Overview: The Boston Celtics dominated the Cavaliers with defense, holding the Cavs to 38.4% shooting en route to a 94-85 victory. LeBron James led all scorers with a line of 27/19/10, but missed 13 shots from the field and turned the ball over nine times. Kevin Garnett led the Celtics with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
The game started out with some bad omens. Mike Brown’s defensive adjustment for game six was to switch Shaq onto Kevin Garnett to stop KG from destroying Jamison in the post. Garnett adjusted to that move by taking some tough step-back jumpers from midrange, which he calmly swished. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce tossed in contested mid-range jumpers of their own, and it was 8-2 Celtics after the first four Boston possessions. Once again, the Cavs found themselves playing from behind early.
When Varejao replaced Shaq in the first quarter, Cleveland started playing defense like they haven’t done all series. Boston’s first eight possessions after Varejao came in the game resulted in one made basket, no free throws, and five turnovers. However, that momentum was lost when LeBron went to the bench with his second foul, one of the first times he’s been in foul trouble all season. During the two minutes LeBron sat, the Celtics pushed the lead from three to seven.
The Cavs were able to keep the game competitive throughout the second quarter. That was mostly due to the fact Mo Williams was playing like a man possessed. He scored 20 points in the first half alone; I don’t think I’ve ever seen him take the ball to the hole that aggressively as a Cavalier. Mo earned a lot of points with me tonight. He didn’t have all that many coming into the game, but he left it all out there.
In the third quarter, the Celtics tightened the screws defensively. Every time the Cavs drove to the basket, there weare two or three defenders waiting for them. When they tried to drive and kick, the Celtics rotated effortlessly and instantly. LeBron tried to work pick and roll with Varejao, but the Celtics were a step ahead of whatever he did.
With that kind of defensive dominance working for them, all the Celtics needed to do to break the game open was hit a couple of shots. With 4:39 remaining in the third, they got their run. Paul Pierce hit a pair of free throws, followed that up with a three, and Kevin Garnett hit a deep jumper to put the Celtics up nine and the Cavs officially on the ropes. After a timeout, Rasheed and Pierce hit threes to put the Celtics up 12, and from there it was just a matter of time. The Cavs got it close a few times in the fourth, but every time they did the Celtics had an answer. After giving up three offensive rebounds in the final two minutes, the Cavs conceded the game and ended yet another disappointing season.
For me, the (in-game) story of the game was Boston’s defense. The Cavs were aggressive throughout, attacking the basket at all times and looking for home run plays. The problem was that every time the Cavs tried to go at the basket, the Celtics were waiting for them. Playing from behind, the Cavs didn’t have enough options or confidence to mix things up, allowing the Celtics to sit in the paint. The Cavs turned it over 24 times in game six, and most of those turnovers came from being overly aggressive rather than nonchalant. It was like watching a drunk throw haymakers and a karate expert calmly moving out of the way and countering. When this Celtic team plays defense like they’re capable of doing, there’s no way a one-dimensional attack is going to work. Absolutely dominant performance by Boston’s D.
-LeBron James. This may well have been his last game in Cleveland, and you can’t fault his effort. He was trying to make everything happen, but he didn’t mix his game up enough to make it work. He tied a career-high in rebounding and got his triple-double, but forced way too many plays and always seemed a step behind what the Boston defense was doing. When he looked to drive, the defense was in between him and the basket. When he looked to pass, the defense was hawking the passing lanes. When he looked to shoot, they didn’t let him step into a good look. He finished 6-14 on shots at the basket and had 9 turnovers, all products of the fact he was playing on tilt.
He dominated game three with his jump shot; when he wasn’t hitting that jumper, there wasn’t much he could do against Boston’s defense. If it wasn’t clear in 2007, it should be now: it would be in LeBron’s best interest to develop a post game or some go-to moves from midrange to succeed against defenses like Boston without having to rely on the long jumper. Not a strong series from LeBron, and one that will haunt him until he gets that ring.
-Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal is the perfect frontline — for an Orlando series. Shaq would have done a good job against Howard defensively, and Jamison would have been able to guard Lewis on the perimeter. The problem is that the Cavs didn’t get to play Orlando, and Boston absolutely murdered this frontline. The KG/Jamison matchup was a disaster, and in game six Antawn didn’t come close to making up for it on the offensive end. Shaq had his moments offensively, but Boston doesn’t run anything through Perkins, he got beat to rebound after rebound, and he got shredded defensively more than a few times on the pick-and-roll.
I don’t know what the attitude in the locker room was; all I know is that from a team-building point of view, this team looked past Boston. Instead of making sure Shaq was ready to go against Orlando, this team should’ve spent time developing confidence in some small-ball lineups featuring LeBron at the four. By the time they realized their lack of athleticism was hurting them in this series, it was far too late.
-Varejao made some great hustle plays, and really changed the game when he came in early. That said, Boston rotated to contest what are usually easy layups for him in the regular season, and he had no idea how to adjust. Guys whose only job offensively is to convert high-percentage looks should not have nights where they shoot 2-7 from the floor.
-I loved Mo Williams’ aggression, but he still finished with a fairly pedestrian line. At some point, you have to wonder if he’s talented enough to be a top-three player on a championship team.
-I cannot envision a scenario that involves Mike Brown and LeBron both returning to the team next year.
Bullets of Randomness:
-KG’s still got it — the Celtics are now 6-0 in playoff series when KG plays. That mid-range game is insane.
-Rajon Rondo. What a series. Unquestionably the series MVP. Very interested to see what he’ll do against Orlando.
-Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace’s box scores don’t look great, but they hit all five of Boston’s threes, and each one was big.
-I bet Rasheed has been waiting a long time for this.
Well, that’s all for me tonight. There will be much more on all of this coming in the future. For now, I just want to say I’ve had a great time writing about this team this season. If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would in a heartbeat. Thank all of you so much for reading and commenting. If this was LeBron’s last game in Cleveland, it’s been a great run.