Recap: (15) Dominance is a state of mind, and a point differential.

April 18th, 2009 by John Krolik

Overview: In the first game of their playoff run, the Cavaliers beat the Pistons handily behind 38/8/7 from LeBron James. While the Pistons hung around until the fourth quarter, their last lead of the game was when the score was 2-0.

Cavs-Related Bullets: It’s no secret that our offense has utterly failed us in playoff exits past, when defenses with the talent and drive have been able to put “walls” up on LeBron James and expose his lack of a perimeter game and supporting cast. THE question of this post-season run is whether or not the Cavaliers can carry over their offensive improvement from the regular season into these playoffs.

Speaking to that goal, I’m not sure how I feel about tonight’s game. The final score says blowout. But if you take out the leading scorers (LeBron and Stuckey), then the Cavs scored 64 points on 56 attempts while the Pistons scored 64 points on 60 attempts. That’s not a great sign; at some point, the supporting cast WILL have to step up, so when they essentially play dead even with the no. 8 seed, it’s troubling. 

A lot of this comes down to Mo Williams, who played passively much of the game and finished shooting only 5-14 from the floor and 2-7 from three. A lot of that is the breaks of the game; he missed two wide-open threes just off the top of my head, which would have given him 16 points on 14 shots and everyone’s happy. Besides, as we’ll get to later, this wasn’t Mo’s night to be aggressive and be setting the tone, as he usually does in the first half, and he was making the dagger jumpers late. Although the question now must be asked: what is with the double sleeves? That’s a lot of sleeve. 

Delonte went 5-8 from the floor for a 12/5/5 line and defended well the whole game. You go to war with Brother Redbush.

Also continuing to be a rock in the playoffs: Joe Smith, spacing the floor with 13 points on 11 shots (and a three!)

Z wasn’t hitting the midrange shots or getting many post-ups run for him, but he got his 10 boards and made 4 assists from the high-post. 

But I’m just getting the bad stuff out of the way early because these playoffs terrify me constantly. Tonight was about LeBron James. 

There are two possibilities for how LeBron will keep from hitting his scoring efficiency “wall” in tough playoff series; his supporting cast steps up and makes it impossible to constantly double James and put a wall between him and the paint, or LeBron steps his game up to a level we weren’t aware existed and just trancends all that is rational and powers directly through any mortals who would dare oppose him. Tonight was an argument for the latter scenario. 

From the opening whistle to when he sat down, LeBron was absolutely relentless. He was looking to get to the basket at every possible opportunity in the half-court and blowing right by his man. He was looking to get out in transition at every opportunity. He was firing laser-beam passes with either hand when they doubled him. He was forcing contact and getting himself to the line. He was making hard cuts off the ball and finishing at the basket. He was in full on loot, pillage, and destroy mode, and sending a clear message to anyone watching that he fully intends to take the championship by force this season. 

Most frigteningly of all for the rest of the league, LeBron flashed a midrange and a post game tonight, going 6-9 from midrange (although a few of those were unorthodox floaters and runners) and posting Aaron Affalo whenever he got the opportunity, getting easy looks from about 8 feet and flashing an absolutely ILLEGAL spin move to beat him at one point, although he couldn’t finish. LeBron went 8-10 in the first half, and I was most excited about one of his two misses. We’re used to LeBron scrapping and MacGuyvering in the playoffs, or feeling out the game and pouncing when he feels the time is right. Tonight, he made the game his, and never gave the Pistons hope. 

Bullets of Randomness:

Feldman was all over this in our preview chat yesterday: Tayshaun Prince is not the same player anymore, especially on defense. LeBron was blowing by him absolutely every time with nothing resembling resistance.

Not feeling Rodney Stuckey as a future all-star. He’s not a playmaker, and isn’t a good enough all-around scorer to justify choking off the offense. 

LeBron was nice, but I would like to mention that today is Derrick Rose day. Holy Jesus. Not even LeBron was making a playoff impact at that age. Against the best defensive guard in the league. 7-8 from midrange. Got to the line 14 times. Holy living, breathing Jesus. And he might not be one of the top 10 young stars in this league right now. It’s just a great time to be a basketball fan. As for Paul Pierce, I hope this shows that even though he was clutch as it gets on the biggest stage last year and got his ring, he didn’t fundamentally change as a human being. These things even out more often than not. Can we please stop spouting the Calvinistic ideal of “clutch” play, where you’re either born clutch or you’re not? The breaks of the game are the breaks of the game. 

Just 15 more of these.