As the Cavaliers season has come to an end, there will be plenty of time for us to look ahead to next season and the potential changes that are coming in this offseason. For now, though, I want to look back on this series one last time. You can read my initial thoughts in my post-game recap here, and also be sure to check Scott’s piece here. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Mike Brown. What follows, though, is one last analysis in numbers and words.
-We begin with LeBron James. Look, I’m still not happy with his shot selection in that game, and I do feel like he’s partly to blame for the stale offense, but when it’s all said and done, this will be remembered my myself and others as an all-time great playoff battle with Paul Pierce. 45 points in Game 7 on the road in a hostile environment. It was epic. And for what little blame I put on LeBron’s shoulders for his part in the loss, I put a thousand times more blame on the Cavaliers’ front office.
This roster is horrible. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Especially without Daniel Gibson’s threat of hitting key shots. LeBron has played 5 seasons now, and has yet to play with an All-Star caliber player other than Zydrunas Ilgauskas. That is just unacceptable. I’m not stooping to the level of talking about 2010 just yet, but there’s no denying the 100 pound gorilla in the room is now a thousand pound gorilla. It’s there, and he’s not going away until the Cavaliers get another true All-Star player to play with LeBron. Look at the teams still in the playoffs….Detroit? Wallace, Billups, and Hamilton. Boston? Garnett, Pierce, and Allen (I guess). Los Angeles? Kobe, Bynum, and Gasol. San Antonio? Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli. New Orleans? CP3 and David West. All these teams have at least 2 legit studs, and most have 3 of them. How are the Cavaliers supposed to compete with that? Rather, how is LeBron supposed to compete with that? Lord knows LeBron gave EVERYTHING he had in that Game 7, and he alone almost….and I mean ALMOST took down the “juggernaut” Celtics in their house. I will never forget this effort by LeBron and I will never forgive the Cavs’ front office for it.
-The team that won the battle on the glass won every game in this series. Game 7 was no exception as Boston controlled the boards to a 34-29 advantage over Cleveland. Not much else to say about that. Ben Wallace gave a lot of heart in this series, but 4 rebounds in the final game was just not going to get it done. Same with Big Z getting only 5 boards. When you’re 7’3″ and the opponents’ tallest guy is 6’11.5″, you should muster up more than 5 boards in a game. Joe Smith did a nice job coming off the bench to grab 6 rebounds, but remember when AV was a guy who would come off the bench and give the team energy and rebounds? Yeah, well, he had 2 rebounds in only 11 minutes played. Just not good enough.
-It was disappointing to see Ilgauskas be such a non-factor in that game. 2 of 8 from the field when LeBron needed him the most. It’s hard to remember, it seems so long ago now, but Zydrunas carried this team in the first 2 games of this series in Boston. He had 22 and 19 points in those games. After that, though, he simply was never again a factor in this series. In the final 5 games he only could muster up 12, 9, 6, 7, and 8 points. Again, just not good enough.
-Tough game for Cleveland’s bench. Joe Smith played pretty well, actually, as he scored 6 points on 3-5 shooting with 6 rebounds. Makes you wonder why his minutes were so limited not only just in this game (16 min) but in this series overall (20.9 min). The rest of the bench combined for 15 points and Devin Brown got yet another DNP Coach’s Decision. Meanwhile, Boston’s bench came up with 23 points and 13 rebounds, led by Eddie House and P.J. Brown. Without Daniel Gibson in the lineup, the Cavs bench just couldn’t compete with Boston’s.
-I mentioned this in my recap, but it bears repeating. The Cavaliers played their best basketball in this series in Games 3 and 4 when they put up 29 and 24 assists. After that, the offense completely collapsed to the tune of 11, 10, and 13 assists. Again, a lot of that has to do with guys like Zydrunas not hitting shots. Some blame has to go to LeBron for slowing down the offense. But I would argue the largest portion of the blame falls on Mike Brown for not getting his guys to execute the offense.
