Pace: 89 possessions (a tick below average)
Offensive Efficiency: 105.6 points/100 possessions (below average)
Defensive Efficiency: 116.9 points allowed/100 possessions (worse than the Raptors)
Thumbnail: The C’s tied this game at 68 mid-way through the 3rd quarter, but over the next 9:49 Boston shot 1-of-16 from the floor and 2-of-6 at the line as Cleveland opened up a 17-point lead. But the 68-68 tie was misleading; the C’s were outclassed in this game, and Cleveland kept the C’s in it by bricking too many foul shots. Boston committed a season-high 33 fouls which led to 48 Cavs foul shots—also a season-high for a Boston opponent. The C’s three-point defense was sloppy. Anderson Varejao was everywhere. LeBron James shot 14 free throws in one half. This was not an enjoyable three hours of my life.
Recap: There really isn’t much more to say than that thumbnail above. The Cavaliers were better than the Boston Celtics today, and, to be frank, the gap felt pretty large for most of the game. The C’s could not stop Cleveland without fouling, and they could not get enough good looks near the rim on offense to stay in the game.
Sure, it felt nice when the C’s tied the game at 68-68 with 5:13 to go in the 3rd, but it also felt like fool’s gold. The Cavs missed 17 free throws in this game, and had missed about a dozen by the time the C’s tied it up. Even at that moment, Cleveland felt in control of the game—a game, by the way, which the Celtics badly wanted to win. And that last tidbit makes the loss more disturbing.
By my count, the C’s missed three shots you might call “really good looks” during that horrific 1-of-16 stretch bridging the 3rd and 4th quarters. Those were: Two Sheed (1-of-8 for the game and a team-worst -17, thanks for showing up) turnarounds in the post—which were well-defended but still decent shots—and a wide-open Finley 21-footer along the left baseline.
The other 13? Tough shots—A quick-release Sheed three-pointer (NO!), a Daniels floater in traffic, two Rondo floaters on the move, a semi-contested three from Finley, a KG turnaround against a double-team on the left baseline and….you know what? I’ll stop.
My point is this: As fans, we have a tendency to talk about a 1-of-16 stretch as an offensive collapse, blaming our team instead of crediting the other. But there were two teams on the court, and when one is as good as Cleveland—a top-10 defensive team—the story is never as simple as “the good guys blew it.”
Go back and watch every Boston screen/roll, and with about a half-dozen exceptions (mostly involving KG as the screener on the side of the court) you’ll see Cleveland had them pretty well-covered.
As for the other end: Do you know how hard it is to allow a team to score 117 points per 100 possessions while limiting them to 41 percent shooting? No team in the league averages more than 114.3 points per 100 possessions, so Cleveland’s offense produced at a league-best level while hitting a lower percentage of their shots than the worst-shooting team in the league. (That’d be the Nets, checking in at 42.8 percent).
Four things happened:
• The Cavs were 5-of-8 from three early before petering out and finishing 7-of-22;
• The C’s committed more fouls than in any game this season;
• The C’s yielded 17 offensive boards, tied for the 2nd-most they’ve allowed in a game this season.
• The C’s, a team that forces turnovers more often per possession than all but one club (Golden State), forced just eight Cavalier turnovers. That is four fewer turnovers than Atlanta’s per-game average, which is the lowest in the league.
Bad stuff all across the stat sheet. Let’s investigate some of these things further in bullet form.
• On LeBron: His game plan today was so obvious—and so self-consciously constructed—that if I didn’t know his game or his team any better, I might call it distasteful. LBJ attempted just four field goals and two free throws in the 1st half. Only one of his four field goal attempts came at the rim. He concentrated on getting his teammates involved and running the screen/roll as a distributor.
The second half? Get out of the dude’s way. LBJ launched 17 shots, drew approximately 98 fouls on drives to the rim and got to the line 14 times. In a half. It was an almost ridiculous, video game version of the classic star player “I’ll get my teammates involved early and take over late” strategy we always read about.
