Author Archives: Jared Wade

Team USA Beats France

I had the chance to go catch Team USA’s final exhibition on American soil before they head off to Turkey for the 2010 FIBA World Championship starting on August 28. As expected, the US boys rolled over the French in Madison Square Garden, winning 86-55, although they didn’t look particularly good on offense or defense early and were deadlocked with France at 16-16 after one quarter.

It was just an exhibition, but it still offered a little insight into what we might be might see from Team USA in Turkey. Here’s a few thoughts from Madison Square Garden.

  • The team started off sloppy early in the first quarter, at one point turning the ball over on two consecutive possessions, mishandling easy passes in semi-transition. Unforced errors like that shouldn’t be happening with Rajon Rondo and Chauncey Billups on the floor (although it was more KD and Iggy’s fault, respectively, in these two specific instances). As for the starters, I think what we saw today will likely be the same group we see starting the first game in Turkey: Rajon, Chauncey, Iggy, Durant and Tyson Chandler. Chauncey’s vet savvy and shooting make him a good fit at the two, Durant and Tyson are locks, and Iggy/Gay seems like essentially a coin-flip as both bring some much-need athleticism/slashing to the wing, but Iggy does play a little more D, so I would take him. Rajon/Rose could go either way, too, I suppose, but Rajon has the experience, and that seems like the go-to tiebreaker for USA coaches.
  • Speaking of Rondo … On Saturday, Rajon mentioned that he had not yet gotten the chance to return a phone call to chat with his new teammate Shaq, but when asked if he’s looking forward to running the break with the big fella, he said “hopefully he can keep up with me … I’ll wait for him.” He also expressed that playing for Team USA was a change since, compared to guys like Steph Curry, Eric Gordon and Jeff Green, he’s “like a veteran,” he said. “On my team, I’m the young guy so it’s a different look.”
  • The play of the day went to one of those young’ns. Steph Curry forced a nice steal around half court by playing pesky D then was able to tip toe the sideline to keep it inbounds, immediately whipping a behind-the-back dribble to get by two defenders and pushing it up the floor. He was far from done, however, freezing a defender in transition around the elbow with a sharp crossover and getting all the way to the cup. Rather than take a contested layup, he dumped it off to Rudy Gay for a power dunk. The sequence was MSG-approved and marked one of the many dunks that sent the near-capacity-eventually (started about half full and then filled up most of the way) crowd into a frenzy.
  • Rondo had a pretty nice play of his own, however, Rondo-ing his way by a France defender for a sweeping, easy lay-in. It was impressive, sure, but at this point I almost expect one of those per game. Unconfirmed reports lead me to believe that the French kids watching at home are calling the play “Le Rondo’d.”
  • Rudy Gay wasn’t gonna let the little guys have all the fun and added to the highlight reel with back-to-back breakaway dunks early in the fourth. The first, a Harold Miner-esque, leaning reverse two-hander, gets a 9 out of 10 from me, while the second, more of a 270-degree, spinning one handed reverse, deserves a solid 8 out of 10 on the in-game dunk-o-meter. Iggy added a nice power windmill dunk of his own on a first-half breakaway. I was well aware of MSG’s affinity for dunks, but it seems that patriotic dunks are that much sweeter.
  • Eric Gordon barely saw the floor early (93 seconds in the first half ), but got some run in the second (about 12 minutes) as, presumably, Coach K and company wanted one final look at the kid. He hit two treys and added one other bucket, but my gut tells me he’ll be the last man cut from Team USA. Steph Curry just seemed to be a little more ingrained in the rotation from the two games I saw this weekend, bringing the ball up on occasion and spacing the floor with his shooting. And if it’s just shooting they care about keeping, Danny Granger also did this yesterday — although I never actually thought Granger had a chance of getting cut anyway unless his finger was actually injured. (It’s not. He’s fine.)
  • Nando De Colo of France (a player who the Spurs own the rights to and RC Buford, according to Jeff Garcia of Project Spurs, has called the best point guard currently playing in France) hit a nice trey right in front of the press box during the first half. He easily has the best name of anyone who was in Madison Square on Sunday.

