Game Analysis

LeBron James’ Worst Game in the NBA? How Timely.

There is no bright side.

And there’s no use revisiting Tuesday night’s 120-88 loss to the Boston Celtics in Gave Five.  It’s basically more of the same . . . only worse than ever . . . and the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t seem to care.  Honestly, I have no idea what’s up with LeBron and the rest of the team, and it doesn’t seem like anyone else does either.

Naturally, this is a pretty irritable time to be a Cavs fan . . . to say the least.  Suddenly, and without any warning, everything has been thrown in the balance:  The title march, the Finals appearance march, the rematch against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And obviously, you can take it much further than that . . . but I can’t right now.

But it isn’t that the Cavs hit a roadblock, it’s that the roadblock has knocked the Cavs down . . . and apparently, they have a collective concussion.  That’s the only way I can explain having your ass handed to you over and over again . . . and not seem to be aware of the fact that something is wrong.  Or be willing to put forth a solid effort regardless.

It’s truly bizarre, and it’s making my head hurt.

So in the absence of any comfort thoughts, or glass-half-full angles, I’m going to go ahead and rip LeBron for having one of his worst games (if not the worst game) of his career . . . at arguably the absolute worst time possible . . . and not really having something interesting to say about it.

 

Now, I’m not going to really rip him.  Like all players, great players have bad games . . . and like all not-great players, great players have low-energy, weak efforts.  But great players don’t give weak efforts in their bad games.  That’s what separates great players from not-great players in the first place.

First off, was Tuesday night’s game the worst game of LeBron’s NBA career?

Considering that it was the playoffs . . . and considering the high stakes . . . it was.  Easily.  If you compound that with his blasé attitude and intensity level, and it’s . . . well, still the worst game, but even more bad, disheartening and baffling.

LeBron was 3-for-14 shooting the ball.  That’s 21.4%.  He was 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, which is 0% . . . and 9-for-12 from the stripe, which is actually a semi-normal 75%.  He finished with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds.  (By the way, because of the divergence between numbers and visual evidence in this series . . . you can’t argue that LeBron’s assist and rebound numbers demonstrated that he was a factor in other areas of the game.  He wasn’t.)

That 21.4% was the ninth worst FG% in LeBron’s NBA career, including both playoff and regular season games.  Or, you can look at it like this:  LeBron shot a better percentage in 609 of his 618 NBA games.

And in one of those nine poor shooting games, LeBron only played 17 minutes and left due to an injury.  (At that point, he’d missed all five of his shots.  So, I think you could probably throw that one out.)

Ironically, the most recent game in which LeBron shot 21.4% or worse also came in the playoffs at the hands of the Celtics.  It was Game One of the 2008 series, a series the Cavs ended up losing in seven.  In that one, which was played in Boston, LeBron was 2-for-18 (11.1%) with 12 points.  He missed all six of his three pointers, and made eight of his 12 points at the free throw line.  Weirdly, he almost had a triple-double . . . notching nine assists and nine rebounds.

But LeBron did have a double-double in that one . . . if you include turnovers.  He coughed the ball up 10 times in that game, which tied a career high.  He’d done that two other times before.  (In Tuesday’s game, LeBron had three turnovers.)

After that game, James said:

“I missed a lot of shots I know I can make,” James said, staring at the stat sheet incredulously after scoring just two points in the second half and missing his last six shots in all. “I missed layups.  Those layups I’ve made my whole life.”

That was the only playoff game with a worse FG%.  As for the seven (or six, if you don’t count that injury game) regular season games, all of them were in LeBron’s first two seasons in the league . . . except a 2-for-11 (18.2%) night against the Dallas Mavericks on opening night in 2007.

So, out of the blue, LeBron James just has his worst shooting night in two years . . . in Game Five of a 2-2 series, which has seen a lot of abysmal Cavs effort on both sides of the ball?  Apparently.

I suppose the timing could be a little worse.  It could have been in a close-out game.  But then again, it isn’t a walk in the park trying to figure out where to set your expectations for the team going forward.  And by going forward, right now, I can only mean Game Six . . . because as hard as it is to believe, that’s all Cleveland has left, unless they find some collective effort.

So what did LeBron talk about after Tuesday’s game?  He said:

“Of course the [Boston] defense had a little to do with [my bad shooting night], because they’re on the court and they’re very aggressive.  But I just missed a lot of shots.  A lot of open shots that I’m capable of making.  And . . . you don’t see that out of me a lot, so when it happens, it’s a big surprise.

