Devin Brown. He is not a great scorer but he moves the ball and he gets junk points, which is what the Cavs could use right now. --The Cavs have no fastbreak points and just four second chance points. The reason is because the sluggish offense is allowing the Celtics to get settled in the paint and box out. When they are moving more they can't get rebounding position. --It is not clear to me what is going on with Ben Wallace. We were told he was suffering from dizziness and that he would not return. They we were told he was going to come back but he has not. Neither Joe Smith nor Anderson Varejao is playing well. I do not understand why Andy feels he must dribble, I just don't. He got a rebound and decided he needed to dribble.
Stars Pierce, 19 points, six rebounds Garnett, 13 points, 12 rebounds Leon Powe, 11 points, seven rebounds Z, 19 points, five rebounds
Quotes: LeBron: "I think defensively they’re very, very aggressive; they’re very good. I’m just missing the shots that I normally make. They haven’t fallen in this building the last two games. The layups that usually go down for me are just jumping out of the rim. The jumpers that I usually make are not going down for me. So I’m going to stay positive and get my way through." Mike Brown: "I will go back and watch the tapes. But I thought LeBron James had some good shots, good looks that he has hit before, and he got to the rim a couple times but the ball just rolled out. We will watch tape, but some of our looks were pretty good looks, you need to give the Celtics credit- they are a great defensive team, and they stay aggressive the whole game, and we need to stay aggressive the whole game. If LeBron is open, I want him to shoot. From inside the 3 point line or from outside, he needs to step in and knock it down, he has done it plenty of times before." Doc Rivers: "You know, LeBron is missing some shots he could make and we understand that. We understand also like I was saying before that game that he is going to get shots and it’s the defense that we are going to want to play and he’s going to make those shots. What we can’t do is overreact to that. We have to just stay solid and trust even if he gets it going. This is what we want to do, this is what we want to try at least to force him to play in. If we force him to make those shots."
Celtics 76, Cavs 72
--The Cavs shot 31 percent, LeBron James probably had the worst playoff game of his career, and they were playing on the floor of the No. 1 seed. The Cavs having a chance to tie the game with 20 seconds left is pretty remarkable. Then, the other side of the things is Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were as bad as LeBron on offense and the Celtics got away with 23 turnovers in a game they easily could've lost. So what do you call it? 1-0 Celtics. --If the Cavs play them this closely the rest of the series, they like their chances. If they lose all the close games, then they'll tip their cap. Regardless of whether the Cavs shoot 31 percent, which is an all-time low in the playoffs, or shoot 50 percent, they were ahead by a point with 1:30 to go and down two with 20 seconds to go with the ball in LeBron's hands. The Cavs' offense was terrible at times but their defense was excellent for much of the game, especially their rotations and backside protection. This is why Mike Brown preaches the style he does, the defense enabled them to stay in the game when they were awful. --LeBron shot 2-of-18 and so did Pierce and Allen combined. LeBron had 10 turnovers, so did Pierce and Allen combined. You can break it down and analyze it, but history says none of those guys will play like that again. Allen hadn't gone scoreless in 852 games over the last 11 years. So I guess call it a wash. This series is probably going to be ugly, both teams are good defensive teams. --The Celtics didn't do anything super special to LeBron. They stayed up on everyone, which made it tough for LeBron to find shooters a lot of times. They doubled him on pick-and-rolls, which happens like every game, and many times he found guys, he had nine assists. But he made a bunch of bad decisions, too with those 10 turnovers. Him getting those two offensive fouls in the third quarter caused him not to be very aggressive in the fourth for awhile, he took three or four bad jumpers. At the end of the game he was aggressive in getting to the basket he just couldn't finish. He got to the rim with nine seconds left and had a great chance to tie, he just missed it. That play summed up the night, but so did another play late. When he got trapped and traveled with the ball in front of the Celtics' bench. It was a breakdown, he didn't know what to do. Again, part good Celtics defense, part him not handling the game well. --A big moment in the game was when Mike Brown put Joe Smith in for Ben Wallace on offense with 50 seconds left. That made sense at the time, but it backfired when the Celtics didn't called timeout after Zydrunas Ilgauskas' tip in that tied the game. The Celtics went right to Kevin Garnett, who made a great move for the go ahead layup. Wallace played pretty good tonight, he made Garnett get most of his points shooting jumpers and that is something they'll live with. Maybe he couldn't have stopped that move, either. But you'd rather have Wallace in there than Smith at that point. Z could've come over to double, which was what they were doing with him, as soon as he saw him make his move but he didn't. --The Cavs specifically made defensive moves aimed at slowing Pierce and Allen and letting Rajon Rondo go. They are going to live with what he can do. In the first half, he killed them. In the second half, Sam Cassell did. The Cavs can't guard everyone with the way they play, so this is where they appear to have decided to take their chances. --A couple other things I noticed: During the preseason junk, Garnett does a throat slash thingy. Is that a menacing gesture? After not shaking hands with the Wizards during the last series, LeBron greeted all the Celtics before the opening tip. Doc Rivers acts like a catcher at times and signals plays to his point guards under his jacket so the Cavs can't see. There was smoke in the air for the first five minutes of the game. Was it the pregame fireworks or all the power KG and LeBron throw in the air?
