Anderson Varejao

Reading Between the Lines: On the Cleveland Cavaliers’ OKness

The Cleveland Cavaliers say they’re ready for Game Three.

The optimist in me knows they will be, because I believe this team is better than the Boston Celtics . . . and the Cavs couldn’t not be ready for Game Three after the wake-up call they got in Game Two.  (And the three full days off can’t hurt their ability to be ready.)

And hopefully they are awake now.  It’s almost as if they were so excited for the playoffs to finally start that they couldn’t sleep the night before, then overslept, and were pushing the snooze button throughout the first round series against the Chicago Bulls.

But after Monday night’s alarm-sounding, they better be up.

The pessimist in me, though, really needs to see it to believe it.  Aside from maybe Game One of the Chicago series . . . which really was pretty solid, with the exception of about eight minutes in the third quarter . . . the Cavs haven’t played a solid all around game in a month.  (I’d say since the pre-rest-extravaganza Toronto Raptorsgame on April 6th.  Yes, April 6th.  That’s a long time ago.)

And as a life-long Cleveland fan, heeding pessimism (while desperately clinging to fraying strands of optimism) is ingrained in my cerebrum.

In an article on Cleveland.com (by Mary Schmitt Boyer) several members of the team are quoted downplaying injuries, preaching about how they know Game Two-like efforts are not going to cut it, and insisting that they’re ready to bring it in Game Three.

Because of this puzzling LeBron James / elbow drama . . . I’ve been in “read-between-the-lines” mode again.

Here’s how this works:  I’ll throw out some quotes, and then “read between the lines,”  “New York Post”-style . . . and make comments of varying degrees of seriousness, insightfulness and interestingness.  Let’s get it on.

 

LeBron, on what the team needs to do:

“As a team, we all need to come out more aggressively.  Not only myself.  I can’t go a whole first half and only take five shots and shoot 40% from the field.  I have to be more aggressive, try to get more shot attempts up.

“It’s hard to get into an offensive rhythm when you’re not into it offensively early like I was [not].  As a team, we all have to do the same thing.  When we get good looks we have to take them and we have to knock them down.

“Whoever is out there has to be productive.”

Translation:  ”The entire team needs to raise their aggressiveness from a 1.5-out-of-10 to at least a 5-out-of-10 . . . or maybe even a 6-out-of-10.  Not just me;  Anthony Parker, you need to light a fire under your own ass.  A hot one.  Shaquille O’Neal, you need to be unrelentingly bullish whether you get the ball or not.  Mo Williams, you need to stop worrying about everything and come join us in the moment.  Anderson Varejao, tick some Celtics off.  Jamario Moon, run.

“I have to shoot some shots.  I can’t spend the first 40 minutes trying to set up my teammates, and expect to win the game in the final eight minutes.  I have to score 50 points in Game Three.

“I need to get a better feel for the game on the offensive end.  I need to find the right balance between finding and setting up my teammates, and taking advantage of opportunities for myself, too.  Especially if the opponent is expecting me to start games in facilitating mode.  I need to force them to guard me for 48 minutes, which is how long I’ll be on the floor if Game Three looks like another dud early.  Also, my teammates need to convert on their freakin’ open looks.

“Daniel Gibson, you don’t need to be productive.”  (Elbow references:  0)
LeBron, on his elbow:

“It felt good today.  It didn’t flare up today at all.  We had contact drills and I was able to go through the whole practice and it didn’t flare up one time today, so that’s a good sign.

“If it’s hurting throughout the game, there’s no way it can stay off your mind.  You want to be conscious about it, but at the same time, I’ve got to be able to pull through it and find a way to try to help the team.  It doesn’t change my approach.

“But if you’re dribbling up and down the court and you can feel a twinge or you feel it lock up, it’s going to stop you from doing some things that you usually would be able to do.  It is what it is and I’ve got to play with it.”

Translation:  ”My elbow is fine . . . maybe.

“If it’s hurting during the game, it’s going to be on my mind.  That’s because pain is a basic bodily sensation that is induced by a noxious stimulus, is received by naked nerve endings, and is characterized by physical discomfort.  It is initiated by stimulation of nociceptors in the peripheral nervous system (or the “PNS,” as doc calls it).  And it’s purpose is to motivate us to withdraw from damaging or potentially damaging situations, to protect the damaged body part while it heals, and avoid those situations in the future.

