Here we go. Game four. We know that each of these teams are capable of blowing out the other one. Cavs can’t wait to attack in this game — like they did in game three, they have to come out of the locker room aggressive. They should also be ready for Boston to do the same.
Continue to play off of Rondo, give token full-court pressure, and pack the paint on him. Hope Paul Pierce doesn’t return to the land of the living. Chase Ray Allen wherever he goes.
If LeBron has it going from outside early and Shaq is working in the post, that’s great. If not, the Cavs have to be patient and not allow themselves to get discouraged. As we all know, no lead is secure in this series — every single possession counts.
Alright, it’s gametime. Check back here for the recap later.
Here we go. Win a game at the Garden or go home. Some things to watch out for:
It would be really great if the Cavs were aggressive on both sides of the ball early. They’ve fallen behind by double-digits in each of the first two games. That’s unacceptable for one of the best first-quarter teams in basketball. Cleveland’s good late and Boston will blow leads, but the Cavs can’t count on a comeback. They need to play every possession like it’s the fourth quarter.
LeBron’s gotta be more aggressive early. I don’t know if it’s the elbow or what, but the Cavs are going to be in big trouble if he doesn’t come out and set the tone.
Stop Rondo. Slow Rondo down. Do the opposite of everything that has been done against Rondo so far. The Cavs have to hope he comes back to earth in game three.
Mo Williams has to get going and hit some threes. He shouldn’t force anything, though — just run the offense, go to his spot, and trust that the ball will come back to him.
Jamison needs to get some inside looks on pick-and-rolls, weak-side cuts, and post-ups.
Yes, KG’s only shooting 42% for the series. But he’s getting way too many easy baskets. If he gets his points on turnaround jumpers and 20-footers, that’s fine. No layups.
Shaq needs to make hooks or get the quick hook.
Hickson’s played good enough offense to get himself in the rotation for this series. He needs to step it up on defense and the boards to get his team a win.
This would be a great game for Delonte to find what he’s been missing for much of this season. This team desperately needs more toughness and guys willing to drive the ball at the rim.
Here we go. Doesn’t get much bigger than this. Cavs have to play every possession. This series and this season are still far from over. That said, the time for this team to step up is right now.
Alright, game two. Game one was fun, but if the Celtics leave Cleveland with a split they’re going to be more than satisfied. This is a very, very important game. Here are some keys:
-Rondo Rondo Rondo Rondo. I’m not sure what the adjustments will be, but I’m sure we’re going to see them. Give him more room on the perimeter and challenge him in the paint. Give him a wall of bodies. Do something. Rondo cannot be allowed to control the pace of the game.
-If LeBron came out looking to be aggressive and took it to the paint early because his elbow was bothering him, I hope it still feels that way. Can’t settle for jump shots against this defense.
-Cavs defense needs to swarm like they did in the second half of game one. The Celtics will turn the ball over if enough pressure is placed on them.
-Frontcourt needs to play better. Shaq needs to know when the post-up opportunities are there and when to toss the ball back out. Jamison needs to work off the ball and look for easy layups and jumpers before he starts trying to twist in those floaters. I’d say he should try posting up, but KG can hold his own on an island against Antawn.
-Please, please, please let there be plenty of Rasheed/Big Baby minutes and Pierce ISOs. I love those.
Now is not the time to get fat and happy. It’s time to close out the series. Ride LeBron’s insane play, try Shaq early and give him the hook if he’s not effective. Take the threes if they’re there, but look to get a good shot on every possession. Contain Rose, win the battle on the boards, keep a body on Noah. Try to get something out of Delonte and Varejao.
The series is Cleveland’s for the taking. Time to play a strong 48 and get it done.
Game three. Get the win on the road here, and the Cavs get some serious breathing room. First road playoff game for this year’s Cavs squad. If they want to win comfortably, they need to defend like they did in game one and execute on offense like they did in game two. Only doing one might not cut it in a hostile building. Let’s see how long Shaq can stay on the floor and what adjustments the Cavs make on Noah.
-Keep LeBron James frustrated. LeBron got his points in game one, but had a hard time finding consistent success in half-court situations and never settled into a passing groove. If LeBron’s on his game, the Bulls might not have enough talent to keep up with Cleveland.
-Pray the threes don’t fall. The Bulls did a good job collapsing the paint, but left the Cavs’ shooters open beyond the arc. The Cavs missed most of their looks in game one. The Bulls have to hope that trend continues.
-Do a better job containing Mo Williams. When Williams can’t get anything going off the dribble, the Cavs become much easier to stop. In game 1, he was able to get to the spots he wanted to get to.
-Get Derrick Rose to the line. Rose had to work for every one of his points in game one. He needs some easy baskets in game two if the Bulls want to have any chance of putting up points.
-Attack the Cavs off the dribble. It’s not a perfect plan, but the Bulls have to at least try to make Cleveland’s bigs move their feet instead of settling for deep twos.
-Get Luol Deng going. Not sure how, but it’s hard to win with your best wing going 5-15 from the floor.
What Cleveland Needs to do to win:
-Keep playing defense. The Cavs had a dominating defensive effort in game one. If they can keep that up, they’re in great shape.
-Get LeBron James going, especially in the half-court. Not the hardest thing to do in the world, but something to focus on.
-Use Shaq inside early. The Bulls can’t stop him without fouling. That could mean lots of time in the bonus.
-Make threes, as discussed above.
-Get something out of the two-guard spot. Delonte and AP both need to step up their efforts on the offensive end.