“I’ll go over the film, but they played me the same way they’ve played me all series.  And I just wasn’t able to knock down those shots that I got some good looks at.

“I wasn’t able to get anything going offensively for myself, but I was still able to do some other things . . . get some rebounds and some assists and get guys going early in the game.  And it was a good game, at the start.”

When asked about the possibility that this could’ve been the Cavs’ final home game of the season, if things don’t go well Thursday night in Boston, he said:

“Nah, I didn’t even think about that.  I feel like Game Six is a huge game for us.  And Game Five was a huge game . . . we just didn’t come out and play particularly well all game.  I think in the first quarter we did, but we didn’t play particularly well in the second quarter, third or fourth.  Me sitting up here saying [that this could've been our final game in Cleveland this year], that wouldn’t be me.  It wouldn’t be our team.”

When asked if the Cavs were still trying to find their identity, he said:

“No, I don’t think so.  We know what it takes to win as a team, but at the same time, we haven’t played great basketball.  It’s been all playoffs . . . we’ve had a few stretches, a few quarters, a few games where we played particularly well.  But for a collective group, throughout the whole playoffs, we haven’t played great basketball.  So, I don’t think it’s an identity thing, I think it’s a consistency thing . . . and we haven’t had that.

“[On Tuesday] we shot 41% from the field, and that’s never going to help us win a game . . . when we’re not executing offensively.”

When asked what he thought of the fans at The Q booing the team, he said:

“We played awful.  They have every right to boo us.  No disrespect to our fans.  They’ve been great to us.  They’ve seen us at the highest level, they’ve seen us at the lowest level.  If they [felt like booing] . . . so be it.”

When asked about his elbow, he said:

“It felt good, I didn’t have any problems with it.

“I spoil a lot of people with my play.  When you have three bad games in a seven-year career, it is easy to point that out.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to go out be great and the best player on the court.  When I’m not, I feel bad for myself because I’m not going out there and doing the things I know I can do.   But I don’t hang my head low and make excuses, because that is not the type of player or the type of person I am.”

I totally respect that.

But in this one instance LeBron, can we just blame the elbow . . . or something?  Can you just give us a few excuses . . . a few explanations?

If it’s an injury, admit that it’s affecting your gameplan, but you’re working through it.  If it’s something personal, say you weren’t feeling well.  If it was something with a coach or a teammate, come out and say that there was some miscommunication and/or confusion and you’re going to work it out with that coach/teammate before the next game so everyone’s on the same page.

With how brilliant LeBron James has been for seven seasons, there must be a perfectly logical explanation for his three strange performances in this series.  I don’t want to freak out here.  I want to believe the Cavs can take the next two from Boston.  But something seems really off . . . and I’d just feel better knowing what it is.

So, just give us something.  Anything.

When the Cavs Play Half-Assed in the Playoffs, It Looks Half-Assed

It’s unanimous.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are great when they play great . . . and are bad when they play bad.

Here’s the good news:  With their huge win in Game Three on Friday night . . . and despite their excitement-tempering loss in Game Four on Sunday . . . the Cavs are knotted up 2-2 with the Boston Celtics, and still hold home-court advantage.

There are three games remaining (if necessary).  It will look like this:  Tonight in Cleveland, Thursday night in Boston, and the final game will be held Sunday in Cleveland.

The bad news is:  The Cavs spent Game Four building on the wrong game.  It was definitely an improvement over the disastrous, bizarre Game Two . . . but it was a depressing, disenchanting departure from Game Three.

If these last two games would have happened in the opposite order, everything would be different.  Cleveland fans would’ve been pretty scared to be down 1-2 to the Celtics . . . but watching the build from Game Two to Game Three to Game Four would’ve made a lot more sense.

But as it stands, it’s hard to know what to think.  Again.

It’s also hard to characterize.  From what we’ve seen so far in the playoffs, the determining factor on how well the Cavs play is not how their opponents play . . . or even how they themselves play . . . it’s how much they want to play.

 

The problems, or at least the most glaring ones, don’t necessarily seem to be the mechanics of their offensive or defensive execution.  They work fine when they’re backed by effort, focus and control.  And they inevitably shine through, intermittently, in even the cloudiest games.