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins
Officials Eddie F. Rush, Scott Foster, Michael Smith
--The Celtics are experts at blowing out people at home. They will come out with a lot of energy and try to build a big lead. The Cavs will have to try to absorb it and stay close. Their goal is to get it to the fourth quarter and try to win it in. --Huge key for the Cavs is how well West and Daniel Gibson handle the pressure, which the Celtics will bring on them heavy. Both have been inconsistent in handling it, though they were both pretty good after that bad Game 3 in D.C. --The Cavs have some matchup issues defensively, especially Ray Allen. I don't think Wally can stay with him, they run him through lots of screens and all over the court. You also would prefer not to have LeBron on Pierce for huge stretches. The Cavs are going to have to rely a lot on switches and help defense, especially when Allen is lurking on the backside. --The Cavs traded for Ben Wallace to deal with players like Garnett. Obviously he's not going to shut him down, but Ben needs to be effective in guarding him around the basket where he sets up in the post a lot. The Cavs don't want to have to bring double teams, they want Ben to be effective 1-on-1 even if KG scores, they want the scores to be hard.
Also, Nike started a new viral marketing campaign for LeBron. Touching but not nearly as cool as the Kobe viral spot with him jumping over that car.
Halftime -- Celtics 41, Cavs 37
--LeBron James has one basket, the Cavs are shooting 29 percent, they have three second chance points, they have not made a 3-pointer, they are on the road. And they are down by just four points. All in all, they have to be thrilled. They have stayed in the game by forcing turnovers (Boston has 12) and by getting to the foul line and making them. The Celtics are upset with the calls, but all in all other than a miss or two it has been pretty fair. --Whenever Gibson is on Rondo, the Celtics see a green light. From the Celtics perspective, Pierce has two points and Ray Allen has none yet they are still winning. Most of it is due to Rondo and his drives. The Cavs are willing to give up the mismatches because they are deploying their defenders elsewhere. --Garnett has 16 points and he's played well, but most of his shots have been jumpers either contested from the mid-range or long range. The Cavs will have to live with that. --Mike Brown has altered his rotation, putting Sasha Pavlovic in for Devin Brown. Sasha was back in midseason form, playing seven hollow minutes with a missed layup. I understand the need to kick the tires with him, but Devin Brown is a producer and a junk scorer and this has been a junk scoring game. --The Cavs have been very active in trying to swat at the ball as the Celtics come into the lane, as a result they have nine steals. This must be the result of a game plan tactic, they are not usually as aggressive. --Assume Pierce and Allen will start making shots in the second half, but the Cavs have to shot something respectable, like, say, 43 percent, to have a chance. The Celtics have done a good job of taking them out of their sets by staying so close to everyone, but there's also been oodles of missed open shots.
