Celtics-Cavs Recap

» October 29, 2008 9:47 AM | By Erick Blasco

Erick Blasco is a 21-year-old college student attending Brooklyn College on a full scholarship. He is majoring in Television/Radio and minoring in English with the hopes of someday becoming a professional basketball analyst.

While the biggest stars hardly shined, and the game was marred by turnovers and sloppy play, Thursday night’s Cleveland-Boston tilt was a glorious one—glorious because the annual return of basketball at its highest form is cause for hoop-heads to be tickled with rapture. The NBA season has finally arrived!

For the Celtics, the points of emphasis were to see if the team would miss the loss of James Posey, would continue to display the championship moxie that guided them to the 2007-2008 championship, and to see whether or not the team would be lazy after a short summer break. For the Cavs, would Cleveland’s offense truly be new and improved, or would they still suffer from a serious case of “stand around and watch LeBronitis?”

Judging from Boston’s 90-85 victory, the Cavs have much more work to do than the Celtics to capture championship form.

Boston

Perhaps Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett’s jumpers were still relaxing on tropical beaches. Perhaps their shooting hands were bogged down by their new hardware. Either way, the two members of Boston’s Big Three decided to take the game off.

Allen’s jumper was nowhere to be found, and his normally uncanny decision making was AWOL as well—2-9 FG, 1-4 3FG, 4 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 4 TO, 8 PTS. Most egregious of all were carelessly getting pick pocketed by Wally Szczerbiak from behind, and a costly pass out of a double team into the rambling-gambling Mo Williams that resulted in a LeBron James dunk that trimmed the Celtics’ lead to three with just over two minutes to go.

Kevin Garnett was likewise the Big Mediocre—5-15 FG, 1-4 FT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 TO, 11 PTS. Garnett’s inability to box out under the rim was the prime reason for Cleveland’s eight offensive rebounds, and Garnett’s inability to make his free throws cost the Celtics a key point late in the game.

What else did Garnett do wrong?

He failed to box Anderson Varejao out on a free throw attempt (!) leading to an easy layup after LeBron missed a pair. Garnett went up soft trying to contest a Sasha Pavlovic layup attempt allowing Pavlovic to snake around him and complete the basket. He jumped in the air to block a Mo Williams layup attempt—well after Williams’ dished the ball safely into Varejao’s hands for a layup.

He missed a pair of layups, was unable to take the lead-footed Zydrunas Ilgauskas off the post, and he had a jumper blocked by Ben Wallace. He also failed to adequately deny Zydrunas Ilgauskas the entry pass while three-quartering him resulting in a Kendrick Perkins foul.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad. Garnett was exceptional when double teaming Ilgauskas after a wider body would front him, did a great job showing and recovering, and hit a crucial baseline jumper with under two minutes to go to give the Celtics a little space.

With his performance, the Big Ticket better have come at half price.

Indeed, the Big Three was really the Big One, as Paul Pierce—10-19 FG, 2-4 3FG, 5-8 FT, 3 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO, 27 PTS—outplayed LeBron the same way he outplayed Kobe Bryant during last year’s Finals.

While the Celtics were sleepwalking through the first quarter, he put the team on his back and scored 11 first quarter points to keep the Celtics close. He was able to blow by LeBron’s lazy footwork and Cleveland’s slow arriving help to consistently get to the rim. And whether spotting up or shooting off the bounce, Pierce’s jumper was true all night.

Pierce’s cleverness was on full display all game. Besides using tricky footwork—including a crossover that shook LeBron in his shoes—to unleash his arsenal all game long, Pierce boxed out Varejao off a Cavs miss late in the third and grabbed a rebound over him. As Pierce brought the ball up the floor and Varejao tried to pressure him, Pierce simply accelerated in Varejao’s direction. Varejao couldn’t help but knock into Pierce and foul him, earning Pierce a trip to the line. A wily move by a wily player.

Throw in exemplary on-ball defense on LeBron, great decision making, and some nifty passwork, including the draw and dish resulting to Garnett’s late jumper, and an uncanny halfcourt pass to Leon Powe to seal the game, and Pierce was truly the game’s MVP.

