Overview: After getting steamrolled by Rajon Rondo in the first half, the Cavaliers buckled down after the break to earn a 101-93 victory over the Boston Celtics. LeBron James led all scorers with 35 points, with 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter. Mo Williams got hot in the second half and added 20 crucial points. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 27 points on 7-10 shooting from the floor and 12-14 shooting from the free throw line.
In the first quarter, both the Cavs and the Celtics got the shots they wanted. The Celtics made more of them. The Cavs were looking to take the ball at the rim, and weren’t wasting possessions as they sometimes do early in games. LeBron went into the post early and got himself some great looks, but failed to get the ball to go down. Antawn Jamison looked to drive, but his floaters didn’t go down either. The Celtics looked like the elite defensive team they’re capable of being; they rotated to counter every move the Cavs made and didn’t give up any uncontested layups. Shaq struggled to score in the post against Perkins, taking his hooks from outside of his comfort zone.
When the Celtics had the ball, it was the Rajon Rondo show. He got into the paint whenever he felt like it. Even when the Cavalier bigs were there to contest his shots at the rim, Rondo was able to finish with crazy floaters and bankers. When they collapsed on him, he found teammates. He even finished off the quarter with a three. Boston executed perfectly on both ends of the floor in the first quarter, and the Cavs didn’t make enough shots to keep up.
Boston was able to open up the lead in the second quarter. Delonte and the rest of the bench crew made some nice hustle plays to keep it close, putting the Cavs in position to make a run at the lead. Things didn’t work out that way. The Celtics went to Garnett in the post or Rondo off the dribble all quarter long; the Cavs had no answer for either. When they tried to leave Jamison on an island against KG, he scored in the post. When they brought doubles, he found the cutter. It wasn’t that long ago that KG was considered one of the best offensive players in basketball — as the second half showed, he can’t do it for a whole game anymore, but he’ll show you flashes.
When Rondo made a move, Cavalier misery ensued. That’s all there was to it. He is made of wingspan, quickness, and nightmares. I’m not saying that Rondo is as important to the Celtics as LeBron is to the Cavaliers — I’m just saying it’s closer than you think. Thanks to Rondo and Garnett’s relentless attacking, the Celtics were able to score 28 points in the second quarter, which was bad enough. What made it worse was that only two of those points came from outside the paint.
The Cavs came out attacking in the third quarter and looking to chip away at the lead. The problem was that they still didn’t have a good answer for Rondo. They switched Anthony Parker on him, but he was still getting into the paint at will. The Cavs were trying to get over the hump, but they weren’t getting the necessary stops. Even when they slowed Rondo down a little bit, the Celtics were able to hit shots from the outside. Things were looking bleak. The Cavs were 17 minutes away from dropping a home playoff game, and appared to be the mercy of Rajon Rondo.
That’s when Mo Williams threw down. After a Rondo bad pass, Mo pushed the ball to get a two-on-one break with Paul Pierce in between Mo and LeBron. Like he’s done so many times, Mo caught Pierce overplaying LeBron and went to sneak in a layup. Except this time he didn’t lay it up. For the first time as a Cavalier, Mo went up and threw down. In real time, I actually thought he’d gotten blocked. Mo dunking simply did not compute. After a brief moment of disbelief, the crowd realized what had had happened and went bananas. Before the dunk, the Cavs had been outscored by 11 points. After the dunk, they outscored the Celtics by 19. (Data courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information.)
Immediately following the dunk, Mo scored on each of the next four possessions to get the Cavs back into the game. The Celtics got flustered after Mo’s scoring explosion, giving up four straight free throws by fouling the defensive rebounder. The second of those fouls sent Rondo to the bench with four. The Cavs took advantage of the opportunity, taking the lead as LeBron hit a tough banker with time expiring in the third quarter.