Le Fin.

Live From New York: The Official HP Draft Day “Report”

The NBA Draft is a chaotic mess of bodies all roaming around with various agendas. Some guys are about to have their lifelong dreams come true. Others are just punching the clock, serving as handlers and security. Many are in the media, actively seeking out quotes, banging out stories before their deadlines and frantically trying to carve out fresh angles to cover an event that couldn’t be more over-covered.

Then there is me.

Throughout the night, I was mainly the doofus walking around looking for nothing in particular — and finding plenty of it.

Between the handlers escorting the players through velvet-roped pathways like VIP cattle, a less-than-stellar wireless connection and a personal approach to the evening best described as “wandering around til I see something interesting,” it was pretty quickly apparent that I was not going to be breaking any Watergate-level stories tonight.

Still, it’s funny what you do pick up.

Here are a few notables.

  • John Wall started off the backroom press conference night fittingly with a remark in response to being asked how it feels to know that four of his teammates will also get drafted. “Tonight is a night all of us can reach our dream.” He was talking about “all of us” guys from Kentucky. But it certainly applies to everyone who was picked. That’s the highlight of the night. Watching all these guys kids walking around in giant, expensive suits, smiling like it’s the last day of school. Because, you see, for them, it is.
  • Evan Turner has a comical voice. Of the Jim Henson variety. Nice suit though.
  • I managed to stake out a prime little alcove from which to paparazzi stalk Epke Udoh as he walked by en route to the media showcase that all the players endure after they’re picked. See, first comes the stuff you see on TV, with the one-on-one on-air interview for ESPN. Then they are escorted back down a loooong corridor through MSG to the NBA media room. Then they go the general media room. Then it’s off to the Craig Sager one-on-one interview. And then comes the special, double-secret probation photoshoot/interview area in which I was not allowed. But as Epke made his was back down the corridor to begin the behind-the-scenes horse-and-pony show, he was flying compared to other guys I had watched. He was racing like he was late. Like me trying to catch the subway on the way to work every morning. While standing there with a few reporter comrades, I was all “I think they’ll wait for you, man” — to which some MSG security guard responded “he’s not hurrying to get to the media — that’s a guy that’s gotta get to the bathroom.” Now, this guy had no connection to Ekpe whatsoever and thus no inside information into the situation, but I would like to think he was spot on.
  • Paul George went to my Pacers at pick #10, so I followed him around for a while and asked him a question about how he can help bring some consistency to the Pacers perimeter. He gave a typical answer about working hard this summer but added that he “can pretty much do a lot of things on the court” and that he definitely doesn’t “want to come into a…team that’s on the verge of winning and be a slacker.” He also showed some personality after someone asked him whether he feels any pressure to perform since a lot of Hoosiers wanted the Pacers to pick local hero Gordon Hayward. “Yeah, Gordon Hayward is a good friend of mine…” he said, before being interrupted by the reporter, who noted that “…but he was gone.” “Luckily,” said George, sounding like one of the few people on the planet who legitimately wanted to play for the Indiana Pacers. “I definitely want to do good for the fans and I want to pan out to what they want me to be.” Perhaps more importantly, the guy appears to be a very good dresser. Definitely a best-dressed of the night candidate, which was aided by his cool, I’m-really-enjoying-this demeanor. He even looked excited to talk to Craig Sager.
  • While hanging out around the back just chatting with Hardwood Paroxysm legend Holly Mackenzie, John Wall randomly resurfaced amongst us peons, only to be ushered by a few staffers over to a corner where a laptop was set up. He put in some earbuds, sat down in a chair and started talking to someone video-conference style. Turns out it was Big Tigger from BET’s the Basement, who was interviewing Wall for some reason for some outlet. Those of us with cameras and recorders crowded around him like moths to a buglight. He did the John Wall Dance at one point. Video (hopefully) to come.
  • Cole Aldrich’s press conference was pretty comical. He had already reportedly been traded to Oklahoma City but it obviously wasn’t official and he was chilling under the lights answering questions about his future in a New Orleans Hornets hat. “[Monty Williams] is going to be a great coach … It’s going to be another great coach to play for.” Only … he never will. He was later asked about playing alongside Jayhawk brethren Nick Collison in OKC. “Oh yeah. He comes back every once in awhile and we go down and play … So just with him on Oklahoma City — or with Julian [Wright] still on the Hornets, it’s going to be a fun next few years.”

