Cavaliers Defeat Celtics With Second Half Surge, Mo’s Flight

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.

  • Thapsaa

    I know that this was in your first bullet point but I think that it bears repeating. Can Z please not play any more in this series?

  • MP34

    No love for Delonte? That 1st half could have really gotten out of hand if he hadn’t stepped up.

  • Phil M

    Not sure how to read Jamison’s unusually subdued offensive effort, but the Celtics were trying to run K.G. over him, with the Intemperate One taking 20 shots and playing 38 minutes. Perhaps if we ran a few plays through Jamison, rather than leaving him to pick up the scraps, it might give K.G. more to think about on the defensive end and slow him down somewhat. Jamison might deserve some credit for K.G.’s fade toward the end.

    So, Matt Steinmetz has put his faith in Rasheed, too (along with Kenny Smith and, apparently, Doc Rivers)? Well, it’s hard to find Rasheed lovers among the Celtic faithful at this point.

    The feel-good story of Z’s return to the team has not translated into the language of basketball. He seems to have returned from a few years on the seniors’ circuit. I wish that that were not the case, but what can we do at this point? He didn’t even grab a single rebound in 5 minutes of play. Over this kind of lackluster presence, the fans are surely right to prefer a sloppy but strenuous and dynamic showing by J.J.

    @ WFNY commentators: some of you acted like you had not witnessed a Cavs game all season. We had people calling for Mike Brown’s head after 20 minutes of basketball. Others probably tumbled over the proverbial edge at some point during the halftime show, and I’m sorry if the fall left you in a bad way. Personally, I was struck by how similar this game was to a score of games from the regular season. The Cavs saunter along through the first period or two, and sometimes halfway into the third, then put the defensive clamps on and win more or less convincingly. It’s not always the easiest thing to watch, and you might want to start watching the games from the mid-point of the 4th period if your blood pressure is high, but that’s often how it goes with this team. But as no team in the NBA has a better record or has won more consistently for the last two years than the Cavs, it’s not as if the idyllic team is waiting for you in Southern California or elsewhere.

  • JM

    The best player on the Celtics is Mike Brown. Charles Barkley with the quote to remember.

  • MattC

    Ok, on one hand I want to see intensity from the get-go. We also need Tawn to step it up to his usual standards if we want to make it through this series comfortably in four of five.

    On the other hand, wow if you’re a Celtics player/fan/coach you have to be really concerned. We essentially played horrendous as a team for most of the game and still ended up winning by 8.

    All in all, a great, albeit frustrating win. Losing game 1 woulda been horrendous, especially if the effort from the first half stayed consistent. Losing game 2 wouldn’t be nearly as catastrophic, though of course I neither want nor expect that to happen. Go Cavs.

  • Jack

    Completely uninspired. Played scared. Coached scared. Didn’t get Jamison the ball. Z saw the floor. No ball movement to speak of. Next to no good shots. Just really, really bizarre. That’s all I can say. Bizarre. Stunned to see them play so scared.

  • ClevelandSouth

    @ Phil M

    You have to expect some new posters during the playoffs.

    Speaking of posters, most of the folks over on Boston.com are convinced that the fix is in for a LeBron/Kobe finals. I guess their championship in ’08 was fixed too.

    Remember when we were trying to talk ourselves into signing Rasheed or Villanueva? How glad are we to have Jamison instead? And how great is it that my (and possibly your) least favorite teams fell on those grenades? Wow.

    @MP43

    I always get worried when my team is hovering around 10 down. One 6 or 8 point run the other way and you’re really out of the game. Love when Delonte gets aggressive when nobody else is stepping up.

  • Dude Bro Guy

    Mike Brown’s press conf reaction to Mo’s dunk, guy is such a clown. You gotta think he stinks in the huddles, locker room, etc. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPb2nZPxffU

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Brendan

    Dude Bro Guy – see this morning’s WWW for that video

  • Phil M

    @ Dude Bro Guy: I wouldn’t read too much into that. Brown’s receiver was off the hook on that question, and he’s not the sharpest coach, but it was a lighthearted moment, and there’s nothing wrong with a coach who can get amazed by his own players. Heck, no one saw that dunk coming. It was the signature play of the playoffs so far this season. Ranks up alongside LeBron’s posterizing K.G. in my book.

    @ ClevelandSouth: No doubt those trades were handled well by Ferry. I expect Jamison to have some great offense against the Celtics in the coming games.