Rajon Rondo’s length, quickness, and toughness embarrassed Mo Williams all night. In fact, with his raw playmaking ability, his creativity, and his toughness at the rim, Rondo should be able to join Garnett, Pierce, and Allen, expanding the trio into the Big Four.

Kendrick Perkins set awesome screens freeing up the majority of Boston’s open halfcourt looks. His rotations were on point, and he was a bear on the offensive glass corralling four teammates’ misses. His overzealousness did result in six fouls and a disqualification.

Leon Powe—5-7 FG, 13 PTS—finished with authority, abused the weaker Wally Szczerbiak in the post, and brought unmatched energy and enthusiasm.

Glen Davis boxed out and took up space—1-3 FG, 4 REB.

Eddie House proved that he doesn’t have the handle to be a backup point guard.

Tony Allen—4-9 FG, 0-2 3FG, 11 PTS—was out of control, made some tremendous athletic plays, made some boneheaded mistakes, and needs to be a lot more composed on the floor if he wants to adequately replace James Posey.

The Celtics won because their defense was quick, long, active, and physical, their hustle was limitless, their playmakers made more plays, and because their superstar was a superstar all over the court.

Cleveland

Cleveland’s new and improved offense looked good for about ten minutes or so. After that, the offense settled into LeBron screen/roll left, LeBron screen/roll right, and a whole lot of confusion when he didn’t have the ball.

In four possessions, two early in the first quarter, and two in the third, The Cavs started LeBron in the corner, had three shooters high, and ran a baseline pick designed to free LeBron up for a cut to the middle. One of those plays, Paul Pierce went high over the screen and prevented the entry pass. Of the other three times, twice Pierce went under the screen and got sealed under the basket leading to a foul and a kick out for a jumper, and the other, Pierce got locked on a screen but Anderson Varejao’s pass was too high. Why didn’t the Cavs run that more often?

Instead, Mike Brown tried posting James up, but quick hard doubles forced James to back up and shoot fadeaway jumpers, or restart the offense. Brown also tried to have James curl around screens, but the Celtics did an exceptional job of having their bigs show, while a weak side defender picked up the roll man neutralizing the play.

The rest of LeBron’s role in the offense was to catch the ball on the wing, receive a screen, have the Celtics show aggressively, and then have LeBron try to use the same screener to do the same thing in the opposite direction.

Mike Brown’s offense is still nowhere close to where he needs it to be to win a championship.

Also, after bagging his first attempt, a pull-up jumper a minute into the game, LeBron missed nine of his ten jumpers from ten feet and beyond. Even worse, he bricked four of his eight free throw attempts, including four of six in the fourth. LeBron’s shooting is still a problem that will cost the Cavs wins down the road.

Before coming to life too late in the fourth, Mo Williams—4-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 2 AST, 4 TO, 12 PTS—was abominable. His defense on Rondo was horrendous; Rondo was able to blow by Williams with a snap of his finger. Williams also had his dribble stolen by Rondo at halfcourt, launched a brainless one-on-three transition jumper, and was so repeatedly spooked by Garnett or Perkins showing when coming off high screens, that he once picked up his dribble, pivoted, and passed the ball to absolutely nobody.

Both of Williams’ assists came on fast breaks, he wasn’t able to turn the corner, and except for a few stray threes, he was a complete liability on the court.

Deonte West—2-4 FG, 2 REB, 2 AST, 1 TO, 6 PTS—made better decisions, and was effective when pressuring Rondo and House bringing the ball up, but he, too, lacked the athleticism to create his own looks when the Celtics ratcheted up the defense.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas wasn’t involved in the offense enough—3-5 FG, 9-10 FT, 1 AST, 4 TO, 15 PTS—and compensated by trying to do too much with ball. Not only did Ilgauskas consistently draw double teams, but he made a wonderful lob pass to a back-cutting LeBron for a spectacular first quarter layup.