There was probably more. I sort of hunkered down in the press room for the second round. The part where the Knicks took Landry Fields was pretty fun. I’ll go through my notes, FlipCam and photos tomorrow, though, and drop a little more “insider” knowledge for you if anything turns up.

* Epilogue: It’s worth noting that I don’t watch NCAA basketball and have almost no idea who any of these players are.

Double Teams and Dwight Howard

After Kobe went for 40 last night, there was a lot of discussion, both by the players and coaches in the post-game press conferences, and by Chris Webber among other talking studio heads that the Suns need to consider running two guys at Mamba to keep him from going off again. From the sounds of things, Alvin Gentry, at least immediately after the game, was of the mind that they simply ran into “greatness being great” and that there wouldn’t be a major, strategical change imminent for Game 2.

In my mind, however, at least the occasional doubling should take place. Jared Dudley spoke about how he loves to trap last time he joined the Sports Guy on the BS Report, and when you’re facing someone as unbelievably talented and smart as Kobe, you almost have to keep him guessing by running a double at him at least on a few possessions during the game. It’s the same reason you don’t sick any of Jason Richardson, Grant Hill or Jared Dudley on him full time. Give Mamba the same look time and time again, and the only thing you’ll look is stupid.

Tonight, Boston will have to make a similar decision.

But, Jared, those of you who read the byline on this post may ask, why would the Celtics consider doing anything but playing Dwight straight up since they so utterly contained him in Game 1? To such a question, I would have little to say. If it aint broke, don’t fix it, right? Perk is one of the best low-post defenders in the game and, if the Cs aren’t doubling, they will have a better chance of contesting all the threes that Orlando will be taking. Sure, the Magic shot terribly from the perimeter in Game 1. And sure, the Boston D had plenty to do with that. But they also missed a lot of open shots. And I would not expect the team that just set the all-time record for most made treys in a season to have such another poor outing from deep. Not at home anyway.

So you need to play Dwight one-on-one and cover the shooters.

Not so fast, says Kevin Arnovitz. He broke down Boston’s Game 1 defense on Dwight in the video below, and in talking to David Thorpe, came up with some reasons that Doc might want to consider mixing up the looks they run at Superman.

NBA Playoffs: This Viscious Tony Allen Dunk Brought to You by Rajon Rondo

I can’t decide whether I prefer this or Tony’s evisceration of Antawn Jamison the other night. But I’ll take em both. In related news, Tony Allen is now a major contributor in the NBA playoffs.

Be sure to stock up on potable water and canned goods. (video via @jose3030)

Free Agency 2010: LeBron’s First Post-Season Comments

Much like the New York Times keeps pre-written obituaries of certain famous people on hand so the editors can meet their deadlines with a poignant, informed and accurate piece for the next day’s paper, it feels like a many people were immediately ready to go with their “Where Will/Should LeBron Go?” articles today.

The most talented scribes (who also tend to be those who sleep the least) probably just wrote them last night or early this morning, but within hours of LeBron’s season ending, the prognostications proliferated throughout the tubes of net — and many were very good. Brian Windhorst of Cleveland’s Plain Dealer wrote a great piece on the game and the series that touched on LeBron’s future, Kelly Dwyer delivered the goods with some free agency and Cavs speculation, and The Sports Guy himself even threw back the clock to drop a pretty damn good breakdown of where The Chosen One should go.