-Don’t let up. Doesn’t matter if it’s a 40-point lead. You do not want to take ANY chance of the Bulls stealing home-court. The Cavs say they’re hungrier than ever before. They should show it by leaving no doubt if they get up big.
-Don’t let Noah get you out of your game. This isn’t a time for vendettas, cheap fouls, and harmful techs. The Cavs have bigger goals than the Bulls in mind this post-season. Let it go and play the game.
-Use Mo to free up LeBron. The Bulls defend LeBron well in ISO situations. They can’t stop Mo off the dribble. Use Mo’s penetration to get LeBron some catches on the move and easy baskets. Wouldn’t mind seeing the playoff debut of the Decoy pick-and-roll/Kraken tonight. (Darn you, Shaqken. I had a good Kraken thing going.)
I may be doing some Daily Dime Live tonight, but I’ll also be contributing to the live-blog at Cleveland.com. I’ll definitely be there pre-game, post-game, and maybe during halftime, with some DDL sprinkled in during commercial break. See you there.
Pace: Chicago 95.5 (12th) vs. Cleveland 93.5 (25th)
Offensive Efficiency: Chicago 100.8 (28th) vs. Cleveland 108.8 (4th)
Defensive Efficiency: Chicago 102.6 (10th) vs. Cleveland 101.5 (7th)
Chicago’s problem is that they can’t score. The only way they have to get the ball to the basket is by having Derrick rose drive, and they don’t have any real three-point threats or a post presence. Because of this, their offense is built around 16-23 foot jumpers; no team takes more shots from that range than the Bulls do. Since those are the least efficient shots in basketball, it’s not a great mystery why Chicago sucks at offense.
Shaq comes back into the starting lineup today. We’ll see how that goes. I worry that the Bulls might have an easier time getting the mid-range shots they like with Shaq sagging into the paint all night, but the shots the Bulls like are bad shots.
Chicago’s only real chance in this series is to frustrate LeBron James and have Derrick Rose absolutely go off. Mo Williams isn’t much of a defender, and the Bulls’ rotations have given LeBron in the past. At the end of the day, though, LeBron is on a completely different level than Rose, and he’s rested and ready to show that.
Cavs can’t get caught up in trying to work Shaq in until they get a VERY healthy lead going. The first round might seem like it’s going to be a party, but the Cavs are four losses away from going home. If they remember that, they should be fine.
Some additional notes, courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:
How important is this game for Chicago? The Cavaliers are 7-0 in best-of-seven series in which they won the first game. Only one other franchise has won as many best-of-seven series as the Cavs without losing one after taking a 1-0 lead: Portland (8-0).
The Cavaliers finished the season with 20 more wins than the Bulls (61 to 41). In the history of the NBA playoffs, there have been 25 best-of-seven series that have featured opposing teams that were separated by 20-or-more wins in the standings. The team with the fewer wins won only of those series (Golden State vs. Dallas in 2007).
The Cavaliers ended the regular-season with a four-game losing streak. In the history of the NBA, only one team has won the league title in a season that ended with a losing streak of at least four games: New York in 1969-70 (ended season with a four-game losing streak).
The Bulls have defeated the Cavaliers in each of the five post-season series that the teams have played. Only one other current team has played as many as five series against an opponent without losing one: Lakers vs. Denver (5-0).
LeBron James averaged 29.7 points, 8.6 assists and 7.3 rebounds per game during the 2009-2010 regular season. Only two other players in NBA history have averaged 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds per game in the same season: Oscar Robertson (six times from 1960-61 through 1965-66) and Michael Jordan (1988-89).
James led the Cavaliers in total points, assists, steals and blocked shots this season, marking the second consecutive season he has led his team in each of those categories. No other player has led his team in points, assists, steals and blocked shots in the same season more than once.
The Bulls made the playoffs despite suffering through a 10-game losing streak during the regular season (February 27 through March 19). Since the NBA instituted the current playoff format in 1983-84, only four other teams have reached the postseason despite having a double-digit losing streak during the regular-season: Portland in 1985-86 (12 straight), Sacramento in 1995-96 (11 straight), Phoenix in 1996-97 (13 straight) and Toronto in 2001-02 (13 straight).
Mike Brown has recorded 272 regular-season wins in his first five seasons in the NBA. Only five other head coaches in NBA history have registered as many wins as Brown in their first five seasons in the league: Phil Jackson (295), Pat Riley (286), K.C. Jones (280), Billy Cunningham (279) and Larry Costello (272).
Brown has a 16-4 (.800) career record in first-round playoff games as a head coach. That is the highest career winning percentage in first-round playoff games for any head coach since the current playoff format was instituted in 1983-84 (minimum: 15 games).
Shaquille O’Neal has appeared in 203 playoff games in his career. That is more than the combined total of the players on the rosters of two 2010 playoff teams: Portland (157) and Oklahoma City (91).
Chicago was 5-10 (.333) on the road against teams that finished the season with a .600-or-better winning percentage this season. That winning percentage was much higher than the league’s winning percentage in those games (.250).
LeBron and the rest of the starters likely won’t play for the Cavs. It’s a possible ECF preview, except it’s not. Expect the Magic to take the game, and expect the Cavs to make sure the Magic don’t get the satisfaction of beating the “real” Cavalier team. Open thread.
Nate Smith is an Associate Editor. He grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and moved to NE Ohio in 2000. He adopted the Cavs in 2003 and graduated from Kent State in 2009 with a BA in English. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or @oldseaminer on Twitter.
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