-For all the negatives in this game, I do have to give some credit to Delonte West. West played a heck of a series for the most part. Look, the guy’s not the most talented PG in the league, but watching him play in this series, I would argue he gives more effort than other PG I’ve seen in these playoffs. West seems to have a knack for doing the little things. How many times was he in the right place at the right time on defense to swipe away the ball or get a key rebound? He was trying his best to facilitate the offense in Game 7 and he was able to hit some big shots for the Cavs. It’s too bad he just missed on that open 3 at the end of the game, because he had a really good look on that one. In Game 7, Delonte was also the only guy being agressive going to the basket other than LeBron. West ended up shooting 6 FTs and hit 5 of them. He ended the game with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 6 turnovers. Turnovers will be the big thing I’d love to see Delonte work on in the offseason. His post-season PER of 11.45 is pretty lackluster, but I still think the Cavs are going to look hard at bringing West back next season. The team isn’t in position to sign a guy like Baron Davis (nowhere NEAR enough cap space) who would be a true All-Star PG for the team, so the next best option for now might be to bring West back at PG and let him try having a full season to work with LeBron.
-As great as Cleveland’s defense was at times in this series, Boston still managed to top 90 points in 2 of the last 3 games of this series. It seemed too often like the Cavs were allowing Boston’s role players to kill them. I guess you have to tip your hat to Boston. Those role players are part of what made them such a great team this year.
-Similarly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Paul Pierce at all in this article. This was the kind of epic battle I was expecting all series between LeBron and Pierce. I said it at the start of this series and I’ll say it again….Paul Pierce is as close to a true rival as LeBron has in this league. These 2 guys absolutely love to hate each other, and they go against one another with everything they have. Pierce ended up with 41 points, 4 rebounds, and 5 assists. In this biggest stage, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were once again no-shows. Boston’s bench and role players held their own, but it was Paul Pierce who won this game for Boston. I don’t really understand why we have to be subjected to video footage of the great Bill Russell crying and slobbering all over KG when KG hasn’t really done anything for Boston yet. Paul Pierce is the guy who’s been in Boston for his whole career, and Paul Pierce is the guy who made sure Boston’s titles hopes would keep going. I hope Boston fans appreciate Pierce as much as he deserves and don’t get too carried away in the over-hyping of Kevin Garnett. Pierce showed in this game that he’s a true prime time performer, and he’s the guy Boston should be looking at to win games for this team.
-I have to mention the jump ball, too. Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs James Posey, and Big Z whiffs on the initial tip and then can manage to only weakly knock the ball out in the general vicinity of LeBron. Credit Paul Pierce for out-hustling LeBron on that play, but still, if you’re Ilgauskas, you HAVE to win that tip cleanly. That play really killed Cleveland’s chances of winning Game 7.
-Don’t think I’m going to go through this analysis without mentioning Wally Szczerbiak at all. Let me say this as kindly as I can…..Cleveland cannot get rid of Wally and his insane contract fast enough. 0 points on 0-3 shooting, 1 rebound, and 0 assists. Yeah, sure, Wally can shoot 40% from 3 when he’s playing in meaningless games on bad teams, but the second he came to Cleveland and was asked to hit big shots for a team in the playoffs, he starts throwing up nothing but bricks. Wally is too emotional of a player, and he gets too low when he misses shots and he gets too high when he makes them. He completely lacks the even keel nature of a shooter that is required to be successful in big games and in big moments. His expiring contract will be moved the first chance the Cavaliers have. You can count on that. I can’t recall the last time I was this underwhelmed by a Cleveland Cavaliers player, and I’ve seen a lot of bad basketball players here through the years, but Wally is one of the all time worst. I’m sorry, Wally, I really wanted you to succeed here, but this was a failed experiment. End of story. Theme of this article: Just not good enough.
What The Inside World Is Saying
“Memories and regrets — it will be a long summer full of them for the Cavaliers.
Their series finale with the Boston Celtics on Sunday is sure to become a classic, one they’ll tell stories about for years to come. It was the sort of game that will trigger the mind when the words ”Game 7” are uttered, but it will always be tinged with melancholy.
The Cavs, and especially LeBron James, put forth a mighty effort, but all it got them was extra respect at the gallows as their season ended in a 97-92 loss. It will be the Celtics moving on to the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons.” [Brian Windhorst]
“All-Star forward LeBron James admits the Cavs need to make some changes. He said they don’t need a major overhaul, but some talent needs to be added.
