Cavaliers Win Game Six; LeBron Chases Legend Status
All the stats in the world don’t make a player legendary. I guess in the case of Oscar Robertson, averaging a triple double is a legacy, but even that barely sheds light on how great Big O was. After all, what do you remember about MJ? He averaged 37, 8 and 8 one year! You couldn’t do that if you joined a middle school team! No, you remember The Shot. And The Shot 2. And the Shot 3. The Flu Game. The Double Nickel. And on and on. Big games make big players.
Tonight against the Celtics, LeBron James went for 32, 12 and 6. Not a great game by his standards, it was really more par for the course, made special by coming against a good defense. Still, it pales next to a game like Game 5 of last year’s Pistons’ series. Now, we’ve come to expect the impossible from LeBron. Frankly, it doesn’t seem possible that the Cavs could win this series without a pantheon game from LeBron. Tonight wasn’t the game, and it was his best yet.
In fact, let’s see…
Game 1: 12, 9 and 9, with 10 turnovers and atrocious shooting. Amongst the worst games of his career.
Game 2: 21, 6 and 5. His shooting improved from 11% to 25%. Yikes. And still 7 turnovers.
Game 3: Finally a Cavs win, as LeBron goes for 21 on his best shooting yet, plus 5 boards and 8 assists to only 2 turnovers. Better, but…
Game 4: 21, 13 and 6. Finally an eye-popping stat as the Cavs win again.
Game 5: 35, 5 and 3. LeBron shows flashes of dominance, coming out scorching early, but while Games 1 and 3 offered great all around performance with poor scoring, Game 5 means scoring and little else (but some great D).
And then there was Game 6. 32, 12 and 6. It was not efficient – poor shooting, lots of turnovers – but he’s finally combining the great peripherals while shouldering the scoring throughout the game.
Improvement every game. I’ve said a number of times that one of LeBron’s strengths was learning a defense. There are only so many wrinkles you can throw out over the course of a series. It’s why the Cavs always seem to come on strong as the series goes on. Tonight, he made it to the rim unfettered, from a half court set, in the normal flow of the game, for the first time all series.
Now we head to Game 7, Sunday in Boston, and it is a perfect storm. We know that game is coming. He is beginning to solve the Celtics defense. And LeBron knows that stars win on the road. It’s going to be special.
But, of course, the Cavs had to get there first.
A lot of times when I watch the Cavs take a lead, I get nervous. We have this terrible habit of relaxing to the point where we can’t turn it back on in time. Tonight, I was confident. Trust in LeBron. He poured in 19 of his 32 in the second half, fighting through a poor shooting night by attacking and picking his spots. He limited himself 3 3s and was willing to pressure the defense by playing off the ball.
I think I could make a pretty strong case that the first quarter was amongst the worst of his career; it was a series of dead-end drives, off balance jumpers, stupid high risk low reward passes and it was a miracle that it didn’t put us into a huge hole. Finally, in the 2nd, he decided to attack, attack, attack, and at the end of the game, he’d taken more free throws than the entire Celtics team. In fact, he was the clear dominant force in this game.
In addition to the free throw dominance:
He took more shots than anybody. (as expected)
He had more offensive boards than anybody but Z (and tied Andy).
He had 3 more defensive boards than anybody.
He had 2 more boards than anybody else and 4 more than any Celtic. (Whither KG?)
His 6 assists was a game high and could easily have been 10, if we were hitting.
His 2 steals even tied for a game high.
Unfortunately, he also pitched in 8 turnovers, 4 in that abysmal first quarter.
KG, on the other hand, took one shot in the lane in the 4th, a jumper from below the free throw line, and missed.
I won’t go on and on about LeBron, because I want to save that for Sunday night, so let’s see what else went right:
· Delonte West is definitely my pick for #2. At one point, he seemed to make it personal with Rajon Rondo, mugging Rondo into a couple turnovers, while being the only other Cav in double figures. While he didn’t have any assists, he did contribute some hockey assists and pull in some boards in traffic.
· Since Delonte is #2, Joe Smith has to be #2A. Throughout the game, it blew my mind how few shots those 2 got, while they were the only Cavs shooting well. By the end of the game, Smith had only taken 4 shots, but as always he played great D on Garnett and pulled in some huge rebounds in between some wide bodies.
· Wally World struggled plenty early, and it’s a thin line between shooting out of a slump and shooting your team in the foot. Still, one big 3 is enough to earn a kudos. At the very least, I credit him for being aggressive, for being willing to take that shot, where we’ve seen so many Cavs struggle in tough spots, forcing all the action back onto LeBron. At this point, I believe that Ray Allen has died and we’re seeing his animated corpse on the court, but Wally has to get some credit for Allen’s struggles, as well.
· Z also struggled with his shot, as the Celtics forced him a few times to put the ball on the floor. However, he more than made up for it on the boards and protecting the paint. It’s always hilarious when he gets a swat without ever leaving his feet. And it was his rebounding in the first quarter that kept us in the game while shooting 25%. He’s still one of our best weapons offensively, and it’s a credit to him that the Celtics defense is rarely willing to leave him open out past the elbow.
· Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao played a nondescript 40 minutes between them, staying long and strong inside, combining for 11 boards in what was actually just less than 38 minutes, without doing much at the offensive end.
So without Boobie, there’s your 7 man rotation. Mike Brown also showed a surprising amount of confidence in Sasha Pavlovic. In the first half, he did most of what I expected – throwing out Sasha and DJ, but not Devin Brown, to see who was ready to play. As we saw quickly, it was not Damon Jones. Because Sasha hit a 3 and put his head down on a drive, MB was through him back out in the 3rd and 4th. Unfortunately for Sasha, he continued that aggression but didn’t seem to have any lift, leading to him losing the ball in traffic under the rim. Because he’s so much stronger defensively than Devin Brown, I can’t really see MB pulling his minutes in Boston in Game 7, but in such a do or die situation, I don’t expect to see much of him at all.
The game also had a bit of controversy with a disputed charge/block call and missed goaltend. For the goaltend, the replay did clearly show that Delonte blocked the shot off the backboard. First though, WOW. Delonte absolutely skied to get that ball. Sometimes I see him out of the corner of my eye and my brain just registers him as being white. Then he jumps through the roof for a dunk or a block like that and I realize he’s more athletic than we realize.
As for the block itself, yes, by the book it was a goaltend. At the same time, I doubt the rule makers considered putting in exceptions to the rule, and if ever there was a need for one, this was it. The ball caromed off the side of the backboard. With it’s trajectory at that point, it clearly wasn’t going anywhere near the rim. I am happy to believe the refs used their discretion, much as they would an obvious airball, and determined that the ball was clearly not on a path to the rim. (Update: Rule 11, 1-F says it wasn’t a goaltend because it had no chance. Thank you SportsCenter!)
The block/charge could be argued until the end of time. In some games, it’s a no call. In some cases, it’s a block. In this case, it was a charge. After the game, LeBron said he initially thought the whistle was just an out-of-bounds call, and he smirked when saying that he’d take the call as a charge. I think he got the call because he was pretty clearly moving laterally and slightly backwards while Pierce was moving forward into his space. What I think should have doomed him was his reach for the ball. Without that slap – which did get all ball – I think the case for a charge would be much stronger. As it is, I’ll take it. We got a bit lucky.
No matter what, though, 2 plays don’t turn the game the other way. Allen would only had gotten a single extra point, and a no-call on the Pierce charge still would’ve meant Cavs ball out of bounds. If the Celtics want to make it up, they’ll have their chance, with their crowd, Sunday afternoon.