Analysis: Cavaliers vs. Celtics

» October 28, 2009 3:14 PM | By Erick Blasco

Despite the Orlando Magic being last season’s Eastern Conference champions, a host of NBA followers believe the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers to be the season’s top two beasts in the East.

As it so happens, the scheduling gods decided to pit the two powerhouses against each other to tip off the 2009-2010 NBA campaign. While a single game is but a footstep in the marathon of the NBA regular season, it’s a good chance to see what each team can do and what each team will need to do in order to be the last team standing after the Eastern Conference Championship curtain closes.

On the basis of Boston’s impressive 95-89 victory in Cleveland—a place the Cavs went 39-2 last regular season—they are head and shoulders ahead of Cleveland for conference supremacy.

Here’s why.


After starting off the game in pajamas and sleepwalking to an early 21-7 deficit, the Celtics displayed better balance and more versatility than the Cavs. Whether via Kevin Garnett post ups, Paul Pierce screen/rolls, Ray Allen transition threes, or give-and-go’s to Rajon Rondo, Boston created better shots for more players than Cleveland did.

While Pierce didn’t come close to matching LeBron James’ numbers, he did seal the victory with ten straight fourth quarter points. The Celtics targeted Shaquille O’Neal in screen/rolls, and with Shaq too cumbersome to move, Pierce sunk a pair of mid-range jump shots to doom the Cavs.

Speaking of poor screen defense, whenever the Celtics targeted Zydrunas Ilgauskas in a high screen, Rasheed Wallace would be wide open behind the three-point line. It was Wallace’s slick shooting—3-6 3FG—that helped the Celtics recover from their inauspicious start, while fending off the Cavs in the end.

Wallace, Pierce, Ray Allen, Eddie House, and Marquis Daniels all had the touch—9-19 3FG. Boston did an especially good job spotting up in transition.

Kevin Garnett appeared a step slow. He had no lift or explosion, yet he sank a critical fall away bank shot with Shaq draped all over him. Plus, as the game wore on, Garnett appeared more limber on the defensive end.

Kendrick Perkins fought his way to near-even terms with Shaq, registering nine points to Shaq’s 10. Perkins even showed developing range on his jump shot, sinking two of five 12-foot jumpers.

Ray Allen was able to post Daniel Gibson for profit.

Boston’s bench severely outplayed Cleveland’s bench. Daniels, House and Wallace made their shots while Ilgauskas, Daniel Gibson, Jamario Moon, and J.J. Hickson bricked theirs. Daniels even showed he might be able to play backup point guard in a pinch.

Boston sank their free throws, 22-26.

The Celtics fought harder for loose balls, and had more range to track down missed shots. Consider Rajon Rondo outworking Mo Williams to a debilitating offensive rebound leading to a Ray Allen jump shot, and Rondo again, taking a rebound away from Ilgauskas to secure another extra possession for the Celtics.

How many point guards make as many plays as Rondo does without being spectacular scorers?

Boston’s defense was much tighter than Cleveland’s, especially on the perimeter. Rajon Rondo wouldn’t let Mo Williams initiate Cleveland’s offense, Perkins was able to slug it out with Shaq, Marquis Daniels played quick-handed defense on LeBron for several possessions, and Rasheed Wallace continued to remind the world that he’s a Hall-of-Fame class help defender, both on his impeccable rotations and on his ability to show and recover on screens.

It was this defense that forced the Cavs to revert back to typical Bron-ball—dribble around, maybe get a screen, maybe not, and have everybody else stand and watch.

Not everything worked perfectly for Boston.

Rasheed Wallace showed no inclination to play in the post, a fact that is mitigated by Boston’s share of power scorers and their opponent’s interior muscle.

Boston, and especially Perkins, get careless on their screen-setting. Three-times this resulted in the offensive player needlessly mauling a defender and a foul being called.

Garnett looks two steps slower, and six inches lower off the ground when running and jumping. His high release and ability to unleash post moves without dribbling will compensate on the offensive end, but will he be able to cover ground defensively?

The Celtics still don’t have an adequate backup point guard.

Sheldon Williams missed nearly every single one of his rotations and had a pass flat-out go through his hands on offense. What do the Celtics see in him?

Still, the Celtics have a championship-caliber defense with offensive firepower. With Orlando a relative unknown with so many major new pieces, the Celtics are the safest pick to represent the East in the Finals.


First the good.

LeBron’s jumper was solid, 7-14 with better mechanics. He sank four of his nine threes, and connected on three of his five jumpers from within the arc.

