Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the category “NBA playoffs”

Boston crybabies

It’s been funny, and by that we mean nauseating, to listen to Boston Celtic fans cry and whine about the officiating during the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Miami.

Through the opening pair of games, the Heat has attempted 20 more free throws than the Celtics and Miami’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are the only two players to have attempted at least 100 free throws during the postseason.

Following Game 2, Boston general manager Danny Ainge stopped Joe Borgia, the NBA’s officiating supervisor, in an attempt to get an explanation for the clear-path foul call against Mickael Pietrus on LeBron James early in the fourth quarter.

Grantland’s Bill Simmons took to Twitter to cry about the officiating after Game 2, with the best one being this: “Last point: it’s not about favoring teams, but favoring STARS. That’s what the NBA does.”

Gee, you think so?

Interesting that Simmons fails to point out that Boston’s Paul Pierce is third on the list of most postseason free throw attempts with 98.

The thing is, the Celtics have been getting the calls to go their way for decades, as Cavs fans know all too well.

In the 1976 Eastern Conference Finals, the Miracle of Richfield Cavs took on the Celtics. The Cavs were the better team that year as the Celtics were an aging team that would see its win totals drop over the next three seasons before bottoming out with 29 victories in the 1978-79 season.

The Celtics won the series in six games thanks in large part to shooting 35 more free throws over the course of the series, including taking 25 or more in five of the six games.

The Cavs were only outscored by a total of five points in the series, so that free throw discrepancy clearly had an impact.

Now fast forward to 1985, when a 36-win Cavs team took on the 63-win Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

In winning the series in four games, the Celtics took 25 more free throws than the Cavs, including a ridiculous 39 attempts in Game 1 and an even more ridiculous 46 attempts in Game 4.

As the teams both scored 449 total points in the series, those free throws were pretty important.

Basically, it’s time for Boston to stuff it (although we’d feel a lot better if it were a team other than the Heat that was getting the better of the Celtics).

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All Together

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

For better or worse, we’re all optimists tonight.

This can’t be the end. Not this way. Not against this team.

It won’t be easy. It may not be fun to watch. But, if the Cavs can pull this out tonight, all the pressure shifts to Boston.

A win tonight. That’s all we as fans want.

Is that really too much to ask?

All Together.

Has it Really Come to This?

“I hope I can put a lot of smiles back on the faces of the people of Cleveland. I’m not going to guarantee a championship. But we will get better every day, we will be a better team than we were last year.” LeBron James in 2003 after the Cavs won the draft lottery.

How has it come to this? How, after seven years of highlights, excitement and the return of Cavaliers basketball from the NBA wasteland, have we reached the point where so much anger is being directed at LeBron and the Cavs? How has it turned so negative in less than a week?

Why do I have to hear some clown call Chris Russo’s Sirius Radio show on Wednesday and say the LeBron is a bum because he won’t give an interview to WKNR? Seriously? LeBron doesn’t have time to do an interview with a radio station who’s 100 listeners are comprised of shut-ins, hoople heads and Dumplin’ and this makes him a bum?

Are our memories really that short? Have we forgotten what it was like pre-LeBron?

  • Prior to drafting LeBron, the Cavs were losing $1.5 million a month, playing in a downtown arena that no one wanted to go to.
  • Fans were stuck watching Ricky Davis, DeSagana Dop, Chris Mihm, Trajan Langdon, the list goes on and on. How about the Shawn Kemp era?
  • At the end of the 17-win, 2002-03 season, the Cavs had about 2,000 season tickets. This past season, they sold out every game.
  • The team had employed Randy Wittman, John Lucas and Keith Smart as head coaches. Not exactly Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and Hubie Brown.

Have we forgotten?

Now, after a bad playoff series that isn’t even over yet, we’re going to turn our backs on him and the team?

It doesn’t surprise me that the national media would churn out garbage like this “gem” from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Of course, some national writers actually realize that even great players can have bad games: LeBron James played poorly in a big game? So did Jordan

And, apparently, lost is all the nonsense about how James doesn’t have the same desire to win as Kobe Bryant, people have forgotten some of these no-shows from Bryant’s post-season performances:

  • 2003: Lakers eliminated by San Antonio in a 32-point loss. Kobe has 20 points and 7 turnovers.
  • 2004 Finals: Kobe shoots 4-for-13 (Game 3), 8-for-25 (Game 4) and 7-for-21 (Game 5) as the Lakers lose the title.
  • 2006: Lakers eliminated by the Suns in a 32-point blowout. Kobe selfishly refuses to shoot in the entire second half to “teach” his teammates a lesson.
  • 2008 Finals: Boston comes back from 25 points down in Game 4 to win as Kobe shoots 6-of-19.
  • 2008 Finals: Boston eliminates the Lakers in a 39-point blowout. Kobe shoots 7-of-22.