    @ Jack: I don’t think it’s fair to call the performance “uninspired” or “scared.” It wasn’t stellar by any measure, but had we not missed many of the easy shots we had won for ourselves in the first period, the complexion of the game would have been entirely different. The Cavs are not scared of Boston and don’t play like it. Were Brown scared, he would have kept to a very tight rotation and not been so creative in the first part of the contest. He played Chicago much tighter.

  • Dude Bro Guy

    @Phil: I can’t help but wonder how Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, or Doc Rivers would have handled that question in the same situation. Put a few words or a sentence together. What’s he saying in the huddles in the last 2 minutes of a game if he can’t handle a presser? It was a big play no doubt, but it was also just Game 1 of the EC semis. Brown’s response makes me question if the playoffs are too big for him.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    How did Brown respond in the post-game presser when Andy won that one game with a three? Not being facetious, I didn’t watch it at all. If he was giggly then (when an equally unlikely thing happened), then I’d say you guys should give him a pass. I’m sure he’s seen Mo dunk in practice, but probably not on somebody.

    Either way, not thinking Brown can handle the playoffs after answering a question at a presser? Chill out, bro. That’s obscenely knee-jerk.

  • jcm

    Brown did some weird stuff in the first half, but he did a nice job adjusting. I wasn’t happy when he went back to Shaq in the 4th, but it wound up paying off.

  • Jack

    Cleveland Fans: The Knights Who Say Knee-Jerk

  • http://bitmatt.com bitmatt

    Glad I saw the game before I read the comments here- I would have assumed the Cavs lost. Sheesh, what a bunch of wet blankets we are.

  • Turk

    Jack, you seem to be awfully negative lately. Not sure what game you were watching, but I didn’t once see a team that was scared. Did Mo looked scared posterizing Pierce? Did LBJ looked scared taking it to the rack all game?

    Like Phil said, this wasn’t too different than a lot of games lately, Frustrating and lackadaisical first half, maybe, but never scared. Honestly, I like to think Boston gave us their best shot and we survived it. I come away from this game with nothing but good vibes. Don’t know how people can manage to be so negative after a convincing 8-point win after being down by 11 at the half.

  • The Other Tim

    Not scared Turk, but they seemed a little jittery in the first quarter. To be fair, I was listening on the radio but more than once I said aloud, “Make a basket!!!”
    Rondo aside, I think the first had deficit had a lot to do with poor shooting percentage. Hopefully, they’ve pushed past that now.

  • jimkanicki

    ah.. sanctimony in the forum! at the risk of being judged as a negative fan, let me point out a couple things.

    we just watched derrick rose beat mo williams off the dribble for the last five games. rajon rondo is even quicker than rose. suggesting that mike brown needed to put someone else on rondo seems legit to me. to MB’s credit, he made the adjustment at halftime.

    we all saw shaq unable to elevate higher than three inches. we saw our offense brought to a crawl by forcing it into shaq for his [bad last nite] post game. we know the celtics are old and we know that running (with hickson in the lineup) exploits this. anyone who wasn’t psyched when shaq picked up his 4th foul and had to sit down early in the 3rd quarter wasn’t paying attention… it led to a running offense (eg, mo’s dunk). that was the real turning point in the game; it wouldn’t have happened if MB hadn’t been forced to sit shaq.

    we also know orlando is much better than the celtics and if we execute a game plan like last nite’s against ORL, it’s likely a home loss.

    cheers!

  • bob dobalina

    We are negative because we come from cleveland and therefore expect the worse.

    Time will tell if mike brown is truly the opponents best player. I tend to lean that way. Not sure he has any offensive coaching skills at all.

  • jimkanicki

    oops. i forgot the reason i was here posting in the first place.

    check out this laughably predictable column in the boston globe. the refs made pierce go 5-17. http://shar.es/mcQ8i #cavs

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Denny

    I understand that there are causes for concern, but I have a feeling that the Cavs could win the title and some people will be whining about Mike Brown right after the game and pre-emptively blaming him for LeBron’s “impending decision to leave Cleveland”.

  • Jack

    @Turk – Not being negative. It’s just an observation. Here is what I mean by “scared:”

    1) Coach Brown still went to Z. As if he’s scared of some fan/personnel/Z reaction…maybe lingering from the “didn’t play ‘im game.” Who knows? But objectively speaking, didn’t we reach the point where we knew he wouldn’t help?