Ben Wallace embarrassed himself at both ends—1-1 FG, 4 REB, 2 TO, 2 PTS.

Mike Brown needs to tell Varejao not to shoot needless fadeaway jumpers. Nonetheless, he was active, earnest, foul prone, and made as many good plays as bad ones—3-6 FG, 3-5 FT, 9 REB, 1 AST, 3 STL, 2 TO, 9 PTS.

Wally Szczerbiak is ready for the glue factory—1-4 FG, 2 TO, 4 PTS.

Sasha Pavlovic had a feisty game—3-6 FG, 3 REB, 3 TO, 9 PTS. He didn’t back down from Paul Pierce and looked to attack the rim, but his lack of athleticism prevented him from challenging Pierce on the defensive end, and allowed Boston’s defense to converge on him and draw charges.

Daniel Gibson—2-8 FG was unable to run an offense, and wasn’t athletic enough to create for the Cavs when they needed offense.

Lorenzen Wright couldn’t defend without fouling and was generally useless—1-3 FG, 2 REB, 2 PTS.

Cleveland’s defense was strong and sturdy, but was also too slow to provide help when their perimeter was breached. And the roster still lacks playmakers besides LeBron to create offense when the shot clock is running down. Those were the prime reasons for Cleveland’s defeat.

Since the team doesn’t have NBA ready prospects on the bench besides the young, immature J.J. Hickson, whatever remedies there are to Cleveland’s problems will have to come from outside the organization. Unless Mo Williams realizes he’s not in Milwaukee anymore; Williams, West, and Gibson attach Hermes’ wings to the backs of their shoes; and Wallace and Szczerbiak come to life. If the problems can‘t be fixed, a house cleaning may be in order starting with Danny Ferry and Mike Brown.

As for the Celtics, even with two of their Big Three ineffective, they proved they still have the talent, the physical defense, and the resourcefulness to create wins without being at their best. That championship trait will help them immensely as they try to dodge the next 81 arrows aimed at the bulls eyes on their backs.


3 Responses to “Celtics-Cavs Recap”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    Good analysis of the game and the individual efforts. Rondo ate Mo Williams alive the entire game. He ALWAYS gives the Cavs trouble.

    Well the Cavs played like crap – but I think you’re looking too much into this game. It’s not easy to get a new offense to materialize against a team like the Celtics – a team that was the best in the NBA in defense last year and a team that knows you well. Look – I’m not trying to make excuses – to a man, they played very poorly with the exception of Varejao and Pavlovic, but honestly they could have easily won that game in spite of a hiddeous display on offense and a poor job of guarding Rondo on defense. The Cavs missed only 1 BAD three point attempt – a LeBron force job. I would say about 9 of the other 12 threes they missed were WIDE OPEN looks because the defense trapped either LeBron or Mo Will. The Cavs are going to have to make threes this year – they really have no low post scoring.

    I thought Varejao played like crap for a while and then he REALLY owned Boston’s frontcourt down the stretch. Rebounds, loose balls, drawing fouls, finishing around the rim. If he stays healthy, the Cavs should make it a priority to make sure he stays in Cleveland. He’s integral to their success on defense.

    You made some comments about athleticism – and I will be the first to say that Mo Williams looked like his feet were in cement last night, so maybe I overrated his quickness. But let’s not forget that Rajon Rondo is one of the fastest players in the league. And for all the lines about Paul Pierce dominating LeBron – the Cavs don’t double team Paul Pierce, and LeBron blew by Pierce on the baseline at one point.

    I don’t know if you are down on the Cavs or what – but it’s game one and you used the phrase “a house cleaning may be in order starting with Danny Ferry and Mike Brown” – easy cowboy.

  2. Tsunami Says:

    Here’s my assessment of the game:

    The Celtics were not phased by the ring ceremony at all. In fact, their first two scores were dunks. They had energy and enthusiasm and Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo were getting to the paint at will. However, just like last years series against the Cavs, the Celtics’ offense weaknesses were on display again. They are a jump shooting team. If Pierce is not getting into the teeth, and rondo is kept out of the paint, most of Boston’s possessions end with an outside jumper by the big 3.