“But I’m not going to withdraw.  I’m going to work around it, and find a way to help my team.  It’s not going to change my approach . . . and you’ll believe that as long as you didn’t see Game Two.

“If it’s going to affect my game, it will.  It is what it is.”  (Elbow references:  12)
Andy, on his back spasms:

“It’s still a little bit sore, but it’s much better.  I did treatment the last two days and I believe it will be fine for the game.” 

Translation:  ”Which way to the court?”
O’Neal, on his OKness:

“I’m OK.  I’m used to taking 30-40 shots a game.  The little chippies I shoot, I’ve just got to make them.  It’s just me.  I’m just missing.   It’s only my sixth or seventh game back.  Like I said earlier, I won’t miss ‘em all.”

Translation:  ”I’m OK.  Also, I exaggerate.  I need to get a rhythm, but that’s on me.  I’ve had some opportunities and I’ve missed some easy shots.  That can’t happen.  I’m not quite back to being myself yet, but I’ve only played seven games after being out two months.  But I’ll score.”

[By the way, the "I'm used to taking 30-40 shots a game" translation to "I exaggerate" was not a cheap shot, he was playin'.  I looked into it.  Shaq has played in 1,380 games in the NBA, and he's taken between 30 and 40 shots in just 18 of them.  That's 1%.  And the last time he hit that range was in November . . . of 2001.  In that game, he attempted 30 even.  He made 16 of them, and scored 38 points.]

[In fact, Shaq has had 20 attempts only once in the past four seasons.  That came in February of last year, when he was having that resurgent run with the Phoenix Suns.  He made 20 of his 25 attempts in that game and scored 45 points.  His highest number of FGA this year was 15.  He also had several games with 13.]

[What he meant to say is:  "Over the past five seasons, I'm used to taking 8-13 shots a game."]
LeBron, on O’Neal’s OKness:

“We need him to get going.  We need him to get into some type of rhythm.  He hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from the field.  He hasn’t played a lot of big minutes.  But we need him to get going.  I think he understands that.  He wants to play well.  We want him to play well.  It has to start [Friday] for him to get into some type of rhythm.”

Translation:  ”Yeah, we’ll try to get Shaq going.  He’s a role player, and we need to help him find and get comfortable in his role.  If he’s ‘on,’ we’re a monster.  If he’s not working out, I’m going to give Mike Brown my ‘Get J.J. Hickson in here, now . . . and no, I don’t care about his defense right now’ look.”  (Elbow references:  0)
O’Neal, on LeBron’s OKNess:

“He’s a warrior.  You guys talk more about it than he does.  He’s going to play through it.  He’s not going to make any excuses.  His elbow has nothing to do with our team defense. Everyone has to do their part.” 

Translation:  ”LeBron, he’s good.  His elbow may be bothering him in the media . . . but amongst the team, it hasn’t been that big of a deal.  It’s become sensationalized [thanks a little to the media, but mostly because of all the possibly unnecessary vagueness surrounding it, and to a baffling-ly 'off' game by LeBron on Monday night].  But LeBron is going to play.  His elbow isn’t the reason we got steam-rolled by Boston in Game Two.  We need to improve our defense, and everyone on the team needs to step up and be accountable.”  (Elbow references:  3)
O’Neal, on the Cavs’ OKness:

“We know we’ve got to play better defense.  We know we’ve got to play better overall basketball.  We know we’re a damn good road team, so if we do what we’re supposed to do then we’ll be fine.

“We match up with any team in the league pretty well.  We’ve just got to do what we practiced . . . work on the small things.”

Translation:  ”We’re underachieving.  We’ll try to not do that.”

Cavaliers: What Happened to the Joy?

One of my favorite NBA quotes – in pseudo-recent history – was in the summer of 2006, when then-New York Knick Nate Robinson ripped his then-departing coach Larry Brown for taking away his “joy.”

He told the “New York Post”:

“Coach Brown is so old-school.  He want everything done just like this, not getting the crowd involved.  Isiah [Thomas] wants everyone to have fun.

