Post-game Reactions

We’ll be writing a lot about the Cavs leading up to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on Saturday. In a way, I feel like I have too many days to think about a team I already know too well—too many visions of LeBron dancing through the paint, of Anthony Parker nailing corner threes, of Anderson Varejao out-hustling everyone, of Shaq ripping Glen Davis’ thumb clean off his hand and eating it.

Let’s start the dialogue with a few questions that have been rolling around my brain since the C’s finished off Miami:

1) How will Boston defend LeBron James?

This has been rolling around my brain since long before the C’s took care of Miami. We know the basics: The assignment falls mainly to Paul Pierce, and the goal is to turn LeBron into a jump-shooter by going under screens on the screen/roll and pleading with the basketball gods to make LeBron jumper-happy.

But how do you make this happen? And can you do it without compromising the integrity of the defense?

In the final Cleveland-Boston game, we saw the C’s try and deter LBJ from driving by bringing an extra defender over to the strong side on LeBron screen/rolls. The C’s used this strategy often against Dwyane Wade, but it’s a a more dangerous proposition against Cleveland.

First, here’s a visual taken from the April 4 Boston-Cleveland game to illustrate what I’m talking about:

You see LBJ handling the ball with J.J. Hickson in position to either post up or pop out and set a screen for LeBron. You can also see Rajon Rondo standing by himself in the paint. He has left Mo Williams alone in the left corner in order to give the C’s a third defender to handle LeBron on the strong side.

How do you think this play ended?

LeBron skipped the ball to Williams in the corner, and Mo hit a three.

Here’s the thing: Cleveland is a great three-point shooting team. Not a good one. A great one. The Cavs knocked down 38 percent of their three-pointers this season, the 2nd-best mark in the league, behind only Phoenix. All of the following players hit at least 40 percent of their threes this season: Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Daniel Gibson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (watch him in those corners!). Antawn Jamison (34 percent) is a threat when he has ample time, and Delonte West (32.5 percent) shot 40 percent as recently as last season.

LeBron is 6’8” and perhaps the 2nd- or 3rd-best passer on Earth. If you overplay him, he’s going to burn you with the pass.

So what to do? We’ll obviously see a bit of everything, ranging from straight man-to-man defense to outright traps. The key is to help from the right places, at the right times, and with all five players having a clear and precise understanding of what’s going on and who should do what.

2) Might we see Marquis Daniels?

Daniels spent a lot of time guarding LeBron during regular season match-ups, but he’s fallen completely out of Doc’s rotation over the past month or so. He played only six minutes in the entire Miami series.

If there’s a time for the resurrection of the Grand Marquis, this might be it. Paul Pierce is 32 years old, and coming off a season in which he suffered knee, foot and shoulder injuries. It is too much to ask of Pierce to spend 40 minutes per game guarding LeBron and to score 20 or 25 points.

Someone other than Pierce will have to spend some time on LBJ. Marquis Daniels isn’t an elite defender, but he does two things well: 1) Stay in front of his man; 2) Stay down on pump fakes.

It might be worth a try.

3) Is Tony Allen capable?

TA is listed at 6’4” and 213 pounds, meaning he’s giving up four inches in height ┬áto James and somewhere around 40 or 50 pounds. But TA is quick and strong, with enough leaping ability to (perhaps) bother a LeBron rise-and-fire jump shot.

So if you’re Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau, what do you do?

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Zach Lowe

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  • DRJ1

    The Wade approach? Do your best w LeBron, but make sure he gets little help from teammates?

  • Perry

    If you’re Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau please do not call any of the smarty pants over at ESPN for advice. The Celtics are being dubbed a sacrificial lamb at a cult gathering if you listen to these bright bulbs.

    I’m not about to forecast substitution patterns, but if history has taught us anything TA was never much an option to defend LBJ’s brut force. This is the series we’ll need Quis to step up.

    If Doc plans on using a combination of TA/Quis while Pierce is left in to pursue his offense another perimeter guy will be needed. That’s why Finley can play a significant role. He has the size and veteran presence to keep Cleveland honest at both ends of the floor.