The problems aren’t talent or skill based.  This season, LeBron James has more than enough talent around him.  It’s arguable that, on paper, the Cavaliers are the deepest, most multi-faceted team in the conference, if not the league.  They may not have the championship experience of the Los Angeles Lakers, but this team was built to neutralize the match-up problems created by the Orlando Magic . . . while creating massive ones of their own for every other team in the NBA.

And the problems don’t appear to be gameplan-related.  Although, that’s hard to say, considering that the Cavaliers haven’t been doing anything with any conviction in failure.  Unless that is the gameplan.  If the gameplan is having no glameplan, then there are some significant gameplan-related problems.

Instead, Cleveland’s biggest problem is a lack of sustained substance.

Game Four was a good example.  The Cavaliers showed occasional toughness and grit, more than we saw in Games One and Two . . . and kept the game within grasp for the duration, essentially.  But the intensity slipped in and out like cell phone reception while traveling through Idaho.

Sure, Rajon Rondo exploded in Game Four . . . and it appears as if the defense hasn’t committed to how they want to handle him . . . but on Sunday, the hustle was spotty at best.  The Cavs, whether true or not, looked lazy and frazzled.

  • In Game Three, the Cavs had 25 assists on 59.5% shooting (44-for-74).  They won the rebounding battle 45-30, with 11 offensive boards.  They had 12 turnovers.  And shot 91.2% (31-for-34) from the stripe.
  • The Cavs also won the fast break points battle 7-5, and had the edge in points in the paint 50-32.
  • In Game Four, the Cavs had 19 assists on 40.3% shooting (27-for-67).  They lost the rebounding battle 33-47, with three offensive boards.  They had 17 turnovers.  And shot 74.4% (29-for-39) from the stripe.
  • The Cavs also lost the fast break points battle 7-23, and got beat in points in the paint 40-50.

Obviously, there’s a difference there . . . but can it all be chalked up to the Cavs having a good Game Three and a lousy Game Four and vice versa for the Celtics?  Well, yes.

But for those who are worried about the Cavs’ effort, consider this:  Even in Game Three – where the Cavs seemed to be destroying the Celtics on both ends of the court – the Celtics were still able to grab more offensive rebounds (14 to 11 for the Cavs) and fewer turnovers (7 to 12 for the Cavs).

But statistics alone can only communicate a fraction of the underwhelming efforts the Cavs displayed.  If you saw Games Two and Four, you know what I mean.

It’s the too-frequent defensive lapses that allow Rondo to slice right to the basket and get a lay-up . . . usually after a 20-second Cavaliers possession, in which it seemed like they had to scrape and claw to score.

It’s the too-frequent “deer in the headlights” offensive possessions where it seems almost as if the Cavs had been in the middle of playing the Minnesota Timberwolves . . . and all the sudden the Boston Celtics dropped into the arena from out of nowhere, and the Cavs had no clue what to do.

It’s the too-frequent off-games by key players . . . when it seems like every opponent, even dating back to previous post-seasons, has some guy step-up with anon-game, and become a temporary star.

Am I being short-sighted, or does that really not happen in Cleveland, aside from LeBron?  If we’re talking about a true impact step-up, the last one I can remember off the top of my head is Daniel Gibson in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons.  Now, Boobie is collecting dust on the bench.

In general, it’s that the Cavs . . . even in wins . . . seem to be doing more to adjust and react to their opponents . . . as opposed to taking the first position, and forcing opponents to adjust and react to us.

During the regular season, the Cavs got into too many “cutting corners” bad habits, in which they could  expend whatever energy and effort that was necessary to vanquish the team they were playing . . . and that would be enough.  Total, 48-minute, full-roster moxie wasn’t always needed.

But this is the playoffs.

Burning anything less than a full tank is half-assed, and against these teams – with these stakes – it’s going to be exposed every time.  The Cavs can’t take possessions off.  The Cavs can’t aimlessly gamble away opportunities, they can’t turn in passive (or all out bad) quarters or halves on either side of the ball, and they can’t just expect to be able to turn it on with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter and win the game.

It’s the playoffs . . . and everything matters.  In wins and losses.

Every mistake has to teach . . . every success has to be understood . . . every opportunity has to be used wisely . . . and everyone needs to box out Rondo.  Jesus.

Coach Mike Brown and the Cavaliers’ Un-Fired-Upness

If a seventh grade boys basketball team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, parents will blame the coach.  (And the tall, lanky kid with no coordination who can’t play basketball . . . but is, as previously mentioned, tall.)