Stars Kevin Garnett, Celtics, 28 points, eight rebounds Sam Cassell, 13 points Zydrunas Ilgauskas, 22 points, 12 rebounds
Quotes Mike Brown on LeBron: "He one thing he tried to do in attacking the rim, he didn't get the call, especially down the stretch. Guys have nights like that, but it is unusual to see him have a night like that from the field. He very seldom has a game like this, but he will bounce back and play a terrific game in game 2." LeBron: "I missed a lot of shots that I can usually make. A few layups I know a can make, a few pullups I know I can make. That (late play) symbolized the night I had, those layups I've made my whole life, I put it right over the rim. That play right there was the type of night I was having. I'll watch the film, get a better grasp on the game and come back in Game 2 with a better approach. We still had a chance to win, they made one more play than we did. It's going to be like this almost every game."
Five keys to victory
1. Make it a game or make it a blowout -- The Celtics spent most of the season routing teams, especially on their home floor. They beat the Hawks by an average of 25 points at home in the first round. The Cavs, meanwhile, played close games the entire season. They were actually outscored by their opponents over the 82 games, yet still were eight games over .500. The Celtics did not respond well in the close games in the Hawks series and there is a question as to whether their players are conditioned after taking so many fourth quarters off. The objectives for each team seem simple.
2. Handle the pressure -- The Celtics are one of the most physical defensive teams in recent NBA history. They overplay the perimeter and apply lots of extra pressure to the opposition's ball handlers. The Cavs have not handled this well at times in the past, especially on the road as Delonte West and Daniel Gibson have been inconsistent. For the Celtics, they are expected to win and easily. The tigher the Cavs play them the more they will battle not just the opponent but the lofty expectations of a very intense local and national fanbase.
3. Beware the backside -- Both the Cavs and Celtics have similar defensive styles. They play shrink the floor defense, where they will bring lots of help to the side of the floor where the ball is. For the Cavs, this means where LeBron James is. For the Celtics, this is where Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are. This will give chances for Ray Allen and James Posey and Gibson, West and Wally Szczerbiak to have open shots. Which team takes advantage will have an edge.
4. Big 3 or Super 1 -- In just five years in the NBA, James as more playoff series victories than Garnett, Allen or Pierce. He's been a much better clutch performer and he's dominated in crunch time. Combined, the Celtics powerful trio just put together an amazing 66-win season but they have yet to show they can get it done in the postseason and their opening series against the Hawks was shaky. The Celtics have the talent advantage, but the Cavs have the best player. Which will be the difference-maker?
5. Doing it on the road -- The Celtics were the best road team in the NBA this season but they were 0-2 in Cleveland 0-3 in Atlanta in the first round. The Cavs were in the middle of the pack on the road during the regular season and lost twice in Boston. But they have won 10 times on the road in the playoffs over the last three years. Whichever team can score a road victory will have a huge edge in the series.
Delonte West 6-3, 180, 4th season Postseason: 10.2 ppg, 5.0 apg vs. Celtics: 20.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Former Celtic who was well-liked but injury prone in Boston. Has been inconsistent since he's been a starter with the Cavs which showed in the Wizards series. Big challenge will be to keep Celtics guards in front of him. Shot 50 percent on 3-pointers against Washington.
Rajon Rondo 6-1, 170, 2nd season Postseason 11.6 ppg, 7.3 apg vs. Cavs: 10.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg Comment: Developed a great deal this season and is a excellent distributor. Against the Hawks he had 51 assists and just seven turnovers. Will pressure the ball on defense. Not a strong jump shooter. Edge: Celtics
Wally Szczerbiak 6-7, 245, 9th season Postseason: 10.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg vs. Celtics: 12.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Has been in a shooting slump since coming to the Cavs, though he may have had a breakout game with 26 points in Game 6 vs. Wizards. Big challenge for him will be keeping up with Allen as he crosses the court and gets screens for 3-pointers.
Ray Allen 6-5, 205, 12th season Postseason: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg vs. Cavs: 23.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg Comment: Shot just 42 percent vs. the Hawks and was spotty with his production. He is a serious threat against the Cavs because he often operates on the backside of the defense where the Cavs will often gamble and leave him. Edge: Celtics
LeBron James 6-8, 250, fifth season Postseason: 29.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 7.7 apg vs. Celtics: 32.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 9.7 apg Comments: He has thrived against the Celtics in the recent past, especially when playing at home. His challenge will be to react properly to the double teams and look to make the correct passes as the Celtics will try to bait him into turnovers. Will be challenged defensively guarding either Pierce or Allen.