Bron-Bron also had two of his customary highlight-reel blocks, stuffed a Pierce jumper back in his face, and closed out well on the perimeter. James’ halfcourt, on-ball defense was overrated last season, but he was solid against Boston.

Shaq was occasionally able to zone the basket defensively walling off Boston from a few good looks.

Anthony Parker hit two of his three standstill treys, and hit a nifty foul line jumper off a weak-side curl.

Daniel Gibson applied good on-ball pressure to Allen.

However, many of the same problems that sank Cleveland last season haven’t been rectified.

The Cavs still do a poor job defending power forwards who can shoot the three. The pick-and-pop game dissected them last season; how are they going to stop Wallace and Orlando’s suite of frontcourt gunners? The probable answer is that they wont.

While LeBron occasionally posted up with success, he was stationed down low too infrequently. In general, Cleveland’s offense lacked movement.

Shaq wasn’t a non-factor, but he doesn’t have the agility to trump a hard-working grunt like Perkins.

Mo Williams couldn’t get to where he wanted to go and compensated by jacking up bad shots and turning his head defensively. The better the competition, the brighter the lights, the more and more Williams gets exposed.

With Shaq mediocre, and Williams a disaster, the Cavs couldn’t find another player to create his own offense. Plus Jamrio Moon took quick shots and made an awful closeout on a Marquis Daniels three. They really miss Delonte West’s toughness and versatility.

J.J. Hickson is a D-leaguer masquerading as a rotation player.

The Cavs screen defense was porous as was their transition defense in tagging spot-up shooters. Anthony Parker was guilty of this transgression, though perhaps Toronto doesn’t instruct their players to aggressively chase off the line. If so, this area could easily improve.

Still, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The Cavs are still too much LeBron, not enough everything else.

Erick Blasco is a contributing writer for Erick is 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. Questions and comments can be sent to

4 Responses to “Analysis: Cavaliers vs. Celtics”

  1. Tsunami Says:

    Good analysis.

    I wouldn’t look too much into the first game of the season though. Lots of people are already writing off the Cavs (read Sheridan’s doom and gloom article). it’s early, the Cavs don’t have their chemistry figured out much less rotations, and they’ve added some new pieces that they are trying to integrate. I expect them to be much better by the end of the season.

  2. Erick Says:

    Last year, Cleveland opened with a tough season-opening loss to Boston. Mo Williams was dominated on both ends, Cleveland’s offense was extremely static and LeBron-centric, and the Cavs showed a team-wide lack of athleticism.

    The Cavs dominated the regular season but the same things that doomed them that very same opening night were the very things that doomed them against Orlando.

    Some things may change over time—Shaq should get more integrated, perimeter defense should be tighter in transition, players will play better, tweaks will be made, but many of the problems have been the same problems that have doomed the Cavs in recent years.

    When defenses tighten up, the only thing the Cavs can do is isolate LeBron or give him a high screen. Mo Williams hasn’t shot well since last year’s regular season, and his defense is abysmal in big games. Three-point shooting power forwards feast on Cleveland. Until the Cavs correct these flaws, good teams will take advantage of them.

    I don’t doubt the Cavs will win 50-65 games this regular season. What will it matter if Ryan Anderson and Rashard Lewis are draining in all their open looks in a playoff game, or Mo Williams embarrasses himself with an awful shooting series against Boston again?

    If LeBron is simply great, instead of fantastically awesome, the Cavs are at a disadvantage against Boston and Orlando. That’s very tough on James.

  3. Brandon Hoffman Says:

    I agree with Erick. The last two games haven’t been an aberration. Cleveland will improve, of course, but so will the rest of the NBA.

  4. john amaechi Says:

    Cleveland is in fact doomed. Everyone knows it. Especially my insider sources in the national media, and underground circles. LeGone is heading to NYC so he can chills with Jigga in the fishing season. Plus the Knicks will never make the playoffs, so James can start his global icon marketing campaign weeks sooner in NYC than he can in the 216.

    The best news is Steve Nash is coming along on this globetrotter icon train, to become the next Bob Karstens. In fact Nash is the first white african american to be a Globetrotter! Yes David Stern is in talks to have the Knicks officially changed to the Globetrotters! It’s going to be entertainment folks, pure entertainment. Bring on the Generals!

    Because the 2 afformentioned losers wouldn’t know how to close if they went to a Glenn J. Broder seminar 10 times.

    KOBE!! will singlehandly get off whenever he wants and carry the Lakers to the title.


    Dude has that killer instinct, mamba is on pace for 40 technicals fouls this season!

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