    Sometimes it seems like Lebron approaches a game similar to Bird who played according to the whims of the game. So if he seems content dominating the ball east to west it works in the Celtics favor. At some point enough is enough. It’s becoming redundant to bullet point all the defensive gyrations. The bottom line is he must keep out of the paint as much as possible, and the Celtics must limit Cleveland to one shot.

    Cleveland does something else very well. They block shots. They’re very good at pushing the action too. Celts have to limit those transition opportunities. Conversely when fast break opportunities are evident they have to be ready to run the floor with Rondo. It will not surprise me to see both teams pushing the pace. I expect less Shaq; more Hickson and Varejao — likely playing at the same time. If Mike Brown goes big instead of athletic he is a fool.

  • Berkcelt

    I think Tony is the best option after Paul. Lebron for whatever reason rarely seems to post up. He likes it out on the perimeter which just happens to be Tony’s strength. Obviously Lebron can crush anyone just about anywhere on the court, but I’d like to see Doc go to that matchup before throwing Daniels out there.

  • w2

    “If Mike Brown goes big instead of athletic he is a fool.”

    Fingers crossed.

  • Jay P

    Agree with DRJ1.

    Stay in front, force him to shoot jump shots or pass off. Take away the options for him teammates.

    I’ll take my chances with the supporting cast getting shots over LBJ getting into the lane and getting And 1s all day.

    As long as they’re helping out, and closing out on the shooters to contest shots, I like the chances.

    Granted, those shooters are probably going to get hot at least once or twice, and it’ll burn you. But I don’t think anyone expects this series to be quick, and over the course of seven games, it’s the C’s best chances.

  • Rich

    Just coming from a Cavs fan perspective, Brown seems to be trending away from the going all big. Ilguaskus played VERY sparingly against Chicago and didn’t play at all in game 5 (only scrubs time in game 4), so I wouldn’t count on him being out there. Which means more Varejao and Hickson.

    Second, the Wade approach worked wonders against Miami and against the Cavs team from two years ago. But it isn’t as if LeBron has a talentless team around him anymore. Simply shutting down the rest of the squad is easier said than done. Shaq isn’t Jermaine O’Neal. Mo Williams isn’t Carlos Arroyo. Michael Beasely isn’t Jamison. And the difference between the benches is about as wide as the grand canyon. I’m not saying it isn’t a viable option, but to expect it to work anything close to as well as it did for Miami is a reach.

  • Stay tuned for a post about the Cavs small lineups.

  • Jay P


    No one expects it to work as well as it did against Miami, Cleveland is a much better team than the heat.

    But it’s a matter of what gives the C’s the best chance, and that is still going to be the same philosophy, force James to shoot or dish, force the rest of the team to beat you.

    They still might, it will be a hard fought series, no doubt. But it’s the best chance they got.

  • willybeamin

    If lebron wants to post up TA he is doing us a favor by making it easy to help. The easiest place on the floor to double is on the block.

    as noted earlier Lebron doesn’t tend to post a whole lot, so I’d much rather see the athletic TA out there on LBJ instead of Quis.

    that being said there was a time when I thought Quis would be crucial to a series like this, and he’s enough of a veteran to step up even after this layoff.

  • Jason

    First, even as Daniels massively disappointed on O, I was nearly as impressed with his D. I absolutely would put him on LBJ as much as possible. But will it really happen?

    Second, I think one of the Cs great defensive strength is also a weakness and if Wade had better teammates it could have been very dangerous. And playing the Cavs or Magic makes me nervous because they know how to take advantage of this feature of the Cs D. This D is so good at reacting, helping and rotating, sometimes they just do it too much. Wade, for example, takes one fake step, all five guys sag two steps. One of the Cs unique strengths against the Magic is allowing Perk to play Howard one-on-one on D. This negates a major part of their inside-outside 3-point barrage game. But, last year with Turkoglu and this year with Carter and even Nelson, they can still drive, get the D to collapse, kick out to one of 3 shooters, swing it a time or two and end up with endless open 3s. LBJ can do this as well. He can make the D collapse even more and find people better and he’s also got 2 or 3 guys who can knock down shots.