“At first [Brown] was trying to take my joy away . . . ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’  At the same time I had people in my corner saying ‘Don’t change who you are.  You got here by being Nate Robinson.’”

 

I love that.  A lot.  For some reason, the idea of Larry Brown robbing Nate Robinson of his “joy” just gets me.  It still makes me laugh.  Especially now that we know how that “everyone having fun” mantra played out in New York with Isiah and Nate . . . both of whom, of course, are no longer around.

I bring this up now – almost four years later – because of something I thought about in the latter stages of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first round playoff match-up with the Chicago Bulls:

The Cavs just aren’t playing with any joy.

 

And I’m being serious.  It’s something that has been a significant part of their make-up for the past two years, at least . . . ever since LeBron James has been surrounded with enough talent to play solid, legitimate, and often dominant team basketball.

LeBron has been credited with setting the fun tone.  His love and enjoyment of the game, his trust in his teammates, his excitement for their individual and collective successes, and his general playfulness and relaxed nature have created what appears to be the best team environment in the NBA.  And maybe even in professional sports.

It’s on- and off-the-court chemistry.  It’s off-the-charts chemistry.

Last year, there were pre-game antics . . . the picture-taking and whatnot . . . and this year, there’s the “goosenecks,” plus the elaborate personalized handshakes, and as always, the bench’s notorious in-game cheerleading.

During the regular season . . . in any random game of varying significance or insignificance . . . the Cleveland bench is visibly engaged in the game at all times.  They pay close attention to the game, they leap up and dance whenever something exciting happens, and they usually jump up and walk out to congratulate their teammates as they’re coming back to the bench at a timeout.

In fact, before this season, the NBA warned teams to keep their bench . . . on the bench.  Although the Association didn’t publicly call the Cavs out, it seemed directed toward them.  Last season, the bench would regularly stand for long stretches during pivotal moments of the game, always prepared to explode the second the Cavs made a huge offensive or defensive play.  (Well, Tarence Kinsey was prepared to explode, at least.)

[Under the new "guidelines," the players can still react to what's happening on the court, but they aren't supposed to stand while the game is going on . . . because it blocks the view of the seated fans in the expensive seats.]

This anti-standing “movement” was apparently spearheaded by a Chicago Bulls beat writer, who did call out the Cavs in particular for their “jerk”-ish, view-blocking behavior.

Speaking of Chicago, fast-forward into the season, to a Cavs game against the Bulls at The Q in December.  In that one, LeBron was playfully dancing around all night . . . and it got under the skin of Joakim Noah, who began jawing at LeBron from the Bulls bench because he, apparently, wasn’t a fan.  A few words and glares were exchanged, but in the end, it was just a case of the Bulls being frustrated.

But throughout the Cavs’ playoff series against the Bulls . . . there wasn’t a lot of smiling and there definitely wasn’t much dancing.  The Cavs were in serious mode, and that’s OK.  It’s playoff basketball, and it’s time to buckle up and get down to business.

Only the Cavaliers seemed reluctant to do any business.  In fact, they didn’t even seem all that interested in the games they were playing.  It was as if there was some other main event somewhere . . . and these pesky battles with the Bulls were merely a sideshow.

Cleveland may have walked away from the series 4-1, but they were lucky it didn’t drag out any more.  The Cavs weren’t at the top of their game . . . and aside from sporadic moments in Games 1, 4 and 5, it wasn’t the most exciting entertainment to watch as a Cavs fan.

That’s when I started thinking:  Maybe the Cavs are too tightly wound.  Maybe it wasn’t that they weren’t taking the Bulls seriously . . . maybe it was that they were taking them (or the playoffs as a whole) tooseriously.

Right when the playoffs started, I remember reading an article by ESPN’s Chris Broussard called “Cavs Focused Like Never Before” . . . and in it, Broussard talked about how the whole team was adopting a more solemn, serious tone.  Shaquille O’Neal was reportedly leading the way in this change in approach, perspective and focus.

Well, clearly something happened from then until now.  It’s not worth hypothesizing, since focus can come and go.  It can be easily lost and found . . . like keys, or Mo Williams’ shot.  But regardless, maybe that isn’t the best approach.  At least right now.