But none of that matters because LeBron is the only high-level player who has ever had a bad game.

Go back and read the quote from LeBron again. Hasn’t he delivered on those words?

Look, I’m as shocked and disappointed as anyone over what has transpired the past two games. But I’m not ready to give up on this team. And the reason comes from LeBron himself:

“They’ve got me.”

That’s all I need to hear.

What Did We Just Witness?

Was it really just four days ago that the Cavs left Boston for dead, rolling over the Celtics in Game 3 in the worst home playoff loss in Boston’s history?

It sure seemed like a lot longer than that Tuesday night as the Celtics returned the favor and put the Cavs season on the brink.

We’re now left to wonder what went wrong, how did the Cavs lose control of this series, and what’s next with Game 6 looming Thursday night?

Maybe the Cavs believed they broke Boston’s will after Game 3. If that’s true, the last two games should have told the Cavs that they need to do more than just show up to win this series.

The Cavs now face a must-win game in Boston to force a Game 7 and salvage the season. They were in the same spot last year against Orlando and we all remember how that turned out.

The team is also faced with the possibility of being the only team in NBA history to post consecutive 60-win seasons and not make it to the NBA finals. Just another feather in the cap of Cleveland sports. We can put that one up there with the Indians being the only team to lose a World Series to Atlanta.

Can the Cavs win two consecutive games against Boston? Sure. Will they? Well, here are two trends to ponder:

The Cavs are 0-4 when they trail 3-2 in a seven-game series.

The Celtics are 31-1 when they lead 3-2 in a seven-game series.

Since T.I.C., which trend seems most likely to continue?

This is Fun, Yes?

Cavs fans were left disappointed after last year’s playoffs. But it wasn’t so much because the Cavs lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, but because the team had so few home playoff games.

With homecourt advantage for the entire playoffs, just like this year, Cavs fans were looking at a potential 16 home playoff games if the team went to Game 7 of the finals. But thanks to sweeps in the first (Detroit) and second (Atlanta) rounds, and the eventual loss to Orlando, fans were only treated to seven home games.

Well, the Cavs are working on fixing that problem this year.

Following the Game 4 loss to Boston, the Cavs are heading home for Tuesday’s Game 5 – the sixth playoff game at home already this postseason. And more home games means more opportunities to appreciate a team coming off its second consecutive 60-win season and featuring a two-time MVP in LeBron James.

At least I think that’s the plan, right?

When the Cavs have come ready to play in this series, they have shown they are clearly a superior team to Boston. Even with all the hysteria over the play of Rajon Rondo, that’s not why the series is tied 2-2. In both Boston wins, it was bench players Rasheed Wallace (Game 2) and Tony Allen (Game 4) who had once-a-year games that made the difference.

Wallace hit the Hot Tub Time Machine in Game 2, scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. In the other three games, he’s scored a total of seven points.

Allen scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Game 4, after scoring just 19 total points in the first three games.

Safe to say that neither of them are going to match that output the rest of the series.

And, before this series ends, someone will deliver a playoff foul on Rondo to slow him down.

And Mo Williams (31 percent) and Delonte West (33 percent) are certainly going to start shooting better than they have over the past three games.

There are plenty of more home games left before this postseason comes to a close.

Right?

The James Gang Returns

“I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished … was accomplished collectively.” – Golda Meir

As the Cavs prepare for Game 4 today against Boston, there are several positive signs that the team has finally entered playoff mode.

In Game 3, LeBron James showed the Celtics why he is the league’s MVP. James scored 21 points in the first quarter to break the will of Boston and the crowd – handing Boston its worst home playoff loss EVAH and retaking home court advantage.

Just as important was the Cavs remembering what they are – a defense-first team that is clearly superior to the Celtics. And it was a team effort that carried the Cavs in Game 3.