    The Celtics won the game with hustle – they got more loose balls, they harrassed more on defense – they were more aggressive, especially in the second half, and since neither team was hitting from beyond the arc, the more aggressive team won. If you look at the box score, all the numbers are almost identical – this wasn’t as lop sided of a game as Eric Blasco made it seem.

    Once again this Boston team is going to be tough to beat at home because they play such scrappy defense on the perimeter and they have the best help defender in the NBA in Kevin Garnett down low. They can afford to pressure the ball incessantly on the wings and to double team people like LeBron James instantly because they rotate so well and KG patrols the paint like no other. The infused athleticism of Rondo, Tony Allen, and Leon Powe is going to make the long grind of the regular season much more forgiving for the big 3.

    As for the Cavaliers…

    Look, Mike Brown is a defense first coach – always has been, always will be – but last night was just unacceptable from a coaching perspective. I’m not a Mike Brown hater, like everyone else on the planet, but allow me to point out some of the ridiculous things that happened last night that contributed greatly to the Cavs losing a halftime lead.

    1.) He only played LeBron 36 minutes. I know the goal has been to rest LeBron more – so rest him against Charlotte on Thursday. He played less minutes than either Pierce, KG, or Shuttlesworth. I’ll have to re-watch the game to be sure, but I don’t think LeBron was EVER playing when KG was sitting. Talk about making it impossible for LeBron to get going in the paint.
    2.) As Eric pointed out – hardly any good plays were called for LeBron. But it’s worse than that – there were points in the 2nd half were hardly any plays AT ALL were called for LeBron. He was watching Varejao jack up turnaround jumpers or big Z put the ball on the floor and travel. LeBron should be involved in every offensive play if he’s in the game – if he’s not making the pass and not the one scoring, then someone else on the Cavs better have a wide open catch and shoot shot or a layup. At one point in the first half, the Cavs gave the ball to Ben Wallace at the top of key, and then everyone cut towards to hoop. And he was left out to dry at the top of the key with no one above the perimeter to pass to – of course he got picked and it lead to a layup on the other end – BEN WALLACE is NOT your point guard. You don’t have to run the same high post play that people have been running in the NBA since the 50s JUST BECAUSE – especially not if you don’t have the personnel to do it.

    2.)Charles Barkley was right about one thing – the lineup of Delonte alongside Mo Williams is bad. He said it’s because they are both too small – like it was a defensive thing. I don’t like it on offense. Delonte West is not a good floor spacer. He doesn’t like to spot up for 3 the way Mo Williams and Boobie Gibson do. Boobie is one of the best spot up 3 point shooters in the NBA (although he clanked all of his open 3s last night). The point is, that Boobie should not be running the point for the second unit. That doesn’t maximize his skills. Delonte should be the ball-handler for the 2nd unit. Boobie should be coming off the bench early in the 1st half to play alongside LeBron. I hardly ever saw them on the court at the same time – and Boobie is the best sidekick LeBron has had to date in terms of knowing where to be.

    Just horrible lineups decisions. Mo Williams and LeBron are clearly the two best offensive threats on the Cavs – and Mike Brown ONLY played them together. So, the Cavs 2nd unit did nothing to improve the first unit’s scoring drought. Sasha Pavlovic was the go-to scorer for the first half of the fourth quarter because Mike Brown felt like sitting LeBron for a huge portion of the 2nd half (even though the Cavs pissed away their lead) and he didn’t even bother to put Mo Williams in there to take some of the scoring load off turnover prone Pavlovic.

    3.) Mike Brown tried to make some kind of statement by playing Lorenzan Wright 10 minutes. Lorenzan Wright is supposed to be a Scott Pollard type guy. Get in, foul whoever you need to foul – and get out. They were finishing plays with him shooting jumpers!!