Think about it.

For players like LeBron and Shaq, the steely-eyed, super intense and serious demeanor can be very comfortable and empowering.  Other veterans, like Antawn Jamison, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao (defensively only) and Delonte West (defensively only) can also feed off this vibe.

But for others, no matter how locked-in they are, this approach might just be needlessly stressing.  It might just be too much . . . especially with a superstar on the floor with them.  A superstar that needs to win and is no longer joking around.

It might scare them into deferring to LeBron even more than they already do, it might suffocate their freedom to experiment and create, it might make them feel uncomfortable and unsure . . . it might make them feel like they’re walking on pins and needles, while carrying a Fabergé egg.

[In other words, it might make them appear worse than they are.  Cavs fans know that LeBron has had a pretty impressive supporting cast this season . . . exponentially better than what we've seen in the playoffs.]

This list includes:  Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao (especially offensively), Delonte West (especially offensively), J.J. Hickson, Jamario Moon and the forgotten Daniel Gibson.

It sounds like this would be bad . . . that these players can’t step up in big games or can’t be clutch.  That’s not necessarily the case though.  These players just seem more prone to have bigger impacts within a slightly more relaxed, loose style of play.  And in moments that can’t be “loose,” these players . . . which can be more up and down emotionally . . . can step up to make “sense of the moment” plays.

Take Daniel Gibson:  If there were five seconds before halftime, and I needed a three-pointer to close a gap to single-digits . . . I would not bring Boobie off the bench to take that shot.  He’ll have a 20% chance of making it, at best.  But in another situation, if he were playing (scoring or not) while the Cavs were making a thrilling comeback to close a game, and needed someone to take a three to win the game with five seconds left . . . I would make sure that’s Boobie’s shot.  He’ll have an 80% chance of drilling it.

Yeah, I know, if Boobie’s hitting 80% of anything he’s not on the bench.  It was for a point.  But then again, he is on the bench, and he finished third in the NBA in 3-point shooting.  So there you go.

OK, so how do you bring more “joy” to the Cavaliers?  Especially when they’re not playing well . . . like most of the first two games of the Boston series.

I don’t know.  I’m just a writer.

LeBron knows every guy on the team personally and professionally . . . off the court and on it.  He understands what makes them tick . . . what buttons to push to get them going.  That’s part of the reason he’s such a great teammate, and a lot of the reason he spends time trying to get them going early in games.

If he wanted to relax the solemn, serious tone around the team a little . . . which again, is typically appropriate for a team on a quest for its first championship . . . I think he could do it while building on any sense of urgency that is there.

Generally, it could be picking up the tempo, having the ball pushed up the court, encouraging teammates to run the floor, enforcing that the ball be passed from one side to the other in the half-court, challenging guys to find creative ways of getting Shaq the ball . . . if that’s what they’re going to do . . . or basically, starting a one-upping competition for finding / creating open shots for teammates.

And elbow issue or not, LeBron should also make sure everyone is on the same page:  That the ball doesn’t need to go through him . . . if a shot is there without him “resetting” everything up top, it needs to be taken.  Maybe relinquishing some control to his teammates would even free him up to do some more off-the-ball work/decoying.

On the defensive end, that’s where the “All Together” or “One for All” (or whatever slogan Cleveland is using) comes into play.  LeBron (and the coaching staff) should instill a cocky mentality on that end of the floor.  They need to preach that every ounce of effort will help seal holes . . . every help move will fortify walls . . . and every time someone gets a hand on the ball, or in someone’s face, it should be recognized.  The Cavs should be taking pride in their defensive effort again . . . not taking it for granted and/or expecting to be able to turn on a “switch” when needed.

Even if the Cavs aren’t up by 10 or 15 points,  a sense of pride, individual confidence and team trust could keep the loose, “joy”.  Even if it’s the playoffs, they could be allowing themselves to have fun on the court.  And even if they’re down by 10, they can know that they’re just about to make their pounce.

Maybe all this is stupid.

Playoff intensity should be “tough” . . . but at least for now, it’s just not working for the Cavaliers.  Not much is.  So, at least while they’re finding their groove, maybe they could just have some fun on the floor.  At least that way, they’d be much more enjoyable to watch.

