Well that sure sucked. The high point of the evening came when LeBron accepted his MVP award before the game; it was all downhill from there. The Cavs didn’t defend (the Celtics shot over 50%), they were outrebounded (43-32), they didn’t move the ball (17 assists to Boston’s 30) and they couldn’t buy a bucket from the field (28-70 for 40%), from three (4-21, 19%) or from the line (26-38, 68%). There was no energy, no sense of urgency and no creativity (let’s throw it down to Shaq and watch him miss a layup, again!). What’s scary is the fact that the Cavs shot more free throws (38-18), had less fouls (15 to Boston’s 31) and won the turnover battle (15-17) and still managed to lose by 18, at home, on the night LeBron won his second MVP. Awesome.
The Celtics are too good to for the Cavs to screw around for three quarters. I get that LeBron likes setting up his teammates early in games and that the Cavs try to establish Shaq at the start of quarters. Understandable and even commendable. But you see how the Celtics are exploiting Rondo’s (13 points, 19 assists) and KG’s (18 points, 10 boards) matchups constantly? There’s no reason the Cavs shouldn’t do that with LeBron. Now, this is on LeBron too (not just Brown); he needs to lead and be aggressive and he has to establish a tone early on that isn’t “I’ll just turn it on later after you guys hit some shots.” You can get away with that crap against the Bulls and throughout the regular season, but it isn’t gonna fly against the Celtics. The Cavs made their late run (they got it down to 10 with 4:33 left) by attacking the rim and running the floor (and the run fizzled when they started chucking threes). There’s no reason they can’t do that for a full 48 minutes (seriously, Boston is a good defensive team, but they’re slow. Attack them!).
Shaq was, um, ineffective. O’Neal finished with 9 points on 4-10 shooting with 4 rebounds (3 offensive) in 17 minutes. It wasn’t pretty. He was missing shots at point blank range and giving up offensive rebounds at will. I’m not sure what Brown can do at this point. The Cavs are going to need Shaq in the next series, so he needs reps… but they need to get to win this series and O’Neal is killing them. What’s maddening is that the Cavs just stand and watch when Shaq gets the ball and the Celtics aren’t doubling O’Neal (because Perkins is really good post defender). So no movement, no drawing a second defender and lot’s of missed point-blank shots. Shaq had 10 shot attempts to Mo’s 9 (made one) and Jamison’s 11 (made six). This should not happen… ever… (and especially not when he’s shooting that poorly). Shaq isn’t the second option (or 2a or 2b), he’s option C or D.
It’s everyone’s fault, there’s enough blame to go around. The effort was terrible (the Cavs tried… for about 6 minutes in the fourth quarter… after they were down 23), the offense was horrible (you’re allowed to run plays. It’s totally legal) and the defense was perplexing (Jamison kept fronting KG, with no help over the top and it led to three layups in Boston’s big third quarter). Mo Williams went 1-9, Anthony Parker shot 2-7 and Shaq was 4-10. That’s three starters combining to shoot 7-26. Wow. I’m blaming Coach Mike for the sloppy offense and terrible energy but he can’t control who shoots well (and I don’t know what he said at halftime, but it did not work).
But I will point a finger at Coach Mike. Yes, I have some issues with his sub patterns (just 5 minutes for Jamario Moon?) and the usual complaints with the offense (boring and predicable). But the Cavs have looked unprepared at the start of halves and their body language is just beyond awful (Mo, Parker and Delonte look terrified and too deferential to James). Brown was really animated after the game (which isn’t too surprising, considering how they lost) but I would’ve loved to see some of that passion during the game. Get a tech or do something to light a fire under these guys.
I don’t understand why Anthony Parker deserves minutes. You know how you can’t measure some players (like Varejao) by their box score? I feel the same way about Anthony Parker (only negatively). Parker finished with 6 points, 1 board, 1 assists and 3 steals in 27 minutes. He had one turnover and two fouls. But that line doesn’t do him justice. His one turnover was a terrible pass off an inbounds pass underneath their own hoop. One of his fouls was a weak push off a Ray Allen curl (and led to a three-point play). I don’t like his defense (though it’s not terrible) and I don’t trust him at all on the offensive end (both of his field goals came in the first period and he can’t create his own shot). I was completely baffled that he was allowed to play that entire third period.
Anderson Varejao is the second most valuable Cavalier. Andy has been playing with a bruised knee and it shows. His activity level is way down and to say that the Cavs miss his energy is an understatement. He’s far and away their best help defender and he’s also probably their best rebounder. Andy had a nice stretch the second period when worked the pick-and-roll with LeBron and got himself to the line (4-5 FT) but he ended up leaving the game early due to back spasms. The big injury story is LeBron’s elbow, but Varejao’s knee (and now back) may be a bigger concern.
For those clamoring for more J.J. Hickson, just so you’re aware, the kid has a grand total of 3 rebounds in two games (31 minutes). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for J.J. getting more playing time, but you can’t just concentrate on his scoring. And his scoring is great! He had 13 points on 4-6 shooting in just 14 minutes. He attacked the rim, he ran the floor and he got himself to the line (5-7 FT). All this is great. But he was murdered defensively (the Celts went right at him) and it’s not a coincidence that Rasheed Wallace went off (17 points, 7-8 FG, 3-4 3pt) when J.J. was on the floor.
The refs were decidedly pro-Cavalier, but I’m gonna bitch anyways. The Cavs got some highly questionable calls in the fourth quarter (when they made their too-little, too-late push) and it’s hard to argue with a 31-15 foul advantage and 38-18 free throw disparity. But man, Rajon Rondo is hard to guard as it is, but when you let them set illegal screens all night, it’s practically impossible (seriously, they move nearly every time). Plus, Anderson Varejao was called for the first Flagrant 1 block in NBA history. Seriously, he helped baseline on Ray Allen, bodied him out of bounds and somehow earned a Flagrant 1 (Allen split the free throws and hit a trey the ensuing possession. Great).
At the end of the day, the series is tied 1-1. Yes, they played awful but a 20 point loss counts the same as a one point buzzer beater (though getting out played/worked/coached in 3 of the 4 halves, at home, has to be a concern). They got their butts kicked and now they have to respond. They have to lose three more to get knocked out. They’re OK. And it’s not the worst thing in the world that series won’t resume until Friday. Not only does the break give LeBron and Varejao time to heal up but the Cavs now have three days to stew and digest that crappy performance.