Of course, the best Summer 2010-related item today came from the Cleveland celebrity community, as they banded together to serenade The King with a plea to remain in Ohio.

As for me … don’t worry. I’m not really ready to write anything about the topic yet. Perhaps I never will.

But, I figured we could kick off this Hardwood Paroxysm Free Agency Extravaganza 2010 coverage with the first official words on the topic from the key figure himself. Spoiler Alert: He doesn’t make any major announcements or reveal anything at all really, but here is everything LeBron had to say on the topic last night after his Finals hopes were officially deaded for 2009-10.

NBA Playoffs: Celtics Knock Off Cavs

It was unexpected, especially the way it happened, in six games, with Boston winning twice at the Q, with the Celtics defense suffocating the life out of the Cleveland attack. But it wasn’t altogether inconceivable.

Going into these playoffs, it seemed to me as though there were three possible outcomes in regards to which squad would end the year raising the Larry O’Brien trophy. In scenario number one, the Lakers would do it because they have more talent than any other team. In scenario number two, the Magic would do it because they ended the regular season playing better than any other team. And in scenario number three, the Cavs would do it because LeBron James would rain fire from the clouds for two straight months on every other team, while his adequate-enough teammates followed him in neat order to the podium.

You can throw scenario three in the trash.

But as you do that, be sure to reach down and pick up that crumpled piece of paper outlining a fourth scenario that we threw away months ago: the Celtics do it because their defense is Oh-Eightesque, Rajon Rondo is a Sistine Chapel-level work of art, KG is again confident/homicidal, Truth is looking Truthier by the day, and Ray Allen is Ray Allen.

We could have seen all of this coming. But few, including myself, did.

But prescience, no matter how much all these sportswriters try to tell you over and over and over again, does not matter. Not one bit.

What matters is that this Boston team just dressed down the best regular season squad in the NBA this season — and did so maliciously and without flinching. They walked into the Cavs building in Game 5 and ripped the heart out of team that was in a dazed stupor while watching its leader — the best basketball player most of them have ever shared a court with — play with the intensity and aggressive of Wally Szczerbiak — the name of a random soft player that seems appropriate to use here since he is a contender for best Cav player LeBron ever played with prior to the guys on the current roster arriving. (With Z, the lone holdover from early Jamesian Cleveland era of futility, being the only other real candidate.)

Then, back on friendly turf for Game 6, the Celtics did what their leader asked and treated their first chance at closing out a wounded, confused, disorganized team like it was a Game 7. Garnett, impassioned and ready to execute, scored 6 of his team’s first 12 points as Shaq loafed around the perimeter, chasing him like Andre the Giant trying to fight the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride. (Two Nets-related notes here: (1) Russ Bengston has proposed that we call CDR “Tbe Dread Pirate Roberts” and I think you should begin complying, and (2) Sebastian Pruiti of Nets Are Scorching did a great video breakdown of KG’s early game jumpers over on his other blog NBA Playbook.)

Rajon did his I-might-be-better-than-Deron-Williams thing. Ray got involved, most notably with some Big State-era hops to throw down a vicious dunk over Mo Williams. And Tony Allen stepped up off the bench to change the game in ways that no Cav reserve, aside from perhaps Varejao in his 26 minutes of action, would.

Really, that’s all it took.

The Cs kept things rolling, LeBron was never able to go next-level and remained a (perhaps over-)willing passer whenever confronted by two Celtics defenders (which occurred on almost every play) or stymied by the open space around him collapsing (which, again, occurred almost constantly). LeBron did not dynamically open up a space/time continuum-altering wormhole as we have previously seen at times in his career. He did not become a rabid bull donning rose-tinted glasses of destruction. He was not a streetcar named mayhem. But he played pretty damned good basketball, particularly for a man who continually appeared to lack any dexterity in his right arm given the way he was unable to dribble precisely even while open, let alone once he became enveloped by Celtics defenders.