By sheer talent alone the Cavaliers are believed to be superior to the Celtics.  Yes, Boston is definitely a very real adversary, but maybe the Cavs are tripping over their own feet a lot.

If Mo wasn’t worried about compensating for his failures in the game before . . . if J.J. wasn’t over-thinking scouting reports . . . if Andy knew whether LeBron wanted him to take that 15-footer (psst, he doesn’t) . . . if West knew he should take the initiative to take the ball to the basket (and do something totally awesome) . . . if Jamario knew we were appreciative of his hustle . . .

Maybe the talent would be uncorked, and pour.

The Cavs need to play better.  Win or lose.  And personally, I think they need to go back to having fun.  Because this serious stuff just isn’t them right now.

[By the way, I'm curious about the kidnapped or not-kidnapped state of Nate Robinson's joy right now.  He's on a good team in the playoffs . . . finally . . . but in two games he's only played a total of 40 seconds.  That's less than the 1:14 that Daniel Gibson has received.  Shoot, Boobie, Shoot!]

Stage Completed . . . Even Though the Cavs Never Could Figure Out the Bulls

As much as I was dying to figure out the identity of the mysterious hold the Chicago Bulls had on the Cleveland Cavaliers, it’s for the best that this series is over now.  Even if it’s before we had an opportunity for a “Scooby-Doo”-style reveal.

It was almost as if Chicago had the ability to put some sort of mystical spell on the Cavaliers, which would hypnotize them for roughly eight- to nine-minute periods (of gametime) . . . and only LeBron James had the strength to push through it.

Despite being the 8 seed, Chicago probably ended up being the strongest team in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference bracket.  And maybe that shouldn’t be all that surprising . . . with Miami being a team without a supporting cast, Charlotte being a team without a superstar, and Milwaukee being a team without a Bogut.

But on paper, at least to me, it still seems like the Cavs have advantages in almost every conceivable category over the Bulls . . . including all match-ups, with the obvious exception of Derrick Rose Vs. Mo Williams, or even Rose Vs. the Cleveland defense as a whole.

And yet, it felt like this was the Boston Celtics series . . . where, at least as I see it playing out, it doesn’t matter how dominant you are at certain points in the game . . . any letdown will make it a game.  And any time it’s a game, you do have a good chance of losing.

But Chicago?  Even in a worst case scenario that seemed unlikely.

You’d have to get up pretty early in the morning to stymie the Cavs in a First Round series this year . . . but, well, that’s exactly what the Bulls did.

It’s effort.  It’s drive.  It’s the present.  It’s staring “the end of the line” in the face, and mentally willing it on . . . not with sheer talent, or even execution, but with relentlessness.

 

The Cavs, on the other hand, fought through one eight-minute trance in the first game, but were otherwise cued up and ready to go.  The marquee was crowded;  Mo, Anderson Varejao, Antawn Jamison and Shaquillle O’Neal all had LeBron’s back and things were good in Cleveland.

Game Two was sort of a buzzkill, but the Cavs absorbed a strong effort from the Bulls . . . and Cleveland was able to put things together in the fourth quarter.  Thanks, unsurprisingly, to a superhuman LeBron effort.  The Bulls were outwardly daring him to take jump shots.  He did, and he made them.

Game Three was one of those games that we’ve seen often after games like Game Two.  It was like a reverse game of Chicken . . . where the Cavs try to figure out how much they can yield to an opponent and still win the game.  Or an EKG limbo.  “How low can we go?”

The result was one of the least interesting playoff games imaginable with LeBron James on your team.  The Cavs didn’t show any consistent signs of life, intensity or teamwork, until the fourth quarter . . . but by then it was too late – and a last ditch effort to eke out a win was thwarted.

That loss should’ve been a wake-up call.  But it wasn’t . . . for anyone other than LeBron.

The King had a monster game.  He finished with a wicked triple-double: 37 points (on 11-of-17 shooting, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc, plus 9-of-10 from the stripe) plus 12 rebounds and 11 assists.  He also had two steals and a block.  It was amazing.

Antawn said he observed a “scary” LeBron James before that game . . . and added, “I haven’t seen [LeBron] in this mind-set since I’ve been here.”  He didn’t say if anyone else had noticeable, notable mind-set changes.  But I’d like to think that someone did.

