I haven’t had an Easter this bad since my little sister found all the Easter eggs my parents hid for her more quickly than I found mine. There is nothing worse than watching another team’s starters engaging in knee-slapping bench hijinks while your team is down by 35 in the fourth quarter. Here are some images of misery: LeBron’s air guitar, Delonte West’s Ruth-ian +36, the C’s 36 percent shooting, Wally Sczerbiak “leaping” to block a Bill Walker lay-up attempt. It goes on and on.
At the same time, it’s only one game. Yes, the trend of blowouts in Cleveland is officially a trend (not just a New York Times trend), and that’s disturbing. But remember three things: a) the Celtics split with Cleveland this year, including a convincing home win without KG; b) KG did not play in this game; and c) this was a meaningless game, and you could tell as much from watching the Celtics. The intensity just wasn’t there, with the exception of one well-placed elbow from Ray Allen to Anderson Varejao. (For the record, because the great Tom Ziller may write about this: It was a dirty play, but I don’t believe Ray meant for the elbow to go there. I don’t think anyone wants to go there).
That said, there are things to be concerned about. The Cleveland guards just carved up the Celtics today on screen/roll penetration. When the Celtics went over screens, Mo Williams, West and even Boobie Gibson were able to dribble by the screener’s defender and into the heart of the defense, creating exploitable gaps. When the Celtics went under screens, Cleveland’s guards made jump shots. When Cleveland’s guards decided to pass, the roll man was usually open. This is how you shoot 55 percent.
The Cavs ran the same screen roll with Mo Williams and Ilgauskas at the top of the key on a half-dozen consecutive possessions in the third quarter. Only twice did the C’s defend the play well–by having Ilgauskas’ man–Davis–jump out quickly on Williams as Rondo chased him over the screen. This forced Williams to dribble toward the sideline and hurl a lateral pass back across his body to Ilgauskas, who had to station himself far from the hoop in order to make himself an available target for Mo.
And twice–at the 4:41 and 2:39–Ilgauskas missed jumpers from 21 feet as Davis recovered nicely to contest.
Those are the kind of sequences where fast rotations–the kind KG brings–are crucial, because Z will hit that shot if he’s given a half-second more to look at it.
The game showed how valuable a weapon Z can be for Cleveland if Boston’s interior rotations are slow. He scored seven early points, all because help didn’t come quickly enough.
11:38: LeBron cuts up from the baseline, running around a Z screen. As LBJ receives the pass at the foul line, Perk jumps off Ilgauskas to help. LeBron dishes down to Z, who is uncovered as the C’s back line defenders haven’t rotated quickly enough. Easy lay-in.
10:30: Mo Williams and Z run the high screen/roll, except they never really run it. Z gets in position for the screen and Perk hedges over to help, in anticipation of Williams dribbling around it with Rondo chasing. Williams fires a bounce pass between Rondo and Perk, and Ilgauskas hits a simple 15-footer.
4:09: LeBron receives the ball in the left block with Pierce on his back. Perk immediately leaves Ilgaukas near the foul line and comes for the full double team–a move so aggressive it caught me by surprise, since Pierce is a solid defender. Ilgauskas cuts to the hoop, LBJ hits him in stride, and Glen Davis is late rotating. Z lays the ball in, plus one, as Baby is inside the restricted area.
About LeBron: The Celtics tried Tony Allen on him for 10 possessions (by my count, and that includes second chance opportunities when Cleveland reset). This was something I was hoping they’d try, and the verdict is still out. Allen was able to cut off LeBron’s penetration (he didn’t get below the foul line once in those ten trips), and that’s a good sign.
But LeBron is 6’8” and Allen is 6’4”, and we saw the pitfalls of the TA-LeBron match-up on five of the ten possessions:
At 5:05 and 4:22, LeBron posted Allen up on the right block, and twice Allen fouled him from behind as they jostled for position. There was a lot of contact, and the ref motioned that Allen was using his hips and legs to try and get underneath LeBron and push him out of the post. The fouls got the C’s into the penalty fairly early.
On the next trip (3:55), LeBron posted Allen up on the left block, and this time the Celtics, realizing the disadvantages of the match-up, sent Davis over from the weak side for an immediate double-team. LeBron skipped the ball over to the open man (Boobie), who dribbled into the lane and lost the ball.
Then toward the end of the third quarter, LBJ hit those two three-pointers over Allen from the left wing. Those look like bad shots–Kobe shots–and they are, in a way, since Allen contested them strongly. But in another way, they’re not bad shots. Like Kobe, LeBron is a great player, and he’s going to make them occasionally–sometimes twice in a row. And the four inch height differential makes it too easy for LeBron to shoot over Tony if he’s able to get just a inch or two of space.
I still think this is a match-up Doc should try if these teams meet in the playoffs, if only to give Pierce a break on defense. James created eight compromising situations–either scores or passes to open shooters–on those 10 possessions, and that’s not encouraging. But Tony stayed in front, and if the C’s rotate better, it’s something that could work.
A few bullets, after the jump.• The Celtics also tried Marbury on LeBron for four possessions in the second quarter, and it made for some hilarious images as Marbury fronted LeBron in the post. Steph actually managed to steal a bad Varejao entry pass on one possession, and LeBron missed from in-close on the next one. It wasn’t until LBJ took Steph out to the perimeter that James exploited the match-up by blowing by Steph on a drive and getting an And One lay-up to end the half. I don’t think we’ll see this again, if the C’s are fortunate enough to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
• Eddie House shot 2-of-6 from three-point range, dropping his three-point percentage to .442. So he’s still hanging on in his quest (one I completely made up) to become the 12th player in NBA history to shoot 44 percent from three-point range while attempting at least 320 shots from deep (a statistical club I also completely made up).
• Mikki Moore was the offensive star of the game, shooting 5-of-6 from the floor and scoring 10 points on his way to racking up an impressive (for this game) -19. As the old proverb goes, if Mikki Moore is your top scoring option, you lost.
• Good news: 29 minutes for Pierce, 26 for Ray Allen. Some much needed rest.