Kobe Bryant used to do things like this (see the 2006 Game 7 against Phoenix when he basically refused to shoot), but he did so—only at times, LA fans!—out of some petulant need to prove his worth as a shooter. LBJ has good intentions. You can see why his teammates love him.
• It’s time to stop talking about Anderson Varejao as an annoying flopper and start talking about him as a really damn good player. I realize that’s not going to be a popular sentiment here, and I’m not saying he doesn’t indulge in the occasional soccer-esque dive. But his impact on this game was incredible. The Cavs scored three extra points in the first half because Varejao worked hard enough to prevent Boston from doing one of the simplest thing in hoops: rebounding an opponent’s missed free throw.
This is a remarkable thing. The defensive team rebounds missed FTs about 95 percent of the time, according to a study SI’s Chris Ballard cited in his new book, The Art of a Beautiful Game. If you watch the tape, you’ll see that all Varejao did was work—he lunged into the lane with a quickness and aggression few players in the league will ever match on a missed foul shot.
On the first such play (9:30, 2nd Q), he got around Rasheed Wallace, latched onto Sheed’s right hip and prevented Sheed from controlling the board; Sheed deflected the ball out of bounds. Varejao drew a foul on the ensuing possession and knocked down both FTs.
On the second miss (4:07, 2nd Q), he got into the center of the paint more quickly than the man responsible for boxing him out (KG) anticipated. Garnett had to turn 180 degrees from the basket and push his forearms against Varejao’s upper body to keep him from the rebound. Foul on KG, 1-of-2 at the line for Varejao.
Three extra points. The Celtics average game is a win by about 4.4 points, according to ESPN.com. For one player, through quickness and effort, to get his team three extra points—in one half—by rebounding missed free throws is a huge, huge thing.
• Also of note: The C’s switched on screen/rolls involving LBJ more tonight than I can ever remember. They didn’t seem to mind switching Rajon Rondo onto him, and I counted at least four times when Perk ended up guarding LeBron one-on-one after a screen/roll switch.
One possible take: This could represent the team’s recognition that Paul Pierce can no longer credibly guard LeBron one-on-one for long periods of time. I don’t think we would have seen switches so often in 2008. But I have to think a bit more about this.
• Michael Finley can make shots, but his defense is as poor so far as advertised. Check the 10:50 mark on the 2nd quarter, when Varejao streaks in from the left wing to convert a follow dunk. He’s able to do that because Delonte West, dribbling on the opposite side of the floor, beats Finley cleanly without the aid of the screen, forcing Sheed to step away from Varejao and close off the West drive.
Or: The 8:59 mark of the 2nd, when West, in semi-transition, just blows by Finley again on the right wing, forcing multiple Celtics to collapse. West kicks the ball to wide-open Mo Williams for an easy three-pointer.
• Watch the tape of that Williams three-pointer, and you’ll see what to my eyes is a bad secondary mistake by Williams’ man, Nate Robinson. Williams is cutting down from the top of the three-point arc to the foul line as West works on Finley. When Robinson realizes that Finley is beat, he leaves Williams at the foul line and helps down on West, even though two C’s defenders are in the paint waiting for Delonte.
Williams sees his chance, stops his cut at the line and darts out to the three-point line for the easy bomb.
Rivers pulled Nate shortly after this play, and Robinson, such a spark in recent games, played just four minutes in the 1st half and 8:11 total in the game.
• He only scored four points, but Glen Davis showed us why he can be such a big asset to this team. Three offensive boards and a drawn charge in just over 15:00 of playing time. He has a skill set that is unique on this team.
• Nice to see Leon Powe doing what Leon Powe does: Six foul shots in 8:17 of playing time. He’s a foul-drawing machine. Always has been. Good to see him back.
That’s it for tonight. Enjoy filling out your NCAA brackets, and we’ll get back at this Celtic thing tomorrow.