Antawn had 24 points (on 9-of-16 shooting) and Mo had 19 points (on 6-of-10), but the Cavs were never able to get much going, consistently, as a team.  It was just an otherworldly performance by LeBron, who seemed to be directing the entire game.  Fortunately, some teammates stepped up and hit shots . . . and it turned out to be a solid win.  Totally awe-ful . . . definitely not dull, or exciting.

Everything could be made up in Game Five, a close-out game at the Q.  And it was!

At times.

Look, I tend to fall on the optimistic, glass half-full side of the Cuyahoga.  But the playoffs bring out some more real realities, and sweat from my palms.

There are too many possessions where the Cavs are playing a mid-December offense.  There are too many possessions where the Cavs are playing a mid-March defense.  There are too many possessions where the Cavs feel like they have all the possessions in the world to put away the Chicago Bulls . . . and opt to put it off until a future one.

After the lackluster effort throughout the past few games, I spent Game Five thinking about effort.  In the first quarter, it was there.  In the second quarter, it was there.  In the fourth quarter, it was there.  In the third quarter, it was still in the locker room, watching highlights from the second quarter.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cavs played well in those quarters (although they did for most of them).  There was some pretty weak, unpolished-looking defense and offense mixed in there . . . but the effort and intensity were there, and at this point, that is what I’m asking for.

If we make it to an Orlando series in the Eastern Conference Finals, we can worry about finding perfection then.  For now, I just want to see playoff intensity . . . because it’s exciting that way.  And we have LeBron and a stacked stable of star role players, which should make it even more exciting.

And LeBron’s accomplices were back in action on Tuesday night.  Antawn had 25 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) and five rebounds.  Shaq had 14 points (on 7-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, three assists, and knocked the Bulls’ bigs out of the game, literally, by drawing all kinds of fouls.

Delonte West covered up Mo’s off-night, with 16 points (on 6-of-11 shooting), two rebounds and four assists.  He also made some huge hustle-plays, including a few which led directly to fast-break points.

Jamario had seven points (including a 3 and an alley-oop) in 16 minutes . . . and Varejao had five points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.  He also brought his toughness back.

The Cavs only won by two points, 96-94 . . . but overall, it was a more comforting win than Game Four on Sunday.  (With all due respect to the more-than-satisfying efforts of LeBron on that night.)

So Cleveland dropped Chicago four-games-to-one, despite never really being able to zero in on them enough to really clamp them down.  It feels a little unfinished in that way;  the Cavs weren’t able to learn anything, or improve themselves . . . on their attack or on their defense.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, from the Chicago series carries over to the Boston Celtics series, which will begin this Saturday in Cleveland.  The Celtics are a lot different than the Bulls . . . a lot older, and a lot more experienced . . . so Mike Brown will have to tweak his rotations.

Hopefully, there will be no looking back, effort-wise.

As for the other mysterious entity that kept Chicago in the thick of things with Cleveland . . . you can point to Chicago’s rebounding, or their lack of turnovers, or their playmaking abilities . . . but I have a hunch that if the culprit was unveiled, it might have been the ghost of B.J. Armstrong.

And he might have gotten away with it if it weren’t for the Cavs resurgent effort.

In a Rush: The 10 Count for Cavs-Bulls, Game Two

This is the debut of a new feature on The Wine and Gold Rush . . . called “The 10 Count.”

Basically, it’s a rundown of 10 random, and possibly pointless observations from the most recent game.  Simple.  Sounds only mildly intriguing, I know, but I promise I’ll try to make it fun.

By the way, the boxing reference is pretty meaningless.  To be honest, I didn’t have the creativity to come up with a cool Wine and / or Gold Rush allusion . . . or a workable basketball reference that hasn’t already been used by at least 18 blogs.

If you can think of one, shoot me a line . . . and I’ll repay you with digital thanks.

OK, let’s get on with this thing:

Cleveland 102 – Chicago 92.  [Cavs up 2-0, First Round]

#1.)  Yeah, he’s wearing a multi-colored mouthpiece . . . although buckteeth would be sort of fitting for him.

