Chris Ballard has very nice profile of Shaq in this week’s Sports Illustrated.
At one point Ballard points out that Cleveland’s offensive and defensive numbers were worse this season with Shaq on the floor, and he asks Cavs assistant Michael Malone if it might be better to bench Shaq “until—or if—[the Cavs] face Howard.”
Malone’s response: “Then he’d be coming into a potential Orlando series, and he’d still be trying to find his rhythm.”
Yeah, so, they’re not going to have to worry about that. I’m not picking on Malone; Ballard asked him a question, and he answered it, and his answer contains no presumption that Cleveland would beat Boston; he’s careful to say “potential” Orlando series.
But the notion of Shaq as Howard stopper highlights the fact that Mike Brown just could not figure out his big man rotation in a way that would slow down Boston—and, specifically, Kevin Garnett. Brown’s “adjustment” of putting Shaq on Kevin Garnett in the 1st quarter was one of the ultimate elimination game panic moves I’ve seen in recent NBA history. Poor Shaq. The dude is 38, and he’s being asked to guard KG 20 feet from the hoop and on screen/rolls.
In Brown’s defense, my hunch is that we’ll learn Anderson Varejao’s back problems were limiting him more than we knew during the series. There is really no other explanation for why Brown would spend the bulk of the series assigning everyone but Varejao the task of defending Garnett in the post when it was obvious to everyone that Varejao is easily Cleveland’s best match-up for Garnett .
Make no mistake: The Celtics won this series in the Garnett-Jamison match-up. KG averaged 19 points per game on 52 percent shooting and turned the ball over just 8 times in 6 games.
And Jamison? The vaunted stretch four who will earn nearly $29 million over the next two seasons? The guy whom the Cavs acquired when they might have been able to make an honest run at Amare Freaking Stoudemire had they been willing to part with J.J. Hickson? He averaged about 12 points per game on 42 percent shooting, and he made a whopping 3 three-pointers in six games. He was a disaster on defense, and it was a disaster the Cavs should have anticipated. Jamison, at a short 6’9”, had no chance against Garnett in the post. It’s not his fault; he’s just not equipped to guard a seven-footer with touch in the low post.
And yet he was asked to do it for the bulk of six straight games, and when the Cavs finally conceded that he could not do it, the answer was not to double-team KG or to play Varejao extended minutes. It was to assign the job to a plodding 38-year-old who hasn’t defended a screen/roll well in 10 years.
And so the Cavs are out.
Onto Orlando, with a ton of analysis to come later today.