But if an elite NBA team isn’t bringing the pain in the playoffs, should fans blame the coach?

Every now and then, the tenuousness of Mike Brown’s job security comes up in Cleveland . . . generally after losses.  Bad losses.  And sadly, but not surprisingly, it’s being talked about again now.

The Cavaliers second round series against the Boston Celtics is tied-up at 2-2.  That isn’t necessarily unexpected (although, I did have Cleveland in five, which, obviously, is no longer mathematically possible) . . . but the Cavs’ lackluster effort has been surprising.  And alarming.  And confusing.

It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So last night, my friend Sam Greenspan and I had a conversation about Mike Brown and the Cavaliers’ energy, and I thought I’d share it.

Here it is in hopefully-easy-to-read interview format:

W&GR:  How much do you pin the Cavaliers’ apparent effort / intensity lapses on Coach Mike Brown?  Some say it’s his job to make sure the team is in peak form mentally, physically, and strategically for the games, yet others say that there is only so much a coach can do when his team is failing to bring it for a playoff game.

J.D.:  Rather than wasting time trying to make sense of this, I’d rather just pin it on Coach Brown and hope that he can rally the team in time to ensure that the Cavs don’t accidentally boot this series.  But in order to do that, I have to consider what Brown could have done . . . that he didn’t.

 

And I don’t know.  I don’t know what you do or say to motivate a team for a playoff game against a supposed rival during a supposed title march.  Do you say “Let’s go, guys!  Let’s crush the Celtics!”  Or do you say “Let’s do it, guys!  Let’s destroy the Celtics!”  It’s Coach Brown’s responsibility to get the Cavs up for an away-away back-to-back game against a team like the Indiana Pacers in November.  It seems reasonable for him to leave the players to get fired up on their own in the playoffs, so that he can deal with more pressing matters . . . like what the hell to do with Rajon Rondo, so that he doesn’t look significantly better than the Cavs ordinarily make their opposing point guards look.

Feel free to roast Mike Brown for gameplan-oriented issues – and if we fall short of our goal, plenty of people will – but from what I’ve seen, the inconsistent effort is the #1 thing keeping us from beating the Celtics right now, and I’m not sure I can put that on Brown.

No matter what glasses / tie combination Brown utilizes, his work isn’t sexy.  If the team wins, LeBron and X and X role players get the credit.  If they lose, Brown takes the heat.

Sam:  I really don’t know how much to pin on Mike Brown, but I do think it’s do-or-die for his career right now.  My issue with Mike Brown centers far more on his ability to make in-game adjustments.  It’s seeming more and more like the Cavs come up with a pregame plan.  If they execute it properly and the opposition doesn’t throw anything in the mix to screw with it, they win.  As soon as something starts going wrong it takes Brown a half or a full game before he adjusts.  It’s painful to watch . . . you know that if the game starts going poorly, the only chance at a win is LeBron having a superhuman game.   That’s not going to win championships.

As for the lack of intensity, I just don’t know what to make of it.  No one in Cleveland can possibly understand it.  Did they become complacent because, since February, they’ve been able to play games where they slacked off for three quarters, turning the ball over, missing free throws, watching passes
bounce off J.J.’s hands, and then been able to win by turning it on in the fourth quarter?  Did the habits they developed become more overwhelming than we thought?  I just don’t know.  We’re nine playoff games in.  They’ve had their proverbial “punch in the mouth” — an epic blowout loss at home.  They responded great for one game, then went right back to dogging it the next game.  Can anything light a sustained fire under them?  I have no idea.

What I do know is that I’ve found myself in “tempering expectations” mode.  Orlando is playing some of the best basketball in history.  The Cavs are letting Rajon Rondo put up numbers that Jordan wasn’t putting up in his prime.  Other than Game Three of this Boston series, has there been a single sign that the Cavs should truly be considered contenders at this point?  If they do win this series — which is REALLY no guarantee — will anyone in the world pick them to get past Orlando?

W&GR:  One of the problems with the Cavs’ offense appears to be a lack of premeditation.  Typically, the Cavs have (mostly) lived and (rarely) died under LeBron James’ freelancing hand at the reins of the offense . . . but in times like these, should Mike Brown assert himself and attempt to overrule LeBron on the running of the offense?  He may not be an offensive-minded coach, but with input from his staff, they could draw up an actual play for each possession.  Or, do you think this would upset the apple cart even more?