    2) He’s scared to play Hickson at times. This transcribes itself into JJ’s DNA as he almost always begins his stretch now with some foible that is egregious even by HIS standards because he’s nervous.

    3) Yes, LeBron looked scared going to the hole until later in the game. Glad he picked it up. But his tentativeness definitely reflected itself in the tentativeness of the other team.

    4) Mo played scared defense instead of the hop and pop defense with active hands which he is capable of.

    5) We were hesitant shooting the ball from almost every position. Parker pump faked and passed up shots (once resulting in a shot clock violation). He didn’t go the rim once. Antawn was playing hot potato out there — “no you take it,” especially in the 4th. Thankfully, Mo finally decided to wake up in that 3rd.

    6) The defensive rotations were extremely hesitant at times and a number of our guards looked confused as to their responsibilities on defensive rotations.

    7) We just came out on our heels for most of that game. That’s really what I meant. It was even reflected in the crowd, which was extremely lacking in energy for 2.5 quarters. How do you come out in game 1 against a hated rival that’s been talking smack for an eternity and not just run/move/drive/out-work/out-energy your aging opponents?

    8) Honestly, this game was a story of two halves AND A STORY OF TWO DUNKS!!! I knew from the moment that LeBron decided to soft slam that ball that this was going to be a tough game…I knew that would translate to the team. We’re tentative. We don’t want get the Celts riled up. They might get physical. Let’s walk on eggshells.

    Then the second dunk came…Mo’s. Then we started with tough fouls, tough drives…not fading away and using the offhand.

    A tale of two dunks. One scared. The other fearless.

  • Du

    Feel much better about LeBron than I did in the first half of last night’s game. After that very tenative first qtr, my buddy texted me and said: “CRAP. LeBron is hurt.”

    Here is what I think about his elbow:

    1. It is hurting worse than he will or wants to admit.

    2. He likes the attention though.

    3. Deep down, he knows that he needs his teammates anyway to win a title.

    4. Therefore, he is content to take it easy in the first halves and then take over in the 4th (ala last night).

    5. I really really think that the Cavs truly want as much adversity as possible before they play Orlando.

    These tight games are only going to help them in the long run. Someone mentioned above that maybe those with faint hearts should not watch until the 4th qtr. I would agree.

    Remember this though y’all…last year against Orlando, the cavs got off to great starts in almost every game yet faded as time went on. I guess we should take the slow starts and then the amped up 3rd and 4th qtr’s on the way to a win.

  • Turk

    @Jack —

    Thanks for explaining a bit further. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve asserted there, but I still come away from that game feeling good about this series.

  • Jack

    @Turk – Me too. I mean, I agree (or at least really hope and am somewhat confident) that we took the Celts best punch and that we struggled. Coming out with the W in those situations is key. I mean KG was making his shots, Ray was hot, Rajon was unreal.

    Let’s just hope we don’t see that again, at least not at the Q.

  • dcdawg

    I wish Varejao played more.. Jamison CANNOT guard Garnett at all! Ugly, but victorious none-the-less. I have a good feeling about this series

  • MattC

    @DCdawg regarding Jamison on KG: I wouldn’t put too much stock in KG’s performance last night. Apparently, he temporarily lost the memo informing him that he passed away sometime shortly after the 07-08 championship. He’ll remember that soon enough. We need Tawn’s scoring and even his rebounding.

  • http://shakesthesnowglobe.blogspot.com EZ

    I feel like KG’s knee won’t allow him to play many more 38 minute games like he did on Saturday. I also feel, though, that if we played pick and roll with Jamison more early in the game it would wear KG down for the late game.

    Also I’d like to reiterate how good and needed Delonte’s scoring was when nobody else was picking it up. 6 straight points including a pretty nice dunk – obviously overshadowed by the Mo dunk.

    At the half I remarked to my friend that it was disconcerting to see Mike Brown start every series putting Mo on the opposing PG, as if he was experimenting to see if Mo could step up his defense in ways he never has before. Give him credit for the adjustment, but at some point you’ve got to just stick Parker in there from the beginning.

    Speaking of Parker, I’d like to point out that while he’s taken some heat this year, when Brown put Parker on Rondo in the second half, Parker responded with 3 third quarter steals. He played the passing lanes pretty well, which could also be part of what took Rondo out of the game. If he can’t pass and he can’t drive (b/c of the Wall of Shaq) then he’s left bricking long jumpers.

  • Phil M

    @ EZ — great observations. Let’s see what happens tonight!