Was it a heroic offensive performance by an individual? No. But it was an adequate attempt to execute on a night when he had trouble executing. If anything, he “played the right way” too much, consistently choosing a skip pass to an open man in position to shoot or a clever interior pass to players who, had they not been named Anderson Varejao or Shaq, were in position to finish at the rim. Was it an approach to the sport that Cleveland fans, and even just curious onlookers wondering what the best player on the planet was capable of doing, truly wanted to see out of a man we have so often seen bomb atomically? Probably not. But it was not an unengaged, laissez-faire approach that we saw from LeBron in Game 5. He was active, he was cutting to spots, he was trying to get position in the post. He was not brazenly dribbling to the hoop with no regard for human life — or double teams or open teammates. Perhaps he couldn’t and was sick of mishandling the ball every other time he dribbled hard into the lane. Perhaps he thought working the offense could work. Perhaps he thought Anthony Parker, Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and others had a better chance to make open jumpers than he had to finish left-handed over three guys.

Regardless, he was out there, playing hard and actively trying to help his team put points on the board. (Until the last minute that is, which Joe Posnanski breaks down amazingly in this must-read piece.) It’s weird that I even feel the need to type that. But he forced me to with his Game 5 performance. And so many members of the media and blogosphere forced me to with their over-reactions and hyperbole-filled character assaults following LeBron’s terrible, inexplicable no-show the last time out. The fact is that James was engaged, helpful on offense and active (19 rebounds people … doesn’t happen by accident) even if he wasn’t ungodly.

Really, however, this isn’t about him as much as yall want it to be. Not for me it isn’t. See, I’m a basketball fan, not a soap opera fan or someone interesting in reading your armchair psychoanalysis of a man you’ve never met. So this is about the basketball that will (in case you forgot) continue to be played for the next month.

This is about the Boston Celtics doing the damn thing.

Well, they just did. And if you think they have no shot of doing it again — versus the Magic, versus the Lakers or even versus the Suns — you were too caught up in LeBrongate to pay enough attention to the stellar defense and revitalization of confidence that has been occurring in Boston so far during these Playoffs.

(For more on this, go read Bob Ryan’s fantastics piece on the Celtics victory.)

NBA Playoffs: Antawn Jamison’s Game 6 Summed Up in One Play

I have a feeling you’ll see more Game 6 Cavs/Celtics coverage around here in the minutes, hours, days, weeks and years to come, but let’s start with the best highlight of the contest. And a highlight that very fittingly sums up Antawn Jamison’s Game 6. (And most of his series, really.)

2 for 10 shooting? Plus terrible defense? Thanks for coming out.

Also, that 3/16 shooting from three this series for a stretch four probably wasn’t ideal. (video via @jose3030)

Tim Duncan’s Decaying Pick-and-Roll Defense

Just stellar, stellar stuff here from Kevin Arnovitz and David Thorpe of ESPN. They break down Timmy’s defensive breakdowns both visually and verbally better in three minutes than most people could do in a whole book.

Thorpe talks about how the Spurs are attempting to stop the Nash/Amar’e pick-and-roll by having Timmy smother the ball handler while at the same time taking away the lob/pass. This, for those of you who have never tried it, is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You’re asking one NBA player to guard two NBA players. Because of Duncan’s still-underrated greatness — particularly on the defensive end — this is something that the Spurs have previously always relied on. And it’s something that, much as his nickname Groundhog Day would suggest, was always able to do. Like clock work. How? None of us mere mortals have any idea. That’s between him, Pop and the basketball gods. But being the best power-forward of all time and all, Timmy was indeed able to pull it off consistently throughout his career.

Now? In 2010?

Well, he’s old. And he doesn’t react quickly enough to do it anymore — at least not when the two offensive players running the screen/roll are Steve Nash (one of the quickest, most elusive, most decisive ball-handlers in NBA history) and Amar’e (one of the most athletic, high-flying big men in NBA history).