J.D.:  It’s unclear just how much freedom Mo Williams and Delonte West have to call their own plays, but it seems like they have too much.  Mo looks great when he cuts with the ball – baseline or through the paint – because it’s a more defense-disrupting way of getting the ball to Shaq, another big, or even an on-the-move LeBron James.  But it doesn’t happen enough.

Mo runs a lot of simple plays . . . soft lobs inside, or two-man pick-and-rolls . . . without much movement on the weakside or through the paint.  That, and/or he gives the ball up to LeBron too quickly.  He needs to push the ball more, and look for opportunities to get the defense on their heels.

Delonte, however, used to be great at mixing things up by denying LeBron the ball when LBJ was 26-feet from the basket, and pushed the offense ahead, until LeBron and/or the other gears were in better position.  But Delonte wasn’t good in Game Four.  He did a lot of dribbling, didn’t seem to have any idea what to do with the ball, and ended up taking some bad shots.  He had one assist in 20 minutes.

So yes, I think more calls from the bench – if they aren’t already coming regularly – would instill some creativity in the offense, and remind the Cavs of plays that have been successful in the past.

As for LeBron, I don’t know, man.  There are so many possessions where he creates a sweet shot for a teammate.  Sometimes they finish, sometimes they don’t.  There are also a lot of frustrating, aimless possessions where LeBron just does some stationary dribbling, and then takes a contested, unnecessary 20-footer.  Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t.  Those kinds of things need to be cut, but you do want LeBron looking out for opportunities.  Maybe there should just be more communication . . . so the rest of the guys on the floor can move off-the-ball to try to free themselves.

Sam:  I think Brown has to do something at this point.  It comes down to his inability to do in-game adjustments.  Sunday, it was clear LeBron wasn’t going to get any easy paths to the basket.  The Celtics were collapsing on him and causing either turnovers on bad interior passing, kick outs to the ice-cold jump shooters or, most frequently, LeBron complaining about not getting a call and failing to get back on defense.  In that case, something different needs to happen.  Send LeBron to the post.  Get Mo Williams the hell out of the game and put in Gibson — his defense can’t be any worse than Mo’s — and maybe he’ll make a shot.  Do anything.  Anything.

 

W&GR:  Considering the staleness of the Cavs’ offensive and (at times) defensive effort, should Mike Brown have a quicker trigger on bringing in some of his deeper bench depth?  Would utilizing Zydrunas
Ilguaskas, Leon Powe, Jamario Moon and Daniel Gibson more give the Cavs a spark and/or the potential for a successful new look, or again, would that just exacerbate the problems?

J.D.:  Jamario Moon feels like a no-brainer at this point.

I think I’d also like to see Z a little more.  Yes, he may be a liability on defense, but who hasn’t been?  It’s not like we’d ask him to guard Rondo or Garnett.  I think we could bring him in, and see if he can get his pick-and-pop shot going.  Maybe he could get some open looks against Boston’s defense.  If not, we can move on to the next thing.  Plus, it wouldn’t be horrible to have Z in the game to get a few offensive rebounds / tip-ins.  Also, he’d be another big obstacle Rondo would have to work around if he makes it to the rim or tries a floater.  I can’t believe I’m thinking like that, but oh well.  I’m not feeling Powe.  Like Z, Boobie’s shot would be so huge if we could get him going . . . without him being any more of a liability on defense than what we currently have.

Sam:  I don’t know that Powe has a place in this series but Moon’s lack of playing time is mind boggling.  He’s a long, athletic, motivated defender who’s actually been hitting his shots in the playoffs. Why not give him some of Mo’s minutes and put him on Rondo for a different look.  (As much as people are praising Anthony Parker, he’s getting murdered out there.  Make Rondo have to guess what’s going to happen.)  Mo Williams is giving the Cavs nothing at this point.  Nothing.  I’m not saying to bench him completely, I recognize how ridiculous that notion is and how he has potential to get hot and change a game like Game One, but at least throw Gibson out there to see what happens.  I don’t know about Ilguaskas.  I have a bad feeling about him being out there.  But why not?  Somebody has to do something.  Again, just do anything.  Somebody please.  Anything.

