Despite LeBron’s Strong Start, Cavs Lose Game Five
After Game 3 I was excited. Everything went right throughout the game and I was brimming with joy thinking about it. More than reliving it, I wanted to fast forward to Game 4 so we could do it again. That anxious feeling is what makes sports great and playoff basketball maddening. Luckily for me, Game 6 comes soon enough, Friday, because this game leaves me with that same feeling.
There is a post somewhere in the archives where I talked about how great it is to play Cavs basketball. Smart play, hard nosed defense, lots of rebounding and some efficient, if slow, offense added up to a sure victory.
Tonight was the dark side of that moon. Tonight Cavs basketball meant everything that went wrong. It all started when we got ahead early. We lost focus, as we do all too easily. We relaxed defensively, we relaxed on the boards, and we settled into long jumpers. There is no one person to lay the blame on, but as Ori can attest, I never hesitate to start with Lebron.
What a great start! Lebron was unstoppable. He could get to the rim at all. If he stepped back for a jumper, he’d rip the net. He was getting to the line, and better yet, he was hitting every freebie. He led the starters, he led the bench, and when he rested, we kept our foot on the throttle.
Finally, Doc Rivers had to call timeout to have his team regroup. We collectively looked up at the scoreboard, saw a 14 point lead and relaxed. That’s pure Cavs basketball. We were going to do just enough to win. With this big of a lead we could coast and win it late. We’ve seen that strategy fail against the likes of the Knicks and Bucks, and it was sure to be doomed against a team that is actually good and motivated.
The Celtics came back out roaring behind Rajon Rondo. Our rotations slowed and the Celtics got hot. A huge run leading to the half left them will all the momentum and us with all the smugness of a lead maintained.
Unfortunately, that lead had dwindled from 14 to 3, so our routine 3rd quarter malaise sunk us into a deep, ultimately insurmountable hole. The offense became a series of high screens, jab steps and jumpers. Lebron went 4-13 through the 2nd half, with 4 drives and plenty of missed jumpers. In his defense, early in the 4th he passed on a lot of hero 3s that I expect him to launch. But still, there was no offense. We did move a bit. We set some screens. We had no purpose. The screens led to routine bricked jumpers, but never a pass to the rolling man. There were no extra passes to the corner. We ran an offense for the sake of running an offense, not to find easy looks.
At the other end, the Celtics fed off of their defensive energy, shot with confidence and chased every miss. Is there a single Cav you can look back and credit with a sound defensive effort? Go back and rewatch the game. Count how many times our PF, Wallace, Smith or Andy was busy using his arm to shove for space rather than his legs to elevate. Count the number of times Lebron stood lazily 3 feet behind the mess of rebounders, hoping for an odd bounce. Hoping doesn’t win on the road in the playoffs.
At the end of the day, I feel worried but not upset. This game perfectly fits the old cliche that the balls didn’t bounce our way. How many times did an and-one roll harmlessly off the rim? How many of the Celtics offensive boards came on unusually long caroms?
A win would’ve been great, but it wasn’t must win. If anything, all the pressure was on the Celtics, and they just held serve. Now the series shifts back to Cleveland for Game 6 on Friday, when it is must win and the pressure is on the Cavs.
The reason this game leaves me dying for the next can be summed up in one word: Lebron. As far as I’m concerned, the next 2 games might as well define his career. He’s at the point where when he gets it in his mind, he can do as he please all over the court. In Game 5 he attacked until he decided it was time to rest, time to take what the defense gave him, and that spark never returned. Now, with each game must win, he needs the mentality that every possession matters, no matter how big the lead, until the buzzer sounds. We all expected Game 5 to be his legendary performance since that’s been his MO, but this series it’s going to have to be Game 6 and especially Game 7. This is what playoff excitement is all about.
(PS – Props to Delonte "One Man Comeback" West for raising his game in the 4th when nobody else did. Anti-props to Andy and Joe Smith. Free throws!)
[top image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthartman/]