The Cavaliers never trailed in the final 10:45 of play, but they never pulled away either. The Celtics were helping the Cavs out by going to Pierce in isolation over and over again instead of putting the ball in Rondo’s hands and attacking the basket — three years after the 2007 playoffs, they still haven’t figured out that Pierce has trouble scoring one-on-one against LeBron.
Cleveland would execute perfectly to get a score or a stop, then get greedy and go for a quick shot when they had a chance to break the game open.LeBron missed two free throws that would have put the Cavs up six, and Pierce came down and drilled a three to cut it to one. LeBron hit a three to put the Cavs up four, then bricked a step-back three after a Celtics score, allowing the Celtics to tie the game their next time down.
Shaq made a beautiful up-and-under move on Perkins to put the Cavs up two with 4:45 remaining. After Rondo went 1 of 2 from the line, LeBron tipped in his own miss to give the Cavs a three-point lead. With a chance to put the game away, LeBron and Mo both fired questionable threes that would have broken the game open. They were both open looks, but they took them very early in the shot clock when the Cavs should’ve run the offense and taken some time. After Mo missed a three with 23 seconds left on the shot clock, the Celtics got a fast-break chance off a long rebound and cut the lead to one. LeBron hit a floater, Pierce missed a game-tying three from the corner, and Shaq got a volleyball tip-in bucket to give the Cavs a five-point lead with a minute left to play. Perkins turned it over, and LeBron ran the clock and went for the dagger three with 22 seconds left. He got it. Game over. 1-0 series lead. Sigh of relief.
-Great game for LeBron. I was a little concerned when he missed those chippies in the post. That concern had, to put it mildly, evaporated by the end of the game. He made big plays when the Cavs needed them, and he shut down Paul Pierce in the fourth. He looked to attack all game; only seven of his 24 shots came from outside the paint, and he made three of them. If LeBron taking 17 shots in the paint and making the jumpers he does take are a side effect of his elbow injury, I suggest he smash it against something before every game. He gets the MVP award tomorrow; this game was another example of why he’s getting it.
-Maybe Mo Williams’ best game as a Cavailer. If he doesn’t go off like that in the third quarter, there’s a good chance the Cavaliers lose this game. It’s as simple as that. Sure, he couldn’t slow down Rondo, but slowing down Rondo needs to be a team effort. The Cavs were outscored by 15 points in the eight minutes Mo sat.
-Shaq, Jamison, and Varejao need to do better than 7-22 from the field. Shaq had some moments late, Varjeao made some great hustle plays, and Jamison did some good things as well. But they need to do better job of putting the ball in the basket when the shoot it; all of them were guilty of forcing shots inside when the Celtics bigs had already made their rotations. This is an elite defensive team — the bigs need to recognize when the right play is passing the ball out and letting the offense re-start. Even if it doesn’t generate a perfect shot, I’d rather have Mo or LeBron taking a contested jumper with the clock running down than Varejao trying to get a full-speed lefty banker to go over a 7-footer with position.
-Great game for Hickson. He took some shots with a high degree of difficulty, and got them to go. I’d expect him to see some minutes in this series.
-Delonte looked like himself; his energy off the bench was a key factor in keeping the game close at the beginning of the second.
Bullets of Randomness:
-You know what the difference down the stretch was? Rajon Rondo isn’t the most experienced player on the Celtics. He’s not their locker room leader. He played the smallest role of anyone in the “big four” in Boston’s 2008 title run. He’s the least complete offensive player of the Celtics’ top players. He’s also, by a wide margin, their best offensive option against the Cavaliers. Down the stretch, all those cliches about what separates fourth-quarter baskets from first quarter-baskets clouded the Celtics’ thinking down the stretch. They’re having an alpha dog crisis. If they figure it out, they have a great chance of taking this series. If they don’t, they’ll be doing the Cavs a huge favor. Fortunately for Cavalier fans, the Cavs are not having an alpha dog crisis.
-Man, I’m glad Rasheed Wallace plays for the Celtics.
Alright, that’s all for now. Three more of these wins, and the Cavs will be halfway to a championship. Fun times.