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!]
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.