In Game Four the Celtics had Tony Allen step up.  Tony Allen!  It was a gift that he was on the floor and he ended up being one of the heroes.  Unbelievable.  A few games ago, it was Rasheed Wallace.  It’s one of those things that happens against Cleveland teams but never FOR Cleveland teams.  But Varejao hasn’t looked like himself all playoffs, joining the super erratic play of Mo, Delonte, and even Jamison.  I want to type “at some point, someone’s going to have to step up” — but we’re nine games in.  It’s just hard to look at this situation and see that happening.

This is all extraordinarily pessimistic, and I hate being that way.  But, at some point, you have to stop wondering when the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions and switch that to IF the Cavs are going to wake up and play like champions.  It’s not a 2-2 series that has driven me and so many others to this extreme.  The Celtics are playing great and we didn’t expect the Cavs to sweep their way through a much more difficult bracket this year.  But, after watching nine games and seeing exactly ONE where the Cavs had a start-to-finish championship-caliber effort — versus, say, Orlando’s eight start-to-finish championship-caliber efforts — this 2-2 series sure doesn’t feel good.

I hope I’m wrong.  And deep down, I still have hope — the same hope that was there when the Cavs were getting murdered by the Spurs in the Finals, the same hope that was there when the Indians let the 3-1 lead slip away against the Red Sox but seemed to have a chance in Game 7.  But if the Cavs players can’t muster the energy to really care, I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t either.  We’re getting closer and closer to the most disappointing postseason in Cleveland history and not a single player — not even LeBron — really seems to have any sense of urgency when it comes to changing that.

 

The Cavaliers Lose a Weird One

Well, that was pretty bizarre.

OK.  Be honest:  How many times did you wonder “What the hell is going on here?” during Game Two?

On Monday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics in a blow-out, 104-86.  [The series is now heading into Boston tied 1-1.  Game Three is Friday.]

It isn’t that the Cavaliers lost – or even lost big - that was bound to happen at some point.  The Celtics are a formidable second round opponent, and the Cavs have been playing very unevenly in the playoffs.

In fact, the Cavs have yet to play a complete game in the playoffs.  I’m not talking about them being electrifying from start to finish.  Those games are random treats that happen from time to time.  I just mean playing generally solid offense and defense throughout all four quarters.

Not just the fourth quarter.  Or the second half.  Or quarters 1, 2 and 4, or whatever.

No, it was how they lost.

Poking around the Internet after the game, there are definitely those that are freaking out over the loss, and those that are already over it.  There are also those that are scared to death about LeBron James and his elbow, and those that believe it’s hardly been a factor at all.  If at all.

Normally, I gravitate toward the chill, anti-freak-out angle.  I’d like to think that I look at things in measured, thoughtful, perspective-filled, panoramic aspect ratios.  But after this game, I’m not really feeling all that normal.

That was a weird-ass game.

So, this time I’m going to go ahead and position myself equidistant from the freak-out and the chill on both the loss . . . and on LeBron.  I’ll probably regret saying this in a week or so, and I hope I do.

First up, the game.

 

The first quarter should’ve been better than it was.  You can call it back luck or short execution . . . but things started off badly.  The Cavs missed a lot of shots, while the Celtics made a lot of shots.  Mo Williams wasn’t connecting from long range, and Shaquille O’Neal was bricking at no range.

[Both of them ended up having terrible games.]

Even though the Cavs were getting torched in percentage, the defense wasn’t bad.  There were some blown covers, but fundamentally the defense was, if not sound,stable.  And it was active.  Anthony Parker comes to mind.  He had his hands all over the ball on the defensive end.

In a way, it recalled the hard luck the Cavs had against the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.  The Cavs were playing inside-out and coming up short, while forcing the Celtics to hit from the outside, which they did almost flawlessly.

But a long stretch of misfortune was only the beginning.

Instead of miraculously (Boston turnovers) ending the quarter down one, Rajon Rondo . . . who finished with 19 assists, two more than the entire Cavs team . . . hit a crazy three-pointer to put the Celtics up 26-22.

[Just a quick aside here:  Anyone know why, with one second on the clock, LeBron couldn't at least take a shot in the dark at that 4/5-court three?  There was time to get a Hail Mary up.  LBJ doesn't play for individual numbers . . . so it wasn't that the three would negatively affect his average.  Plus, he finished the game 0-for-4 from beyond the arc anyway.  So why not, right?  Even if there's only a 0.0001% chance of it going in, there's still a chance.  And it is the playoffs.]