    So this is true of Cavs no matter who they play, but the Cs exacerbate the problem by being SO willing to help. What if they employed the Perk/Howard model with Daniels covering LBJ? Just say, look, we’re going to give this a try. Hassle him and make him work and we’re not going to help as much. Hopefully we can 1) force him into Js and 2) take away a lot of his assists. IF you could do that, it’s going to limit his impact A LOT and make winning games a lot more feasible.

  • Sophomore

    Jason – it’s an interesting thought, to leave MD out there on an island with LeBron, but I think you have to at least have the bigs rotate and probably the guards too.

    Without help, MD fouls out quickly and/or LBJ scores at will. You can’t have that – James will stop runs and close out the game at the end.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    TA all the way. He is more of a pest and an athletic presence on D. He is also a big net plus on offense compared to quis – any advanced stats to prove me right/wrong?

    I hope Quis doesn’t see the floor unless there is foul trouble. He’s over-rated. He was totally ineffective all year at both ends. Everyone kept talking him up but he never delivered even with ample opportunity (doc kept saying he had coaches from around the league calling him and congratulating him on the signing….nice motivational tool, but no way jose).

  • hemlock09

    as a cavs fan, im interested to see what boston can do to make this work. there are no surprises here. each team knows exactly what the other will do.

    that said, i think chicago proved a great strategy for killing the cavs (just like the bobcats showed the strategy for killing the magic). neither team had the offense to take advantage, but i think they both had the right game plan to take the opponent’s best player out of the game.

    in chicago’s case, they forced lebron into jumpers which he almost never makes. so he got lucky. by doing that they also put his team in an iso-lebron offense which limited the effectiveness of the rest of his team. If you give lebron 40, you can still win as long as nobody else gets 20.

  • Ray Leighton

    I think that we have to switch options frequently and keep Lebron out of sync (as much as possible for the best player on the planet). So we throw Quis and TA and Pierce at him at different times. Although everyone is down on Quis, he is still a great defensive player, he never buys that first fake. TA is too small to handle Lebron in the paint, but as someone pointed out Lebron doesn’t really post up, and if he is penetrating, the Cs bigs are stepping in to help anyway — TA also puts pressure on the Cavs because with him on the floor, every Celtic steal is turning into a fast-break. I also like putting some of these guys on the floor at the same time — if we have both Pierce and TA/Quis on the floor, then the Cavs have a defensive problem of their own if Paul gets hot — Lebron has to cover Pierce, but not vice versa. Jamison and Parker lack the defensive skills to keep with Paul, and Varejao is not quick enough.

    Both teams are going to have to use some interesting sets and rotations. They may know each other, but both teams have a lot of weapons, and a lot of options.

    It’s funny but with all of the beginning of the season talk about Perk vs. Shaq, it would not surprise me if both teams played small a lot during this series with KG vs. Varejao at the 5.

  • This series is gonna be sick. I can already see really hard fouls given, people jawin, Techs given, etc. This is gonna be an absolute brutal series. Prepare for war.

  • Darren Allen

    I think they should try to disrupt Lebron’s flow early. He has said it many times (and film shows): he likes to start games as a facilitator. Do not let him get his team involved in the first quarter. Do not show heavy double teams early, bring them in the second half.

    A good example is how the Spurs played Dirk in game 3, deal with the results of one on one until the fourth, then bring blind side traps.

    If we can turn the Cavs into the Lebrons, I will feel comfortable.

  • Tony

    To quote the movie “A Knight’s Tale”:
    “who would you beat him?”
    “with a stick while he slept”

    honestly the best way to stop the cavs is to stop the roleplayers, lebron will be lebron and get his points. But if you can keep the supporting cast from stepping up then the cavs will lose

  • Tony is pretty small…..and well, not really feared as a defender, despite what my C’s fans seem to think. I think going at LeBron on the offensive end in an attempt to wear him is the only way that the Celtics stand a chance.

  • pam

    i would love to see marquis atleast be given a shot. if he produces anything on the offense its a bonus. but if nothing else he can be used as a body on lbj who can foul out if need be (hopefully not). with lbj saying he would be wary of shooting jumpers with his elbow i would say let ta guard him and let lbj shoot over ta with a hand in his face (not near his release)

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  • Le-bron…..the anti-kobe! Dont hate on him haters!