#2.)  Jamario Moon became the first honoree from the school of Intrigue Over Who Will Break Up Mike Brown’s Playoff Rotation.  He received 19.9 minutes . . . up from the 7.2 he had in Game 1.  He, along with Delonte West (27.3 total minutes), played the final 16 minutes of the game.

Most of those minutes came from Shaquille O’Neal.  He left the game just 4:30 into the third quarter with foul trouble, and never returned.  Anthony Parker’s minutes were also down from Game One.  Jamario replaced AP with four minutes to go in the third, and AP never re-entered the game.

 

#3.)  Jamario played well.  He was part of the late-game defensive unit that was finally able to gain some traction against the Bulls . . . and offensively, he hit four of his five shots (all 3s) for 12 points.  Nine of those points came in the fourth quarter.

He also had three rebounds and two blocks (including an uproarious one on Joakim Noah that was deadened six seconds later when Luol Deng blocked a Mo Williams shot).  Moon led the team with a plus/minus of +14.

#4.)  J.J. Hickson only got 9.5 seconds of playing time;  Daniel Gibson received 0.0 seconds.  In the middle of the third quarter, J.J. and Boobie were the two Cavaliers featured in an “NBA Cares” spot.  It took place at the Cleveland Clinic, and the thought crossed my mind that it could be filming in REAL TIME.

#5.)  Delonte West should look for his shot more.  Not on corner 3s or on bail-out jumpers . . . but on the drive.  He looked great on a couple of clever moves to the basket early in the fourth quarter.  It’s nice that he operates as a facilitator first, but there are definitely times when he could be more aggressive.

Delonte finished with seven points (on 3-of-7 shooting) with five assists.

#6.)  This was another crazy game by LeBron James.  He finished with 40 points on just 23 shots.  He was an incredible 16-for-23 from the field, 2-for-4 from beyond the arc, and 6-for-6 from the stripe.

He also had eight rebounds, eight assists, two dynamic blocks and a steal.

#7.)  The turning point was probably the 3-pointer that LeBron hit in front of the Chicago bench (followed by a wink to the Bulls) with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter.  That kicked off a run of 10 straight points (on four field goals) from LeBron . . . in less than three minutes.  During that time, the Cavs increased their lead from three to nine.

#8.)  After the game, LeBron said:

“[The Bulls] were talking the whole game . . . just, every time I caught it over there, just daring me to shoot the ball.  Telling me I couldn’t shoot or you can’t make jump shots, so take the shot.  So, um, that’s what I did.

“They asked me to shoot a jumper, and I did that . . . over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.”

That’s transcribed exactly.  And oddly enough, LeBron called out every single one of his nine jumpers.  He says he hit one, and then went through eight “overs.”  Is this just a coincidence?  You’d think so.  But with LeBron James . . . who knows?

#9.)  In the first quarter, TNT’s Marv Albert exclaimed “Anthony Parker is firing from all angles.”  Now, that isn’t something that you normally dream about, necessarily . . . but he was on early.  Then, he never took another shot the rest of the game.  He finished with nine points (on 3-of-5 shooting; all 3s).

Not that it’s a bad thing . . . I don’t think . . . but it’s interesting how the Cavs’ offense often seems to operate in bunches.  There’s the stretch where they’re pickin’-n’-poppin’ with Z, there’s the stretch where LeBron wants isolation, there’s the stretch where we work the ball inside-out, there’s the stretch where we force the ball to work inside-out, there’s the stretch where AP gets a touch, etc.

#10.)  The Cavs shot the ball 12.2% better from the field than the Bulls in this game, 56.3% to 44.1%.  So what gives?

Here are a few reasons why this game was close:  Weak-sauce Cavs defense (or “no Cavs defense,” as I initially typed), the Bulls’ offensive rebounding edge (13-to-5), the Bulls’ second-chance points, the Bulls only turned the ball over four times (to 11 times by the Cavs), and Joakim Noah’s career performance to prove to the feisty Cleveland crowd that he does not suck.  At least, at basketball.

[Knockout.]

A Matter of (Playoff) Minutes

In Game One of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls, the Cavs implemented their “playoff rotation,” which basically consisted of seven players . . . with two others receiving less than ten minutes.