If you include that Rondo three, the Celtics went on a 12-0 run in less than two minutes to start the second quarter.  Rasheed Wallace . . . who was a big part of that . . . was playing as if he was still good.  He started out 5-for-5, hitting all three of his 3s, for 13 points.  He finished with 17 points (on 7-of-8 shooting, which is more field goals than I expected him to make in the entire series.  No joke.  He only made six against Miami in the first round.)

Anyway, the Celtics were suddenly up 35-22.

The Cavs cut it to six (38-32) before LeBron re-entered the game, but aside from a fantastic chase-down block on Tony Allen, he was about as much of a non-factor as LeBron can be on the offensive end . . . not that his teammates were really taking a proactive role in helping him out.

Despite their off performance . . . both in lack of spirit and in lack of luck . . . the Cavs were only down four at halftime.  They were shooting 42% to Boston’s 52%.  So it can only get better from there, right?

No.  Actually, it can get worse.  And it did.

The third quarter was abysmally abysmal.  The wheels, which had fallen off one-by-one earlier in the game, were now falling off again . . . just for dramatic effect.

The Cavs were outscored 31-12 in the quarter, which almost tied the Cavs lowest output for a quarter this season.  [Back in November, the Cavs only scored 11 in a quarter against the Indiana Pacers.]

It began with the Celtics going 17-7 in one stretch, and it also included a separate 11-0 run by Boston in over four minutes toward the end of the quarter.  At the horn, it was 83-60.

And it isn’t done getting worse yet!

Three minutes into the fourth, the Cavs were down 25 points, 91-66.  That’s the biggest negative number that has been shown in the “Diff” box on the scoreboard at The Q this season.

But then, randomly, the lineup of Mo Williams, Delonte West, LeBron James, Antawn Jamison and J.J. Hickson went on a 15-0 run over five-and-a-half minutes . . . mostly featuring offense from J.J. and LeBron.  It brought the Cavs to within 10, but then the run ended, and so did the game.

The Celtics won by 18, 104-86.

Calling it another “uneven” effort wouldn’t do this justice.  You don’t hemorrhage points in the playoffs, at the level of severity that the Cavs did . . . and then have a 15-0 run in borderline garbage time . . . without having some significant inequalities in execution, effort, intensity and gameplan.

And then there’s LeBron and this elbow nonsense.

Before this game, I was not all that concerned with LeBron’s elbow.  Well, OK, maybe briefly when he shot that free throw left-handed to close out the Chicago Bulls series . . . but not since then.  But now, I don’t know what to think.

LeBron and Mike Brown don’t seem to be even mentioning it as a problem, let alone a concern.  Which seems to fall in line with how I had this initially . . . “LeBron isn’t at 100%,” “he’ll play around it,” “even with the bum elbow, he’s still the best player on the court,” and “it’ll add to the legend.”

Well, now I have to admit I’m concerned.  Or at least, perplexed.

Yes, LeBron has found that the Cavaliers are most successful when he helps get his teammates involved early . . . and then he takes over later.  If you’ve watched the games, you know this.  But would it hurt to mix it up a little in the first half?  To keep the Celtics on their toes?

Why doesn’t it make him more difficult to defend if he’s randomly alternating between these four things:  Being a decoy while his teammates do their thing . . . looking for his teammates . . . creating opportunities for his teammates . . . and then, just when the defensive focus starts to relax on him ever so slightly, being aggressive looking for his own shot, either from the floor or on a move to the rim, depending on how much space he has.

In my opinion, he not only had opportunities to try to take control throughout the game, there were also several times when he passed up on open opportunities . . . without anything else in the works.  Speaking of passing, LeBron had five turnovers . . . and at least two of those were on wildly off target passes.  To me, there were a lot of anticlimactic moments with LeBron that just seemed weird and uncharacteristic.

One way to explain them would be his elbow.

But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.  If LeBron was truly hurting, I don’t think he’d be operating in the purgatory that he was in Game Two:  With him passing on jumpers and at times hesitant to drive the lane . . . but yet fearless when he did go to the basket, and not at all resistant to attempting to make hard-nosed plays on the defensive end.

It’s really unexplainable.

How can LeBron look that tentative at times . . . and be voluntarily un-tentative at others?  My best guess – even though I am starting to buy into this elbow fear – is that his elbow isn’t bothering him that much, but that he doesn’t think he can beat the Celtics on his own . . . and was willing to wait it out.  And unfortunately, that help never really came.

