The Cavs and Celtics were set to tip it off, and if it was anything for the rest of you like it was for me, it seemed as if the playoffs were finally beginning for real. I would never try to convince you that Derrick Rose and the Bulls weren’t a formidable opponent because they were. Still, whether it is the Cavs fans feeling some kind of rivalry with Boston, or the run-in in the playoffs two years ago, if it didn’t feel like the playoffs before, it certainly does now with the Cavs taking game one of this Eastern Conference semi-final 101-93.
Mo Williams was easily the story of the game for the Cavaliers, but we didn’t know that was going to be the case early. Before Mo Williams showed up in the third quarter, the Cavaliers seemed like they were barely keeping it close. Rajon Rondo seemed to be able to do whatever he wanted in the first half with Mo Williams serving as his biggest victim. Rondo had 9 points in the first quarter and piled on another 10 in the second quarter. The Cavs didn’t seem to be able to stay in front of Rondo as a team. The help defense was slow and Rondo was putting up his impossibly quick layups right past the defense. But it didn’t stop there. Rondo also had 8 assists in the first half, to help Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett contribute 10points each to put the Celtics up 54 to 43.
Thank goodness they play two halves of basketball in the NBA though. The Cavs desperately needed someone not named LeBron James to show up in the second half and Mo Williams and Shaquille obliged. After scuffling through the first half, Shaq got it going a little bit in scoring 10 second-half points. He still doesn’t seem to have any touch on his close-range hooks and jumpers, but as Rajon Rondo found out, the big man does more than score. After getting torched by Rondo, Shaq put a good, legal, hard foul on Rondo in the fourth quarter. To his credit, Rajon Rondo got up and kept playing through it, but make no mistake. A message was sent and presumably received as Rondo crumpled to the floor in a heap. Rondo is listed at 171 pounds, officially, but that might be pushing it. Shaq is listed at 325, but even after his mid-season weight loss, you have to think he could be pushing above that just a little bit. Regardless, Rondo went scoreless the last four minutes of the game after hitting 1 of 2 free throws.
Last, but certainly not least, the fourth quarter belonged to Cleveland’s two-time MVP (will be officially official on Sunday.) After playing a pretty quiet game by LeBron’s standards, he exploded for 12 fourth quarter points including two three point shots. One of those threes tied the game at 90, and the other served as the dagger putting the Cavs up 101-93. His elbow was certainly less than 100%, but he refused to use it as an excuse of any kind in the post-game press conference. In the end, it is hard to talk about an injured arm in a game where LeBron goes 50% from the field including 3-6 from three, and 8 for 11 on free throws.
Make no mistake, though. There is something wrong with his elbow. LeBron wouldn’t admit to pacing himself, but it seemed pretty clear to those in attendance and at home that LeBron was a little more conservative with his shot selection, opting for a lot of opportunities inside with his back to the basket as opposed to jumpers.
In the end, the Cavs take game one. They protected their home court while not playing their best game.
Other game notes…
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas played only 5:09 and doesn’t appear to be coming back into the Cavaliers’ rotation again any time soon.
- The Cavs shot a mere 12 three pointers when they normally shoot over 25 per game.
- JJ Hickson seems to have a slightly longer leash because they need his energy on offense even if he is a defensive liability at times.
- Cavs fans are truly savvy. They understand what JJ Hickson brings to the floor, and he got a big ovation when he checked in for the first time.
- Mike Brown was doing a lot of experimentation with his rotations. At some points in the first half it seemed as if he was trying to confuse his team. At one point, Brown subbed in Antawn Jamison for Anderson Varejao and Jamison and JJ Hickson had to have a conversation about who was going to guard Kendrick Perkins.
- The Cavs did a good job of keeping Big Baby in foul trouble. Davis had three first quarter fouls and picked up another quickie in the second quarter. That led to only 5:23 of playing time in the first half and just under 12 minutes for the game.
- During the playoffs the home crowd will explode at various points like they did on LeBron’s breakaway dunk in the first quarter, or Mo’s improbable dunk in the third quarter. Cavs fans also had similar explosions for each of Rasheed Wallace’s two misses toward the end of the third quarter. I wonder if Matt Steinmetz still feels Rasheed Wallace makes the Celtics the best team in the NBA?
- Antawn Jamison was a non-factor in game 1. He didn’t get many good looks and had trouble converting the ones he did. The common thought amongst the media was that Jamison was taken out of his game by KG.
- Jamario Moon is doing exactly what the Cavs brought him here to do. He is coming in in spots when the Cavs need perimeter defense, whether it be against Ray Allen, Paul Pierce or Rondo. Moon guarded all three at various points.