And David Thorpe says that it’s time for the Spurs to recognize this and adjust their defensive strategy:

They’ve asked [Duncan] to do something that very few people in history could really accomplish, and he’s no longer able to do that. San Antonio now has to make a change … The old Tim Duncan would have been able to smother Nash’s shot — or make him shoot it so awkwardly that he wasn’t going to make it. Now, in that exact moment when he has to make a decision, he is left grounded and can’t react. And that’s why San Antonio now will have to do what the rest of the free world has to do, which is they’re going to have to ask him to take one guy away or the other.

It’s sad to see greatness decay.

But it is inevitable, Mr. Anderson.

NBA Playoffs: Celtics and Cavaliers Display Faces of Lion, Faces of Lemon

I was G-chatting with Matt and Ben earlier today, and they were all “Whatevs, brah — I see how it is. You think you can cover these playoffs without us? YOU NEED US. Who set this thing up? Us. That’s who. Who do your readers trust? Us. That’s who.”

And then they did this:

Lion Face – The Takeover

There’s not really any way to express how good Rajon was with the written word. Through two games, this is Rajon’s series. For the second straight game, he did pretty much whatever he wanted on the court and was by far the best player on the floor for loooong stretches. A floor he often shared with LeBron James mind you. About his Game 1 first half, I wrote that he played about as well as any human could. Tonight? He might have been even better. The 19 assists don’t even tell the whole story. He was Boston’s heart and soul and if he plays like this in Boston as well, the Celtics could be well on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. In summation, Rajon Rondo not only sounds like the name that should belong to some sort of ancient sun god — he might be one.

Lemon Face – Cleveland’s Half-Time Speech

I have no idea what happened in the Cavs locker room during half time. But it didn’t work. 12 points in the third. Twelve. Uno. Dos. Unacceptable. Particularly when you, perhaps relatedly, give up 31 on the other side. I mean, Cleveland’s offense was hitting on zero cylinders all game long (91.5 offensive efficiency, 42.9% eFG%, 4/21 from three and 26/38 from the line for the game), but the third was particularly gross. And a lot of it came against Boston’s reserves given the team’s foul trouble. You can’t win a playoff game scoring 38 points in the second half. Not even at home. Not even after you watch the NBA MVP trophy being handed out to your captain before the game. This is not 1998 and Jeff Van Gundy is not hugging Alonzo Mourning’s leg.

Lion Face – Throwback Sheed

At this point, mocking Sheed’s tenure as a Celtic isn’t even funny anymore. There are no jokes that haven’t been made already, and everyone in the universe knows how that his inability to contribute can be blamed on his doughy exterior, half-hearted (at best) effort and unwillingness to do anything consistently beside hoist errant three-pointers. Tonight, none of that mattered. Sheed, in just 18 minutes, was a true difference-maker and showed us all the qualities that once made him one of the most feared, versatile power forwards to ever lace ‘em up. He hit 7 of the 8 shots he took and 3 of his 4 trey attempts. 17 points on 8 shots without even going to the line. CTC.

Lemon Face – Mo’ Williams, Mo’ Problems

You know what you did. You did it last season against Orlando, and you did it again tonight. If you don’t learn how to play a meaningful playoff game without having to wear a diaper for fear you might soil yourself on any given evening, your team will not continue to advance. Real talk.

Lion Face – PEEERRRRK

You knew it was going to be a good night for the big fella when you saw him hit a mid-range jumper early in the first quarter. KG kicked it over. Perk looked at the rim. No one challenged. And he was like “I’ll take anybody’s money if they just giving it away” before re-gathering and letting it fly. Twine music. Throw in some solid interior defense even before that shot when Cleveland unsuccessfully tried to run some offense through Shaq to start the game, and Kendrick had a lot to do with setting the tone for how this game would unfold.