I don’t know.

This sums it up:  At the 10:15 mark in the fourth quarter, LeBron hit a 19-footer, and Reggie Miller (om TNT) remarked that it was his first made jumper of the night . . . and he thought that LeBron was “trying to find a rhythm” or something like that.  But at that point, it was 87-66 with 10 minutes left!

If I was completely healthy, and my teammates were dropping the ball, and it wasmy MVP night, I’d take a break from the passiveness and “try to find my rhythm” in the second quarter.

But after the game, I was shocked to see LeBron’s line:  24 points (on 7-of-15 shooting; 10-of-15 from the stripe) with seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.  That’s fairly, and incredibly . . . normal.  (?)

What is going on here?

Mo Williams, Playoff Edition: Roll Tide!

Just some random thoughts on Mo Williams’ serious game (or at least serious second half) against Boston in Game One on Saturday evening.

#1.)  Mo Williams scored the first basket of the game, off a pass from LeBron.  He made another lay-up later in the quarter . . . and did not score another point until the third quarter.  He had 14 points in the third . . . including a 10-point barrage in about two minutes.  (5:16 left in the third to 3:12 left)

During that stretch, Mo alone outscored the Celtics 10-4.

#2.)  His 10-point shooting gallery began with a dunk on Paul Pierce, which was his first dunk . . . on anybody, ever . . . with the Cavs.  Naturally, that seemed to jack him up.  He relaxed and began looking for his shot, which is a gear that Mo hasn’t moved into much this season, especially later, with the additions of Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison.

#3.)  Mo finished with 20 points (on 8-of-14 shooting;  57%).  He made four of his five free throw attempts, but none of his three 3-point attempts.  Interestingly enough, Mo has only scored 20 or more points . . . without a 3-pointer . . . oncebefore as a member of the Cavs.  [It happened in a game against the Detroit Pistons last season, on February 1st.]

#4.)  He went 0-for-3 from long range . . . meaning that he went 8-of-11 from the field inside the arc.  Mo is a streaky shooter, but that’s a good sign.  3-pointers are great . . . especially when he’s got that flare-out two-man game going with LeBron . . . but with all these new offensive weapons, Mo can find himself stuck on the arc.  (And Anthony Parker already has that role covered.)

When Mo’s hitting two-pointers, it means he’s actively involved in the offensive creation.

 

#5.)  In the Chicago series, Mo shot 41% from the floor:  39% from range, and 43% on two-pointers.  33 of his 61 shots were three pointers.  That’s 54%.  He averaged 15.6 points.  On the season, Mo shot 44% from the floor:  43% from range, and 45% on two-pointers.  371 of his 855 shots were three pointers.  That’s 44%.  And he averaged 15.8 points.

#6.)  Obviously the other sign to a transcendent Mo is assists.  My magic number for Mo this season has been 10 assists.  In the regular season, he did that six times this year (and only once last year).  In those six games, Mo had point totals of 35, 22, 14, 14, 14 and seven.  In five of the six, he had 10 assists on the dot.  In the sixth, he had 12.  That happened in a game against the Toronto Raptors last month.

He’s had 10 assists in the playoffs once:  Game One against the Bulls last month.

#7.)  Mo led the team with a +23 plus/minus.  (Since the Cavs won by eight, that means the Celtics were 15 points better than the Cavs with Mo on the bench.)  Jamison was next with a +11.

#8.)  Sure, single game plus/minus scores can be a little circumstantial, but consider this:  In the first quarter, the Cavs were even with the Celtics when Mo left with 3:30 left to go in the quarter.  When he returned two minutes into the second, the Cavs were down 10.  And when he left again three minutes after that, the Celtics lead had been cut in half, to five.

Less than two minutes after that, he returned again, with the Cavs back down by nine.  The Cavs weren’t able to gain any ground on the Celtics in any of the stretches where Mo was on the bench.

#9.)  Mo also finished with six assists, five rebounds and a steal.

#10.)  This wasn’t Mo’s greatest performance as a Cavalier.  And with the exception of that white hot, 10-point flash . . . it’s perfectly reasonable that he could use this game as a building block for the rest of the series.  And the same goes for the entire Cavs roster.  It was a solid win without anyone having the sort of game that they couldn’t be expected to duplicate.

The Celtics can definitely be better . . . and so can the Cavs.

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