The Cavs defense returned as the Celtics missed 10 of their first 13 shots and shot only 27 percent in the first quarter. The Cavs held them to 42 percent shooting for the game and outrebounded Boston by 15. James once again used Paul Pierce as his personal whipping boy, holding the Celtics alleged top gun to 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. For the series, Pierce is shooting 13-of-42 as he is completely unable to deal with LeBron on either end of the court.

Anthony Parker’s work on Rajon Rondo was huge and helped swing the series back in Cleveland’s favor. Sticking to the Celtics’ shooters was also key, as the Cavs were able to force Boston to settle for outside shots that were not falling.

Shaq had his best game of the series, Antawn Jamison was back to doing what he does best, and the guard trio of Mo Williams, Delonte West and Parker were solid.

Boston knows they have a huge problem on their hands. The question is, with only one day off to fix things and rest their tired legs, will it make any difference?

The Cavs have a chance today to put a lock on this series with a win. If they bring the team effort again from the opening tip, they have a very real chance to come home for Tuesday night’s game up 3-1.

And there’s no telling what they can accomplish going forward if they work together.

10 wins to go.

T.I.C. This is Cleveland

Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price. – Vince Lombardi

Following an ugly loss in Game 2 of their playoff series against Boston, the Cavs have a lot of hard work ahead of them in the days leading up to Friday’s Game 3.

“We did not fight back until late,” coach Mike Brown said after the game in published reports. “We’ve gotta decide if we’re going to take the fight to them and take these games. Nothing is going to be given to us at all. Ain’t a … damn thing going to be given to us at all in this series.”

“I had a lot to say to the guys about our performance,” Brown said Tuesday in published reports. “I thought we need to develop a sense of urgency in this series and throughout our run. I thought why not have last night be a good start to that.”

With the series tied 1-1 and the next two games slated for Boston, the Cavs seem to be in trouble. But history and math tell us otherwise.

Consider:

  • Teams with home-court advantage that win Game 1 are 256-40 overall in the history of the NBA playoffs, an 86.5 winning percentage.
  • The Cavs have never lost a seven-game series when they win Game 1.
  • Teams that win Game 2 on the road after losing Game 1 have only gone on to win the series 28 percent of the time.
  • In 168 best-of-seven quarterfinal series, home-court teams have won 78.6 percent of the time.
  • If you are going to alternate wins in a seven-game series, it’s best to be the team winning the odd-numbered games, as the 1997 Indians so painfully taught us.

However …

In the movie Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, a Rhodesian diamond smuggler, tries to explain the way things work to a naive American reporter by saying, “T.I.A. This if Africa.”

Well, T.I.C. This is Cleveland. And in Cleveland sports, things rarely go as they should.

Now we sit and wait for Game 3, really the most critical game in a seven-game series. The team that loses Game 3 is either down 3-0 or 2-1 in a series and immediately faces a must-win situation in Game 4.

Hopefully the Cavs are ready to pay the price for success.

11 wins to go.

How do you like it – Mo, Mo, Mo

Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy.

Trailing by 11 in the third quarter and on their way to losing homecourt advantage – just like they did last year against Orlando – the Cavs roared back after Mo Williams dunked on Paul Pierce in the third quarter, igniting the team as it went on to post a victory in the opening game of the series.

The Cavs went on a 21-9 run to end the quarter after Mo’s dunk – his first as a Cavalier and part of his 14-point third quarter – to take the lead. The Cavs closed out the game with a 43-24 run and completely shut down the Celtics in the fourth quarter, holding Pierce to three points, Kevin Garnett to two points and Ray Allen to zero in the final quarter. Nice work from the self-proclaimed “Big 3” for Boston.

This was a big game for Mo as his struggles last year in the playoffs really hurt the Cavs. Maybe he’s finally refinding his place back in the offense following the acquisition of Antawn Jamison.

There were several positives the Cavs can take from this game and, if they continue like this, should make it a short series:

  • They held Pierce to just 5-of-17 shooting
  • Garnett took 20 shots, which I’ll take every day
  • The Cavs bench had a 26-12 advantage
  • Shaq delivered a couple of playoff fouls on Rajon Rondo and split Kendrick Perkins’ lip open with an elbow
  • The Cavs held Boston to 31 percent shooting following Mo’s dunk

There were some bad things, though, that if they continue will stretch this series out:

  • Rondo scored 27 points. If he keeps up that pace the Cavs will be in trouble
  • Shaq had early foul trouble
  • Shaq, Antawn Jamison and Anthony Parker combined to go 7-of-21 from the field
  • Boston shot 52 percent from the field in building their 11-point lead.