They’ll probably have some problems signing point guards Delonte West and Daniel Gibson, who are both restricted free agents. They won’t come on the cheap. Heck, Gibson’s agent could ask for the full mid-level. West could ask for $3 million or $4 million a season.
The only other free agent to worry about is unrestricted free agent Devin Brown. After the amount of time he played in the playoffs, he might not want to come back. But that’s something you take care of in September.” [Bob Finnan]
“James came through with 45 points on 14-of-29 shooting, and Pierce stepped up for the Celtics on 13-of-23 shooting for 41 points. James, handcuffed by the Celtics’ defense for most of the series, broke loose as he got inside of the teeth of the Celtics’ defense and converted layups. James also regained his shooting touch. Pierce also got loose, especially when he outscored James, 17-14, in the second quarter.
It was a battle similar to Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals 20 years ago, when Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins scored 47 points, and Larry Bird led the Celtics to victory with 34 points at the old Boston Garden. Bird scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Wilkins had 16.” [Branson Wright]
“For Cleveland fans, it was more sports heartbreak in Boston.
You could see it on the face of Cavaliers star LeBron James as he marched off the parquet court of the new Boston TD Banknorth Garden. He held his head high as he bit down on his lower lip, as if he may have been fighting back a few tears. He didn’t want to shake any hands or hear anyone say “Nice game.”" [Terry Pluto]
“Unlike Pierce, James is the be-all and end-all of opponents’ defensive focus. Unlike Pierce, he takes on whole teams of interlocking defenders, all determined to put him in jail and throw away the key, and he still puts up staggering numbers and defends the guy with the hot hand.” [Bill Livingston]
“For Pierce, reaching the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2002, the victory is more personal. After all the changes this year, the trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, sometimes it is forgotten that Pierce has been the face of the franchise since the Celtics drafted him with the 10th pick in 1998. In some ways, it’s not surprising that he would be the one to bring up the name of Auerbach, the late team president.” [Mary Schmitt Boyer]
“The season’s over for the Cavs, and I am sad. That pretty much goes without saying… but I’m not really as sad as I should be, I think.
I remember many recent crushing defeats: Indians in last year’s ALCS, any of the 3 OSU title game let-downs, the Cavs’ obliteration in the Finals… all of them stung more than yesterday’s win. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I’ll try.” [Sons of Nev]
“Look at the boxscore from Sunday’s 97-92 Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics: LeBron James scored 45 of the Cavs’ 92 points. It’s flat out embarrassing that this team, franchise, and organization are so overly-dependent on one guy. They expect him to drive and dunk. They expect him to be a great free-throw shooter. They expect him to be their best shooter. They expect him to be their best defender. They expect him to shut down the opponents’ best perimeter player. They expect him to fight for himself and be an enforcer for other guys, too. They expect him to make the garbage that has been put around him better based on his skill of elevating the games of those around him.” [Cavalier Attitude]
What The Outside World Is Saying
“Also, this isn’t to say that James (in the midst of a brilliant performance) didn’t make mistakes. Too many heat-check threes (3-11 on the night) that killed runs, and there were times where he outright needed to go and grab the ball from Delonte West after a teammate corralled the defensive rebound (it didn’t happen often, Cleveland was out-boarded 39-29) and found Cleveland’s ostensible point guard with the outlet pass.
Those are a few of the complaints. Otherwise, it was quite the show. James refused to give in to a slow start and a batch of double-teams that wouldn’t stop. 45 points on 14-29 shooting, 14-19 from the line, five rebounds, six assists (that number could have easily doubled; we need a “potential assist” stat), two steals, and just two turnovers in nearly 47 minutes of furious action. Two turnovers. Wow.” [Ball Don't Lie]
“Look, I’m not even going to pretend to be unmoved here. Fans of the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers had to endure one of the ugliest series in NBA history for six brutal games, but you know what? The final game made it all worthwhile. (Okay, mostly worthwhile.) As Game 7 showdowns go, this one ranks right up there with Larry Bird versus Dominique Wilkins in the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals, right down to a Celtic superstar with a wispy, porn star mustache and an opposing superstar who went down with his head held high.
