Overview: The Cavs bounced back from a tough first quarter and outscored the Celtics 60-32 en route to a 108-88 victory on Thursday night. Mo Williams added 19 points in the victory, including some crucial threes in the fourth quarter.
-Starting with the first quarter. I thought things were going to get ugly for a few seconds there. Full disclosure: Rajon Rondo gives me the Howling Fantods. When he’s not on his game, the Celtics seem quite beatable, and even old. When he is on his game, the Celtics are terrifying. When the Cavs and Celtics met in the 2008 playoffs, it seemed Rondo was running the show when the Celtics won and invisible when they lost.
The Celtics certainly went as Rondo went in this one. In the first quarter, Rondo accounted for 12 of the Celtics’ 14 field goals. The Cavs had no answer for him at all.
Rondo pick-and-rolls seemed to be exploiting every one of the holes in the Cavs’ defensive system. When Rondo drove hard, Mo Williams was giving up the paint far too easily when Rondo took it right at him. Antawn Jamison’s pick-and-roll defense is a work in progress, and he got caught in no-man’s land a few times. We’ve come to learn that Shaq works on defense when the helper is good about sending people into him. When he’s hung out to try and forced to move laterally, it can get ugly. The Cavs’ lack of a true backup center appeared to hurt them again at the end of the first quarter, with the Celtics scoring eight of their 10 points in the final four minutes of the first on shots at the rim or free throws.
The good people at ESPN stats and information tell me that the Celtics ran the pick-and-roll 18 times in the first half. They were 3-4 on shots that came directly out of the pick-and-roll, and the play directly accounted for three assists. Overall, the pick-and-roll was directly responsible for creating 12 Celtic points in the first quarter.
-In the second quarter, the Celtics got out of their offense a little bit, with Rasheed Wallace and Nate Robinson hitting some low-percentage shots to start out the quarter. Even though those shots went in, they ended up doing more harm than good, and the Celtics started to get away from what was working for them. The Cavs also had more length and athleticism out on the floor. Delonte, Jamario, Varejao, and Hickson were all tremendously effective on defense, and did a great job getting the Celtics out of sync offensively. Shaq spraining his thumb actually did help out the Cavs’ defense in this one, as the Celtics are currently much more effective playing offense outside-in with dribble drives and transition hoops than they are playing inside-out. In the second quarter, the Celtics only got one field goal attempt out of the 13 times they ran the pick-and-roll. They missed it.
-In the second half, everything was going the Cavs’ way. In the third quarter, the Cavs were attacking every single possession. Of the Cavs’ 23 points in the period, five came on jumpers. The Celtics didn’t get many jumpers either, but not by choice. The Celtics made two jump shots in the entire second half. There was no balance and no spacing for the Celtics. Normally, that’s when they’d look to Paul Pierce to bail them out, but they didn’t have him for this one. It was all downhill from there for the Celtics.
-And then, in the fourth quarter, Mo Williams. For those of you wondering why Mo was allowed to find his sea legs while Boobie was relegated to the bench, it’s because Boobie can’t do what Mo did in the fourth.
Halfway through the fourth, Mo hit three straight corner threes to put the Cavs up 10. One was off a perfectly executed corner dive, with Mo setting up behind an Anderson Varejao flare screen, setting his feet, and calmly draining it. The other two were of the “My name is Mo Williams, and small objects occasionally orbit my privates” variety. Both times, Mo got the ball in the corner, saw the defender closing out, and calmly drained it through a shooting window not much bigger than a penny.
And after the threes…the return of my favorite play ever. Mo runs a pick-and-roll with Hickson on the left side of the floor, LeBron gets a back-screen. Mo goes baseline and hits LeBron with a pass while he’s going to the basket at full speed. Easy layup. Cavs up 12 with five minutes to play.
There was one last play that put the icing on the cake. LeBron was dancing around at the top of the key against Ray Allen, and it looked like he was about to try the dagger three. Then LeBron stopped playing around, blew past Allen, and went into the teeth of the defense and drew an ugly foul. That’s the extra gear you might not see against most teams. LeBron wanted to win in The Garden.
-HICKSOMANIA WILL NEVER DIE. Wow, Hickson was awesome tonight. His athleticism and length was exactly what the doctor ordered at LeBron. He’s also starting to pick up Andy’s ESP swag with LeBron. The Celtics had no answer for him whatsoever. A +27 for Hickson on the night, and his impact was obvious to anyone watching the game. I am really, really glad the Cavs kept him. And yes, I was inches from giving up on him not that long ago. This is why bloggers don’t coach teams. At least not this blogger.
-Delonte West with a vintage Delonte West game. Only seven points, but eight rebounds, five assists, and a steal and a block. Not to mention a huge three in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were up one. When Mo and Delonte play well, the team plays well. Delonte had a+27 to match Hickson’s, and again it was obvious that he was changing the game.
-Andy did a helluva job filling in as a center. One of three Cavs in double figures, Andy made great cuts and ran the floor. He also stood his ground on defense, contesting everything at the rim and getting three blocks. If Shaq’s thumb is going to keep him out, hopefully Andy can play center this well for a while.
-Jamison didn’t have his best game, but I continue to love how good his hands are and how good he is with those weird flip shots around the basket. It’s one thing to hear about it and see a few times a year, and another thing to see him doing it on the Cavs.
Bullets of Randomness:
-Rajon Rondo got noticeably worse as the game progressed. He also played 45 minutes. I know Nate’s new, but let Rondo breathe every now and then.
-I know Ray Allen’s only shooting 35% from three (same percentage as LeBron; stop shooting threes, Ray!), but does he ever miss a three when he has a good look and his feet are set? I’ve never been able to shake the notion that he’d shoot like 60% from deep playing next to LeBron.
-Welcome back, Leon! Our Links Editor, Tom, has already claimed him as his Tarence Kinsey. Mine was Danny Green, but now it’s probably Telfair. For those of you new to the site, a “Tarence Kinsey” is defined as a player who you like much, much, much more than you can possibly rationally justify because of something you like about the way he plays the game.
Alright, that’s what I’ve got for tonight. Feels good to have a road win over the Celts, even if they didn’t have Pierce. Tomorrow, Canada. Let’s see if the Cavs can get their momentum past customs.