And not to beat a deadhorse, but the Cavs missed 10 free throws during the game. So far, in six playoff games, the Cavs have missed 52 free throws. Considering they only missed two in Game 2 against the Bulls, that means they are missing, on average, 10 free throws a game. There’s no way they can continue to leave points on the floor like that and not have it eventually come back to bite them.

The Game 1 win does look good, though, as the Cavs are 10-0 in seven-game series when they win the opening game.

Game 2 is Monday night at the Q.

11 more wins to go.

Are we not entertained?

The Cavs apparently brought their “A” game to Chicago for Game 4, rolling the Bulls to take a 3-1 series lead.

Or did they?

While it feels like Chicago has been competitive in this series – just ask the Bulls, they’ll tell you just how close they are to leading the series – the numbers don’t back it up. Last year, during the Cavs’ first-round sweep of Detroit, Cleveland won the four games by an average of 15.5 points. This year, in the three wins so far against the Bulls, they are winning by an average of 15.3 points. Not a big difference. In the three losses, the Bulls have shot 42 percent, 44 percent and 37 percent.

So, while it seems like a more competitive series, it really isn’t.

After posting a triple-double, there’s really not much more to say about LeBron. Nothing he does amazes me any more. According to Brian Windhorst in the Plain Dealer:

“Including his triple double in the Cavs’ Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls Sunday, James is off to the most well-rounded first-round performance of his career. That includes averaging 32 points and 11.3 rebounds in last season’s sweep of the Detroit Pistons.

“James is averaging 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Bulls, which are numbers no one else currently in the playoffs can match. Beyond the numbers, it is James’ efficiency that has been so impressive … James is shooting 59 percent (50-of-85) from the field and 55 percent (12-of-22) from 3-point range. He’s also averaging 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals.”

And after Game 2, ESPN had this to say:

“LeBron James made 16 of his 23 shots to finish with 40 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds in the Cavs’ 112-102 victory over the Bulls in Game 2 of their first-round series. How does LeBron’s game compare to some of the bigger performances in recent playoff history? Let’s take a look at this using John Hollinger’s adjusted game score, essentially a single-number summary of how good a player’s game was, in terms of his box score statistics, adjusted for pace.

“The numbers can be roughly thought of on the scale of points: 30 is very good, 40 is great and 50 is spectacular.

“Last night, LeBron’s adjusted game score was 42.55, which is:

  • The best single game by any player in the first three nights of this postseason
  • The fourth best single postseason game of James’ career
  • The 13th best single game performance in the first round since 1996
  • The 24th best single game playoff performance in last 15 years”

Simply incredible. And LeBron has never had to miss the end of a crucial game because of menstrual cramps, the way Dwyane Wade had to in Game 3 against Boston.

I also am continuously surprised at the play of Antawn Jamison. It’s incredible how, time and again, he gets into position under the basket for a pass and an easy layup. I don’t know how the defense forgets about him so often, but the mid-season trade for him goes down as one of Danny Ferry’s best moves.

Game 5 is Tuesday.

13 more wins to go.

They got one. No more.

OK, the Cavs dropped Game 3 of their series with the Bulls. We knew this was bound to happen; the odds of the Cavs sweeping another first-round playoff series were slim. After winning seven consecutive opening-round games, a slip-up was going to happen.

And while it wasn’t the only problem, poor free-throw shooting killed the team. The Cavs missed 11 free throws in a two-point loss. Which, again, should be no surprise.

There’s little reason to fear that the Cavs will lose this series, let alone another game. The bigger concern is the player rotation, or lack of rotation. All season long the team succeeded by being versatile: playing big against the Lakers and Boston, playing athletic against Orlando and Atlanta, playing small against Phoenix and Dallas. It was a real strength of the team.

That now seems to be forgotten. Even though Shaq and Z continue to struggle with the Bulls quicker frontcourt players, JJ Hickson can’t get off the bench. He’s played three minutes so far in the series. Why not give some of Z’s minutes to Hickson in Game 4, especially if Z and Shaq continue to struggle? In Game 3 the duo combined for six points and five rebounds. In Game 2 it was 11 points and 10 rebounds.

It’s not like if Hickson plays against the Bulls the Cavs can’t go back to Z in the next round if the matchups favor him. Wasn’t that the whole point of building a flexible roster?

Game 3 is Sunday afternoon.

14 wins to go.

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