LeBron (45 points, 14-for-29, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals) bared his basketball soul for the world to see, but in the end — and you knew this was coming, right? — he and his team just couldn’t handle The Truth. And like Shaquille O’Neal once said: “Paul Pierce is the motherf***ing truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out.” [Deadspin]
“PJ F’in Brown. It doesn’t quite have the cache of Aaron F’in Boone, but the sentiment is there. Boston’s leading by one with time winding down on the shot clock late in the fourth quarter. The Big Three are choking their way to toward Game Seven infamy. Enter Collier Brown Jr., 38, a man known to basketball fans simply as PJ, or hired muscle, a guy who has played for five NBA teams, but none with distinction in six years.” [The Big Lead]
“Pierce could have said the same thing about LeBron, the ridiculously precocious 23-year old who scored 45 points. With Pierce scoring 41, there were serious overtones of a much-discussed Game 7 against Atlanta 20 years ago featuring two Hall of Famers fully recognizable by first names only. But this personal shootout will stand on its own merits, given that they combined for a fairly amazin’ 45 percent of the points in a 97-92 Celtics triumph that sends them into the Eastern Conference finals against those hardy perennials, the Detroit Pistons.” [Bob Ryan]
“P.J. Brown – 38 years, 7 months and 4 days old – was the largest of their big men in the last quarter, going for six points and five rebounds in the quarter to guide the Celts to a 97-92 win over Cleveland.
Brown didn’t miss a shot on the day, hitting all four from the floor and two from the line on the way to 10 points.
We’re still awaiting official word, but he would appear to be a lock for AARP Player of the Week.” [Steve Bulpett]
“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. I don’t believe that there is a David Stern plot to lengthen the series to 7 games or to attempt to get LeBron James (or the Celtics for that matter) into the next round of the playoffs for marketing reasons. With that said, if you do believe in such things, take heart in the fact that the League would love to have the Lakers and Celtics face each other in the Finals. Putting that aside, I do believe that refs are human and they are swayed a little by the home crowd and quite a bit by “superstar” players like LeBron and Kobe. Again, on the bright side for us, do you really think the refs have any love for Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons? Here’s hoping. If we don’t notice the refs, they are doing their jobs.” [CelticsBlog]
“Paul Pierce had one of the biggest games of his career. He shot 56% from the floor and 91% from the line. On top of that he had 5 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals. And those assists don’t account for the two times he got Leon Powe to the line. He was dialed in and even called the final 3 minutes the toughest 3 minutes of his life. Keep in mind the fact that he was brutally stabbed once and almost died. I’m assuming he’s completely blocked that out. He also took advantage of the shooter’s role and then some.” [Green Bandwagon]
“I’ve spent a good deal of time working with calculators and abacuses and other mathematical instruments to create an equation which best sums up Boston’s Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. After much research and deliberation I have found it:
Paul Pierce > LeBron James = Bring On Detroit!
It was that simple… Paul Pierce summoned his inner Larry Bird and unleashed his best game for when his team needed him most. Single-handedly, Pierce brought down LeBron James and his roving band of Cavaliers. It was a grueling matchup that went down to the final minute, but when an errant Paul Pierce free throw found its way to the bottom of the net (perhaps with the help of Arnold Auerbach), Boston took a huge collective sigh of relief.” [BostonsportZ]
“Pierce worked his game within the offense… while LeBron dribbled for 18 seconds and made his move. Pierce shot more efficiently… hustled more… and shouldered a greater burden. These were, after all, the mighty Celtics at home. Pierce was carrying history… not just a team… on his shoulders. This isn’t to say LeBron wasn’t awesome. He was. Pierce was just better.
What we witnessed was “the moment.” It’s a defining game with defining images. The free throw that bounced 3 feet above the rim before falling. The dive on the jump ball. These are things we’ll see in slow motion at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony (and there will be a Hall of Fame induction ceremony). They’ll be on the Jumbotron tomorrow night… right before the Pierce “LET ME HEAAAARRRRR IT!!!!!”” [Red's Army]