Once again a Cleveland team falls to a Boston team in the playoffs. This time, it was the Cavaliers who fell to the Celtics in Boston in Game 7 Sunday afternoon by a final score of 97-92. Expect a Numbers and Words recap coming sometime Monday morning, but for now, here’s a brief overall recap.
Make no mistake, that was a tough loss to take. I feel how LeBron looks in the picture to the right. Frustrated, let down, irritated, unfulfilled, empty, hollow. All of those wrapped in one. The Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics 97-92 in an epic game Sunday afternoon. All the might in the world given by LeBron James wasn’t even enough this time. His 45 points was all for nothing, as his coach’s lackluster vision and his teammates’ complete disappearing act in the biggest game of the season, along with own poor shot selections at key moments all left King James high and dry.
LeBron himself is not without blame. It’s hard to criticize much of anything about putting up 45 points on the road in Game 7, but seeing as how much is going to be made of Coach Brown’s offensive schemes, LeBron deserves his fair share of the blame for the stale offense as well. Particularly in the first half, LeBron was trying too hard to take control of the game by himself. There was no ball movement by the Cavaliers offense whatsoever, and there was no movement off the ball either. This is hardly new for the Cavs, but after a while, one couldn’t help but wonder if his teammates stopped moving because they knew LeBron wasn’t going to swing the ball anyway. The offensive scheme died at the hands of LeBron. LeBron attempted 29 shots in this game. The next closest Cavalier shot 8 times. That kind of offensive distribution (or lack thereof) is simply unacceptable. After getting back into this series at home in Games 3 and 4 by moving the ball around and putting up 29 and 24 assists, respectively, the Cavaliers offense completely fell apart the final three games. In those games, the Cavaliers put up just 11, 10, and 13 assists. The Cavaliers will have to figure out whether Mike Brown or LeBron James is more at fault for this, but either way, it has to be corrected.
The game Sunday got off to a dubious start for the Cavaliers as the quickly fell behind early, quickly finding themselves in a 10 point hole. Despite being down just 10 points at halftime, the Cavs had to feel lucky to even be in the game at that point. Only 2 starters (LeBron and Delonte West) had scored points in the first half. The Cavs were getting destroyed in pretty much all phases of the game. In the 2nd half, the Cavs exerted a ton of energy to try to get back in the game. They succeeded in slowly narrowing the gap much of the half before they finally closed to within 1 point at 89-88 with 2:19 left in the game.
From there, the Cavaliers found unique ways to let this game slip out of their fingertips. After forcing Kevin Garnett (13 points for the game in your typical I-Disappear-In-Big-Games fashion for the “Big Ticket”) to miss on a tough, contested shot, LeBron absolutely skied for the rebound……and then brought the ball up the court and just threw up an unnecessary 3-pointer and missed. It was a blown opportunity for the Cavaliers to actually run their offense and take the lead….an opportunity that would never again present itself to the team. In fact, the Cavaliers would not even score another point in this game until LeBron hit the 2nd of two free throws with 16 seconds left in the game. After the LeBron missed 3-pointer that he jacked up for no apparent reason, the Celtics came down and found P.J. Brown wide open, who proceeded to nail a 21 foot jumper to put the Celtics up 91-88. They would never look back. A Cavaliers timeout was followed up by another missed three pointer, this time by Delonte West. A scramble for the ball after the rebound would lead to a Big Z vs James Posey jumpball….a jumpball that Posey would win by default as Big Z knocked the ball out to Paul Pierce who was able to quickly call a timeout to avoid another jumpball. The game was over from there. A desperation three by Sasha Pavlovic would temporarily give the Cavs a glimmer of hope as he narrowed the gap to 95-92 with 8 seconds left, but stellar (and lucky, in Paul Pierce’s case) free throw shooting by the Celtics would make sure they were able to hang on to the 97-92 final margin of victory.
Lets face it, this one will sting a little bit, but we shouldn’t be surprised. I predicted that the Celtics would win this series in 7. I said after Game 2 that I wouldn’t allow myself to be fooled again into thinking that the Cavaliers had what it takes to win this series. Well, I lied, because I allowed myself to be fooled again. I allowed LeBron’s brilliance to lead me astray. I actually thought when he closed the gap to 89-88 that he was going to lead the Cavaliers to victory. Which made it all the worse when I had to watch him throw up that terrible three pointer. The Cavaliers were only down one. All they needed was any kind of basket to take the lead, eliminate the crowd from the game, and but the terror of panic into the Celtics players. But instead, he got greedy and took a shot that gave the Celtics the break they needed to re-claim control of this game. It will be a tough shot for me to live down for a while.
And so now, for the Cavaliers franchise, the focus turns once more to the future. They must decide first and foremost what to do with coach Mike Brown. Will he be allowed to stick around another season (probably) and will they force him to finally seek help in coaching offense (hopefully)? Can Mike Brown find the proper balance between offense and defense that is necessary to be an elite team (doubtful)? Furthermore, the Cavaliers must decide how they will handle the restricted free agencies of Delonte West and Daniel Gibson. They must decide whether or not to even bother trying to re-sign Devin Brown after not letting him play at all in the Boston series. They must decide who to pick with their first round draft pick (exciting new territory for Danny Ferry). They must decide if there are any big name unrestricted free agents to pursue. They must decide if there are any major changes that can be achieved by trade. They must decide if they are going to try to pursue an All-Star to play at LeBron’s side or if they will continue to ask LeBron to take a team full of mediocrity deep into the playoffs.
For one night, though, we will all once again have to go to bed and think as we fall asleep about what might have been. What if LeBron’s layup at the end of Game 1 had gone in? What if the Cavaliers hadn’t panicked after Rondo’s 2 threes cut into their 14 point lead in Game 5? What if in Game 7 LeBron hadn’t thrown up that 3 but had instead gone to the basket or found a cutting teammate underneath for a dunk as he so often did in the regular season and in Games 3 and 4? Mostly, though, we’ll all be thinking about another season with the greatest player in the game on our team, but nothing to show for it. Another year in this city’s desperate title drought. Another year of watching the hometown hero’s skills and talents wasted by a franchise’s ineptitude and inability to provide him with the tools needed to be successful as a team. A bitter pill to swallow, indeed.