Lemon Face – Kevin Garnett’s shooting

8/21. Not cool, dude. Not cool. /headbuttsmirror

Lion Face – Kevin Garnett’s Other Stuff

Nice work. /headbuttsmirror

Lion Cub Face – Antawn Doing His Job

You were dull, not all that stand-out-ish and generally Antawn-ian. But you did your job. You hit some shots (6/11 from the field and 2/5 from three), spaced the floor, played enough defense and rebounded well enough. Nothing to get too excited about, but this should be all that Cleveland really needs from you. Still, you’re going to have to have at least one 25+ point game in this series. It would be wise to try to make that happen in Game 3. Please advise.

Lemon Face – Anthony Parker Not Doing His Job

What would ya say … you do here? Quit trying to penetrate. You’re not good at it. Spot up, keep the ball moving and perhaps drive-and-kick a little. No one is going to let you get to the rim. This is the Boston Celtics defense — not the California Penal League. More importantly, play defense. They need you to control Rondo and other perimeter players and generally control penetration. Do what you are good at. Not the other stuff.

Lion Face – Al Roker’s Press Conference

Way to call out your team for putting up a game like that at home against a conference rival. Mike Brown was fiery, unapologetic, demanding and down-right pissed off in his post-game talk. “Aint a goddamn thing that’s going to be given to us in this series,” he said unhappily. A lot different than his giddy reaction after Game 1.

Lemon Face – LeBron

You were 1/7 on shots from outside of the paint. You only took 1 shot in the second quarter. And it’s not like you were creating a lot of great looks for teammates instead — not by your standards anyway (only 4 assists for the game). You turned the ball over 5 times. You missed 5 free throws. You had a few steals and that one insane — yet somehow now expected every game — chasedown block on Tony Allen, but your defense was not particularly good. You took some plays off, didn’t fight through screens all the time and missed some assignments. Sure, you finished with 24, 7 and 5 on not-terrible shooting — but that’s not enough. You don’t have Manu Ginobli or Pau Gasol. You have to play better for your team to win in these next — you hope — three series. If not, there won’t be three series at all.

NBA Playoffs: Cavaliers Withstand a Good Celtics Start, Clamp Down Defensively, Win at Home

Game 1 of the Cavs/Celtics series was a pretty good representation on what we will see throughout: an excellent-to-watch, hard-fought game with momentum shifts, highlight-reel plays and various guys carrying their respective teams for long stretches.

And, oh yeah, a Cavs victory.

Boston played just about as well as they could in the first half — with Rajon Rondo playing just about as good as any human could — yet it still wasn’t enough. Cleveland ramped up its defensive intensity after the break, closed off the paint and forced the Celtics to take tough (although more makeable then they showed) jumpers, leaving little room for error after the shooters went cold.

The Cavs were already starting to look like the superior team by the time Mo Williams got out on the break and dunked — for the first time since he got to Cleveland — over Paul Pierce. Mo mean-mugged, got fired up and scored 10 straight for his squad, including the thunder stuff. Then the Cavs did some Thunder stuff — applied some suffocating defense.

With no one on the Celtics able to get going against this teamwide-ramped-up effort (and Anthony Parker taking over the job that Mo had failed at throughout the first half: keeping Rajon in front of him), LeBron did the rest. 10 points, 3 boards (2 offensive) and 2 blocks in the fourth for the King, who finished with 35 points, 7 assists, 7 boards, 3 steals and those 2 blocks for the game. This, while shooting 12/24 and getting to the line 11 times. As odd as I seems, this is what we should expect most of the series. If so, the Cavs’ much-deeper bench (Jamario Moon, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao and JJ Hickson combined for 26 points compared to just 12 for the Cs reserves) and much-younger legs (Delonte, Hickson and Jamario in particular showed the age gap) should be plenty to shake off Boston in six games.

(Doc Rivers might want to think about giving Nate Robinson a little run to squeeze a little energy out of his roster. Think about how loud the Banknorth Garden would get if the little guy hit a three? Has to be worth a shot. Especially if you’re giving Mike Finley four minutes for whatever reason.)