Paul Pierce 6-7, 235, 10th season Postseason: 18.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.7 apg vs. Cavs: 13.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg Comment: Dynamic scorer who can run very hot and cold from the field. He will often settle for jumpers but is very skilled at creating his own shot and getting inside and drawing fouls when he feels like it. He sometimes gets personally involved in rivalry with James. Edge: Cavs
Power forwards Ben Wallace 6-9, 240, 12th season Postseason: 3.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg vs. Celtics: 6.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg Comment: With his back healthy, Wallace seems to be jumping several inches higher and being more active on both ends over the last two weeks. His challenge will be to deal with Garnett when he leaves the post area and pulls him from the basket and keeping him off the boards.
Kevin Garnett 6-11, 220, 13th season Postseason: 21.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3.9 apg vs. Cavs: 15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.3 apg Comment: Has been the emotional leader of the team and plays the role well. Is the defensive captain and will often run the offense from the post on offense. He will look to set up other teammates first but can score from anywhere on the floor and is long enough and quick enough to impact numerous plays at the defensive end.
Edge: Celtics Centers Zydrunas Ilgauskas 7-3, 260, 10th season Postseason: 14.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg vs. Celtics: 14.0 ppg, 12.5 rpg Comment: Has been very solid in the postseason over the last few years because he's difficult to guard and is an excellent offensive rebounder. His challenge will not be to allow Perkins easy baskets and putbacks on the weakside, where he thrives opposite Garnett.
Kendrick Perkins 6-10, 265, 5th season Postseason: 7.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg vs. Cavs: 8.8 rpg, 4.5 rpg Comment: Has improved but is still the weak link for Boston in the starting lineup. He's foul prone and get out of position too much. However he's a developing shot blocker and often benefits from having little attention paid to him. Edge: Cavs.
Cavs: G Devin Brown, G Daniel Gibson, F/C Anderson Varejao, F Joe Smith, G Sasha Pavlovic. Comment: Smith and Gibson both played excellent minutes against the Wizards with Gibson showing his best shooting touch. Varejao rebounded well but both he and Brown suffered at the offensive end. Pavlovic is just coming back from injury and his minutes may be limited.
Celtics: F James Posey, G Sam Cassell, F/C P.J. Brown F Leon Powe, G Eddie House, F Glen Davis, G Tony Allen. Comment: Posey is a strong defender and good 3-pointer shooter and Cassell is veteran leader. Powe and Davis are energy players who can change the game. House is a gunner who has a history of success against the Cavs. Edge: Celtics Coaches Cavs: Mike Brown, third season, 145-101 regular season, 23-16 postseason. Comment: He is one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA and is in the second round for the eighth consecutive season as a coach. He's got a 5-2 series record as the Cavs' head man and has shown he can make excellent adjustments between games in a series. Celtics: Doc River, seventh season, 339-328 regular season, 12-17 postseason. Comment: He's a good motivator who has successfully developed a deep and sound rotation that maximizes his team's talents during the season. However, he's only won one playoff series and his moves in close games against the Hawks did not pay off. Edge: Cavs.