In previous playoff runs, the rotation-shrinking was essentially a no-brainer.  It was just up to Mike Brown to divvy up the minutes . . . based on tandems he wanted to utilize and match-ups he wanted to exploit.

But now that the Cavs have one of the deepest teams in the NBA . . . if not the deepest . . . Brown also must decide who to play, in addition to the minutes and the five-man units.

It’ll be a mildly interesting storyline to follow throughout the series.  For example, in Game One, Brown was using a pretty short rotation, with all the starters playing big minutes.

There were two likely reasons for this:  With Shaquille O’Neal’s injury and all the time off the other starters were getting in the last two weeks, Brown wanted to give his main guys an opportunity to reconnect and work out any wrinkles.  Also, Brown was not taking any chances.  He was not about to let the Bulls come in to The Q and steal a game while the Cavs were still feeling things out.

Here’s how the minutes worked out, along with season averages for comparison.

  • LeBron James:  40 minutes . . . 39.0
  • Mo Williams:  39 minutes . . . 34.2
  • Antawn Jamison:  33 minutes . . . 32.4
  • Anderson Varejao:  32 minutes . . . 28.5
  • Anthony Parker:  31 minutes . . . 28.3
  • Shaquille O’Neal:  25 minutes . . . 23.4
  • Delonte West:  24 minutes . . . 25.0
  • Zydrunas Ilgauskas:  9 minutes . . . 20.9
  • Jamario Moon:  7 minutes . . . 17.2
  • J.J. Hickson:  1 minute . . . 20.9
  • Daniel Gibson:  1 minute . . . 19.1
  • Jawad Williams:  1 minute . . . 13.7

While you don’t necessarily love to play your starters big minutes in the first round of the playoffs unless you have to . . .  it’s interesting to note that only Mo and (to a lesser extent) Andy and AP played significantly more than they averaged throughout the regular season.

The high regular season averages (including Leon Powe at 11.8 minutes) were inflated by all the injuries that the Cavs suffered to their core rotation players . . . along with Mike Brown’s tendency to give minutes (and DNP-CDs) in bunches.

And now, here are a few notes from the lineups in Game One:

#1.)  The most productive time in the game came in the first 9:30 minutes of the game, when the Cavaliers were +14 over the Bulls.  All the starters were in that whole time, with the exception of Andy subbing-in for Shaq 7:30 in.

Here’s how that breaks down:  The Cavs’ starters were +8 with Shaq and then went +6 with Andy.

That rotation was less successful after halftime, when the Cavs were +3 with all the starters . . . and -4 after Andy came in for Shaq.  (That happened in the heart of the Cavs’ seven-minute dead zone.)

#2.)  LeBron rested for 2:55 in the second quarter and 4:12 at the top of the fourth.

#3.)  Individually, the Cavs bench players had a few nice moments in the game . . . but Chicago was making up ground when they were in.  The Cavs were even with the Bulls when Z was in the game, -4 when Moon was in, and -1 with Delonte on the floor.

Andy had the only positive number.  He was +3.

Every series will be different, and every game will be a little different . . . but the lukewarm performance from the bench collectively could provide an opening for someone else to get some minutes.  (J.J., Boobie or Powe . . . depending on what they need.)

Naturally, there could also be more minutes for those players . . . although more garbage-y . . . if the current subs rebound (figuratively) in Game Two, and the Cavs are able to maintain bigger leads.

#4.)  In Game One, Z and Jamario basically split near-five-minute openings at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, while LeBron was resting.  Z took the second quarter, and Moon took the fourth.

#5.)  Even though it seems like the Cavs relied a lot on their starters . . . at least, compared to what we’re used to . . . the Bulls were even tighter.  Like the Cavs, they essentially used a seven-man rotation, but their bench only played 48 total minutes, compared to the 75 minutes the Cavs’ bench played.

Also, the Bulls did not make a substitution during the third quarter . . . the one that included their 12-0 run while the Cavs’ offense fell off track.  Their starters also played the first 2:30 minutes in the fourth, meaning that Vinny Del Negro rode his starters for 14-and-a-half minutes to start the second half.

Those are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in seeing how the Cavs’ rotations evolve throughout the series and the playoffs.

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