All it took to close out this one out for Cleveland were a few nice buckets by LeBron after he was able to Shinobi the less-effective-as-the-game-went-on Boston defense and some solid interior work by Shaq (see more below). James hit the dagger three with 22 seconds left on a pick-and-roll where Paul Pierce just totally pooped the bed.

As it turns out, however, they barely even needed all that late-game execution. The Celtics fumbled around so poorly on offense that they only managed three points over the final five minutes. Credit some of that to Cleveland’s close-outs and rotation, credit some to Boston simply missing makeable shots and not forcing the action into the paint.

Either way, it’s pretty tough to beat a better team when you can’t score. I think John Wooden said that once. It’s in that pyramid or something.

A few other thoughts

  • Sideshow Varejao grabbed a huge offensive board at the end of the third that gave the Cavs a 2-for-1 to end the quarter. The re-set got JJ Hickson a nice bucket on the interior. Then the Cleveland D forced Paul Pierce to settle for, and miss, a bad three. And after LeBron attacked the hoop for two points to close the quarter, Mike Brown’s boys found themselves up one going into the fourth. The Cs, who had just watched Mo go off post-posterization and watched a nice first-half lead evaporate, now had to look up at the scoreboard while sitting on the bench and see themselves losing. Even being up one point there might have helped them say, “OK, we withstood their run and played poorly in the third, but we are still up … This is still our game.” Down one, they couldn’t do that. The third turned from merely a bad quarter by a team with a lead to a quarter that changed which team controlled the game. Without that Varejao rebound, that doesn’t happen. What he does doesn’t make the box score, even though the boards are sometimes impressive. You just have to watch. Please do.
  • Mo talked in the post game about how the Cavs always like to keep going to a guy when he’s hot and/or capable of exploiting a favorable match-up. They did this with Delonte in the second quarter, and he was able to drive into the paint on, by my count, at least four occasions. Then they did it again with Shaq late. Perkins bit on his shot fake with the score 90-90 and Shaq worked him in the post with an up-and-under out of the Kevin McHale collection. Diesel got Perk out of position on the next trip, too — which was likely beneficial for both Shaq and the Cavs low-post game for the rest of this series, even though he missed that particular look. The following is my speculation, but this perhaps helped keep Shaq ready to score a few minutes later when he ran a pick-and-roll with LeBron. Boston doubled the ball-handler, Mr. James, but LeBron was able to thread a pass to O’Neal who missed the lay-up but stuck with it and got the tip-in. The lesson here: Feed the big fella and the big fella stays happy. Keep the big fella happy and the big fella will stay engaged late. Keep the big fella engaged late and he can be more than just a space-eater. As I mentioned on Twitter, “The rumors of Shaq only being relevant as a big body to bang with Dwight Howard have been greatly exaggerated.”
  • Paul Pierce was excellent early, but faded after half-time and was down-right ineffective. 1/10 shooting in the second half, with the one make and seven of the misses coming in the fourth. (KG followed a similar pattern, shooting 1/5 in the final period.) It’s safe to say that the Celtics can’t win this series — and perhaps not even a game — if Truth doesn’t act Truthier. The script for Celtics’ victories should play out similar to how Game 1 started for Boston: Rondo runs the show early with Ray Allen getting off for a stretch or two (two treys for him in the third and a few buckets in the second) and KG alternating between good jump-shooter and offensively irrelevant as his oldness and inconsistency allow. Paul, of course, needs to be involved throughout and the bench must play better (Big Baby was particularly garbage: 5 points on 5 shots with 3 turnovers in 12 minutes), but what Pierce needs to do is be Boston’s closer. When the Cleveland defense is really on its grind late, Doc Rivers needs to be able to count on Pierce for a few “I got this possession” buckets. They wouldn’t have won the title in 2008 without him doing this. In fact, they wouldn’t have even beaten the Bulls last year without it. So they sure as hell need it to beat the Cavs.
  • Apparently LeBron has a boo boo on his elbow. He looked 100% to me. If you care about the topic, go to any other NBA website for more.