Cavs 105, Wizards 88 --Perhaps the most complete game played by the Cavs since the trade and quite a stepping stone as they move onto the next round. If losing Game 5 because their offense shut down was the catalyst to get the offense to move the ball like this then it was more than worth it. Watching the Cavs operate with the ball tonight was like watching the Lakers and the Spurs and I am being dead serious there. But it was combined with some excellent defense, which I will discuss in a moment. This is the type of confidence the Cavs had on the road in the playoffs last year. We'll see if it lasts. --This was LeBron's best game of the postseason. Not only was he leading the way in getting the ball moving -- he took just two shots in the first quarter -- but he was the emotional leader too. After he was hit in the face and the groin in the end of the third quarter, he looked like a general in the timeout before the fourth. He was marching up and down while Mike Brown was huddled with the coaches and he was yelling at his teammates to keep up the defense and finish the Wizards off. He was upset that Antonio Daniels was allowed to get the dunk at the end of the third. Then you consider his stat line: 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists with two steals and a blocks and, ahem, one turnover. A superior effort. To see him lead and play like this, you just understand where it all comes from. The Nike money, the other teams dreaming of 2010, all the praise. To watch him grow from when he was an 18 year old just figuring this out to the sort of all around performance he gave in this game has been special for Cavs fans. --Wally Szczerbiak has been due to have this sort of game for about a month. He said tonight this was the worst shooting slump of his career. Who knows if it will last, but it did remind all of Donyell Marshall's performance in Game 6 at New Jersey last year. What was impressive about him and Daniel Gibson tonight is they often didn't settle for the 3-pointer, the drove the ball a great deal too. That's how the Cavs ended up with 29 assists and just seven turnovers. Gibson was tremendous in handling the ball and Delonte West, in case anyone didn't notice, had 15 assists in the last two games. Both of them shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the series, which was huge. Last Sunday I wrote a piece about how the Cavs had to really watch West and Gibson in these playoffs to decide how large of a commitment they needed to make in the offseason as both are free agents. This was after Game 2, when they'd been awful. Play no attention to the headline, it doesn't convey the story's real topic. Both have made a strong case in the four games since. --Mike Brown and the coaching staff get points tonight for making some fixes in the offense, especially with where the 3-point shooters were positioned. Washington had a hard time finding them after really doing a good job in Game 5 of protecting the corners because they knew Gibson and West would always be there. --The Cavs defense in this series may have been overlooked a bit since there were three blowouts. They ended up giving up just 92 points a game, four times holding the Wizards to 88 points or less, and just 43 percent shooting. Tonight after the first quarter they really cut down the Wizards' drive-and-kicks. By using crisper rotations, the Cavs forced lots of late shot clock shots and many were low percentage. Also, double teams on Caron Butler were effective. --Also maybe overlooked in the series was Joe Smith, who is moving on to the second round for the first time in his 13-year career. Or as LeBron said: "When he got to the league, I was like nine years old and I had just started playing basketball." Smith had eight points and five rebounds and he averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in the series. His mid-range jumper has been off for the last few weeks, but he sure did come up with a lot of loose balls. --After all the talk about the officiating in the series, the Cavs were called for 139 fouls, the Wizards 137. The Cavs shot 175 free throws, the Wizards shot 174.
Cavs: Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, LeBron James, Ben Wallace, Zydrunas Ilgauskas Wizards: Antonio Daniels, DeShawn Stevenson, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood
Officials Steve Javie, Ken Mauer, Tom Washington....Javie and Mauer both are known for taking over games and are not afraid to dole out punishment. Mauer does not mind the camera on him and Javie is known for having a short fuse. Washington is a total pro, lower key. All three are lead officials during the regular season.
LeBron on the Darius Songaila suspension: "It was something that wasn't basketball related. They asked me if I thought it was intentional or if I had anything with Songaila in the past. Was it intentional by him? I don't know if it was intentional or not. (Will suspension clean things up?) I'm not sure if that was their intentional, we're going to play basketball. It's going to be physical, it should be physical. But at the same time you have to draw a line what's physical and what's not, what's not basketball-related plays."
Eddie Jordan: "Darius was very important to us, his numbers may not speak volumes but his play does. I stood my ground and said what I had to say and I'm not going to fight the league or the officials."
NBA Vice President Stu Jackson: "Following the game, the next day we conducted an investigation that included interviewing both of the players involved and also taking input from the officials on the floor. After that, we reviewed the video and then ultimately gathered all of the information and made a decision...In viewing this many times, we do feel that this was intentional contact."
--Jordan said Andray Blatche will get extended minutes. He has been inconsistent in this series but at times has played very well. --Expect the Cavs to make some adjustments with their offensive sets, they may move Daniel Gibson and Delonte West around so it is harder for the Wizards to stay attached to them. --Sasha Pavlovic probably will play. You have to expect some rust. --Caron Butler played great in Game 5, but a big reason was because his jumper was going. He actuall started feeling it at the end of game 4. He was just 1-of-9 on 3-pointers in the series and he hit 4-of-8 and Game 5. I expect the Cavs to double team him closer to the basket, but they will live with him shooting outside shots. With double teams on him, though, Antawn Jamison may get open looks. --The Cavs have had some success in the last few games with LeBron catching the ball on the move after it reaches the halfcourt in transition, usually though a dribble hand off at the top of the key. This is actually a Wizards-style play. I wouldn't be surprised to see more of it. --Look for Zydrunas Ilgauskas to get the ball early to apply pressure on Brendan Haywood.
