So, it appears that the death of the Cleveland Cavaliers was greatly exaggerated after all.
The TD Garden is attached to Boston’s North Station. Yesterday, a freight train from Cleveland named LeBron James jumped the tracks, plowed through the Garden wall and ran amok, destroying everything in his path. There were 15 serious injuries, maybe more, and thousands of eye witnesses to the destruction.
Meek attempts by the Celtics to stop the train resulted in more bruises to the Celtics than LeBron James. They could scarcely get in his way.
Calls for, ‘Is there a James Posey in the House?’ went unanswered.
I was beginning to wonder about my own perspective when I saw all the excited ‘post game two’ articles talking about the impotence of Cleveland and the rise of Boston. I saw it as far more needed by the Celtics to do what they did than a weakness of Cleveland.
While Doc Rivers was ‘technically correct’ earlier to suggest that Boston had 4 chances to grab a game in Cleveland, and losing the first 2 there wouldn’t have been the end of the world, tonight’s game emphasized the extreme importance to do it earlier rather than later. The Celtics desperately had to grab the offensive by splitting in Ohio.
Cleveland has home court. Cleveland has the league’s premiere player (arguably) in LeBron. He will get calls no one else will. The Cavs will get calls the Celtics won’t – especially in 4 of 7 games they play at home. They are deep. They played well all season.
The complete beat down by LeBron and the Cavs of the Celtics at the TD Garden Friday night wasn’t completely unexpected. But it was a bit surprising how the Celtics handled it…or should I say…didn’t handle it.
The numbers will give you the general picture:
Cleveland won by 29 points:124-95. The Celtics never led in this game. They got as close as 2 points at 8-10 early on, on a pair of Garnett free throws at the 8:09 mark. Then the Cavs went on a 10-0 run that turned into a 26-7 run and a 21 point lead…in the first period.
They were essentially out of this game early and we can argue about exactly when that was. But that isn’t important. And the Men in Green were down as many as 35 points in the second half to give you the goriest details.
They were out rebounded by 45-30. Boston shot .427. Cleveland shot .595 for the entire game. Yeah, you get the picture. The starters couldn’t do it and the bench was worse.
It was LeBron who was a one man wrecking crew. He scored 21 first quarter points while shooting 8 of 10 from the field. Many of them were from the outside. His jumper was clicking in this one. Forget the stuff about James’ injured elbow. May my elbow be so handicapped.
But the Celtics didn’t defense him well either. I know this Cavalier team is far more balanced than previous versions. But with that start, make the other players beat you. The Cavs dictated the Celtics offense by leaving Rondo as the open shooter. The Celtics must do the same to Cleveland by getting the ball out of James’ hands when he is shooting like that.
It was the worse home playoff loss in the history of the Celtics franchise. The story line? I mean, it is staring you right in the face. The Celtics didn’t come to play. They didn’t play well. They didn’t play smart. I don’t have to look for the forest. It is staring me in the face. But a few things were surprising to me.
Changes Should Have Occurred Sooner
To me, a Doc Rivers fan, I didn’t understand how Doc Rivers managed this game. Not playing well is one thing. Not playing smart is another. And give the Cavs’ defense tons of credit. It was energetic and aggressive all night.
I understand staying with a game plan when things don’t go your way at the start of a game. I really do. You don’t panic. You play through an opening flurry like the Cavaliers were delivering.
Weather it…and respond.
But it appeared early on that that the game plan wasn’t working. Yes, they were being out played and out worked. That doesn’t have anything to do with the game plan. No plan will work when you are getting out worked and out willed out there.
Rondo played well and with great energy. He even shot a decent percentage (9 of 17) on the evening. But he ended up being the guy taking the jump shots as they left him open in the first quarter. He made 3 of 9 of the 22 shots the Celtics took that period.
The Cs tried to get Paul Pierce going early but he wasn’t hitting, going 0-5. Kendrick Perkins hadn’t taken a shot, Ray was 1 of 3, and KG was 1 of 2.
Just as important, when the Celtics finally did respond with points of their own, the Cavs answered right back…and far too easily. Every three point shot by a Celtic was answered by a three by the Cavs. They had a lock on the Celtics.
So what appeared reasonable to me, in this case, was to make an early change before things got too far out of control. Sometimes getting your offense going will help you defensively.
I don’t think going to Rondo for jumpers was in the game plan any way. Pierce wasn’t hitting. Why not make a defined effort to go to Ray and KG? Go to Garnett and let him work for the shot or pass. He’ll either draw the defense or have a one on one situation to work with.
Perhaps even bring in Tony Allen, Mike Finley, Marquis Daniels, or even (gulp) Nate Robinson to break up the relentless opening blitz. Doc did try Finley and Tony late in the first quarter. It was just too late.
Cleveland’s suffocation of the Celtics needed to be disrupted. At least, an outside-the-box attempt was in order, in my opinion. Clearly the starting plan, what ever it was, was all but obliterated early on. Throw a monkey wrench into the works and see if it stabilizes things. KG and Ray should have been more involved offensively from early on, for one thing.
If that still didn’t work, then search for help from the bench. If Doc was going to use Nate Robinson with the starting 5 earlier would have been better to do so sooner.
Seeing Nate Robinson out there gunning away with the starters in the second half just seemed bizarre. It made little sense at that point. Nate Robinson as your first (it seemed like only) option with Ray, KG, Rondo, and Paul on the court was simply incomprehensible to me.
It would have been better if Doc was trying an energy group of bench players with a starter (or two) at that point.
Let it be noted that Tony Allen played aggressively and without a turn over.
Glen Davis was clearly fouled on the arm by LeBron on the shot that was blocked by King James. It isn’t as if Davis has enough trouble getting his shot off against size. That was a ‘double reputation’ call.
Though the foul shots ended up being about even, it was 17 attempts for the Cavs to 8 for the Celtics at half time. No doubt a lot of that was the difference in effort between the two teams. But it seemed like the Celtics didn’t get some hometown calls at the crucial early stages when they mattered more.
Saying that, Lebron James was superb early, just superb. A man that size shouldn’t be that quick and that fast. He took the fight to the Celtics. The Celtics were lax in defense on James and slow to react to the Cavs’ defense on the other end. Changes should have come sooner than they did.
I thought Paul Pierce would be far more of factor in this series offensively than he is so far. It seems that guarding LeBron takes a lot away from the other end of the floor for the captain. And LeBron is guarding Pierce pretty well. The Celtics need to address that going forward.
Garnett led the Celtics with 19 points on 8 of 11 shooting. Rondo added 18 points, and led the team with 8 assists and with 5 rebounds. Pierce and Nate Robinson were next at 11 points each.
LeBron James finished with 38 points on 14 of 22 shooting, 2 of 3 from the arc, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocked shots, a steal and a single turnover.
James had solid support from Antawn Jamison with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Shaquille O’Neal played big with 12 points on 5 of 7 shooting with 9 rebounds. Six Cavs were in double figures overall with former Celtic, Delonte West adding 14 points on 5 of 7 shooting off the bench.
Game 4 is Sunday at 3:30 in Boston.
The Bad News? Now the pressure is clearly again on Boston.
The Good News? The Celtics don’t really seem to really their best until the pressure is on. I’m sure they will respond with a solid game.
Sunday becomes a must win game. Otherwise the Celtics will have to win three in a row, including 2 more at Cleveland for three consecutive wins on the Cavs’ floor. A very difficult thing to do. I’d even call that impossible this season.
So Boston and Cleveland again switches places on the cliff.