    All in all, I thought Mike Brown took a very laissez fair approach to the game. This game had playoff intensity and as many have pointed out – sort of set the tone for both teams this season. And he only played LeBron 36 minutes…

    If the Cavs want to maximize success with their personnel, they should start Z, Wallace, LeBron, Pav/Szrzerbiak, and Mo Will. Bring Varejao and Boobie in at the 6 minute mark of the 1st. Play that unit unit the end of the first. Give LeBron his 4 minute 1st half rest by replacing him with either Pavs or Szczbiak and LEAVE MO WILL IN! If you are going to take him out to rest him, then make Delonte the point guard and Boobie the 2. You need a playmaker. Play that unit until the 8 minute mark when LeBron comes back in and play LeBron at the 4 with Varajeo at center, Pavs at the 3, Boobie at the 2, and Mo Will or Delonte at the 1. A small, quick team. This team will thrive against another team’s second unit which is usually playing by this point in the 1st half.

    When LeBron gets his 2nd half rest to start the 4th, make sure Z is in the ballgame and the offense is going through him. End the game with a lineup of Z, Varejao, LeBron, Boobie, and Mo Will.

    See what I just wrote above? Mike Brown did absolutely NONE of that. I’m not saying I’m smarter than the coach – but it just makes sense to maximize the talents of the players.

    Oh well, it’s just one game. The Cavs to a man look better than they ever did last season. LeBron had his legs for the first time to start a season in 3 years, and Pavs and Varejao looked pretty quick against a darn good defense. Boobie got into the paint at will with some sweet crossovers and hit a nice teardrop which he as added to his game.

    Cavs win the game if Boobie hits his spot up 3s, Lebron hits his foul shots, Mike Brown plays LeBron 42 minutes, or he just uses smart lineups.

    All in all – I look forward to the next meeting between these two teams.

    Not time to sell the farm just yet, Eric.

    Although I think the Cavs are going to need to make a move for a quality big man. Someone who can score and dish from the post and isn’t a afraid to run. They are thin on the front line and wont survive the season unless Varejao can play huge minutes and LeBron can effectively play the 4.

  3. Erick Says:

    Obviously the Cavs played relatively poorly, but it isn’t as if the Celtics played elite basketball themselves. They were sloppy at points, and two of their best three players were very mediocre.

    Cleveland still looks like a power in the East, but the same exact things that plagued them last year, plagued them to start this year. That’s not good. And part of the reason why they played poorly on offense is because of Boston’s defensive talent. That isn’t going to change. Will the Cavs show that they have weapons besides LeBron that can break apart great defenses like the Celtics?

    And that’s why I made the house clearing comment. While it’s still incredibly, incredibly early, it still doesn’t look like Cleveland has their problems fixed, and their fundamental problems aren’t the kind of problems that get fixed.

    I mean, I’m sure Williams’ defense will improve slightly as the year goes on, and he’ll be more comfortable with the offense, but Wally Szczerbiak isn’t going to suddenly morph into a speedster. Williams isn’t going to become a good team defender. Varejao isn’t going to develop a post game. LeBron’s jumper probably won’t improve.

    If Cleveland, again, can’t get it done with their veteran lineup, it won’t make any sense to keep their guys around. Ferry hasn’t been able to put the right players around LeBron, Brown hasn’t been able to develop a good enough offense to beat great teams, and most of the players are in the prime of, or are in the downside of their careers. And it will be two straight years of the Cavs staying parallel instead of improving.

    I agree with nearly everything you said about the Celtics, and about the Cavs’ lineup decisions you pointed out. The only thing I disagree with, is that I liked the way Delonte West pressured the ball as the point, and fought around screens to defend Ray Allen. If Cleveland wants to press a lot with their first unit, then they’ll need West in the game because he’s their only pressure defender.

    Wright was in the game because J.J. Hickson wasn’t mature enough to understand that to earn multimillion dollars, the least you can do is not oversleep. If he can’t find a way to wake up on time, how will he understand how to rotate, cover for his teammates, fight for rebounds, etc? And in fairness to Wright (who was definitely 12th man quality), most of his missed jumpers came late in the clock.

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