Halftime -- Cavs 56, Wizards 48
--This game is being played at the Wizards pace, but the Cavs are executing better on offense. They have 17 assists on 23 baskets, which is remarkable for them. Daniel Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak's ability to hit the outside shot has had a major impact on the game. LeBron is also distributing very well, he has seven assists with six rebounds and 10 points. --The reason the Cavs were able to surge into the lead, though, was they finally got some stops on defense. The Wizards missed some shots, like the Cavs surely will in the second half, but the jumpers were more contested and they repeatedly made them wait until late in the shot clock. The Cavs gave up just 17 points in the second quarter after 31 in the first. --It seemed to me like Gibson may have tweaked his right ankle on the last play of the half. We'll have to see if that affects him at all, he is just now getting back a rhythm after that right high ankle sprain. --The Cavs have changed up on Butler, using LeBron on him a lot more and lots of double teams. He's only got five points. Jamison has gotten some looks as a result and he had 16 points, whic is good, but he's also taken 14 shots. The Cavs will live with some of that, they have decided. --It's obvious the officials are giving no leeway tonight. Already two very quick technicals, including the one on LeBron. All parties will have to keep their cool in what promises to be a tight second half. You have to figure this is going to come right down to it again.
Postgame Stars LeBron, 27 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists Gibson, 22 points Szczerbiak, 26 points Jamison, 23 points, 15 rebounds
Quotes Mike Brown: "Terrific, terrific, terrific, terrific, terrific performance by our guy, LeBron. Our guys had a close it out mentality." LeBron: "Cleveland is advancing. That speaks louder than me saying anything about the fans here or DeShawn Stevenson. It was a gruesome series, there were a lot of things going on in this series besides basketball and it was fun." Eddie Jordan: ""He's a load, man. He puts so much pressure on your defense if you got support people to make shots."
Of all the hits in this series, it is surprising that the one Darius Songaila gave to LeBron James in Game 5 was the one that earned a suspension. Eddie Jordan maintained that not only was the hit accidental, but that LeBron embellished the contact. As Jordan said yesterday: "I thought he got tangled up with LeBron and LeBron tried to get untangled and in his method of getting untangled, Darius's arm flew up and at his chest. And LeBron's a terrific actor. We've all seen his commercials."
But here is the thing, it was obvious that Songaila hit James in the face and it happened after a play, there was no ball to go after. Secondly, and this is most important, it seems pretty clear that the NBA warned the Wizards, and maybe the Cavs, that it wanted no more funny business after Game 4. A couple people told me the NBA thought long and hard about whether to suspend DeShawn Stevenson after his flagrant foul because of all the hard hitting in the series. Songaila's hit was apparently the final straw, even if it wasn't as severe as the others.
The Wizards have fairly stated their point that fouling hard is part of the playoffs. The Cavs have fairly argued that LeBron has to be protected. At the end of the day, he's a superstar and he keeps getting hit in the head and the NBA wanted to put a stop to it.
From what I hear, the Wizards didn't hear until after shootaround and they were upset they didn't find out until a day and a half after the incident so they couldn't prepare.
The Cavs surely would've preferred Brendan Haywood or Stevenson to get suspended but Songaila's suspension hits the Wizards' depth and their rebounding ability. They are already thin on the front line and Songalia was playing a lot of backup center. So I suspect Andray Blatche will get a lot more playing time tonight. There is a chance Jordan may have to play rookie Dominic McGuire, who hasn't played a meaningful minute in the series, a little. Both Blatche and Haywood are foul prone, so expect the Cavs to force the issue with Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Blatche has not handled Z well.
Also, at shootaround, it seemed like there was an excellent chance Sasha Pavlovic would get minutes tonight. I expect a tighter leash on Wally Szczerbiak.