Celtics 'Leading' Cavs in Tied Series
The fact that Boston won was damaging in and of itself. What made it worse was that the Celtics won easily, by 18, and did it by making almost no adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2. The message: Boston believes its approach can work, and it showed it Monday night by beating the Cavs 104-86 in a game that really was not that close.
"I think," guard Ray Allen said, "we did everything we set out to do game-plan wise."
This Eastern Conference semifinal might be an example of a team leading a series that is tied.
The Celtics blew an 11-point third-quarter lead in Game 1 by not sticking with what had given them the lead. After that game, Boston coach Doc Rivers said his team quit attacking. Monday, they attacked the entire game. They survived a fourth-quarter Cavs flurry that was too little and too late, and they put an exclamation point on the third quarter -- holding the Cavs to 5-for-16 shooting and outscoring them 31-12.
"I think," Rivers said, "when people think you make adjustments, a lot of times the adjustments you make are things you were not doing the first time. We felt that we just didn't do our jobs in the first game."
They sure did in the second. Six players scored in double figures, including Rasheed Wallace, who was vital off the bench with 17 points. Rajon Rondo tied Bob Cousy's Celtics playoff record with 19 assists.
The Cavs were just plain miserable. And any concerns LeBron James calmed about his elbow in Game 1 reappeared in Game 2. He was not nearly as aggressive as he had been, pushing some shots and floating some passes, though he finished with good numbers -- 24 points, seven rebounds.
James may say that his elbow is not bothering him, but one staple of his game seemed to indicate it might be. This would be the cross-court pass -- which James uses a lot to set up open shooters and give him some of his assists. He usually fires them. This game, though, many were lobbed, and softer than usual. Might this indicate he could not snap a pass off? Also, there were a couple of times he pushed an inside fadeaway instead of shooting it. Before the game as he warmed up, James did not take any jump shots -- a departure from his normal pregame routine. In the game, he made one.
Cavs coach Mike Brown -- who was pound-the-table angry after the game -- seemed dismayed that the topic of the elbow came up, and dismayed it's being used as an excuse with his team.
"His elbow's fine," said Brown, whose mantra is 'no excuses.' "He has not said anything to me. Our trainers have not said anything to me. If it was bothering him then it is news to me."
Did the elbow bother James?
"I'm going to go out and continue to try to be the player that I am," said James, who received the MVP Award before the game from commissioner David Stern. "I'm not going to use this elbow as an excuse. I would never use injury as an excuse. If I'm on the court I'm going to try to be as productive as possible.
"I feel like tonight I was OK. As a team, all of us were just OK. That's why we got handled by Boston on our court."
True enough. While Boston's "Big Three" combined for 54 points, Cleveland's "other two" after James -- Shaquille O'Neal and Mo Williams -- combined to shoot 5 for 19. In two games in the series, O'Neal is 8 for 22, no shot coming from farther than six feet.
Boston now goes home believing it could -- and perhaps should -- be up 2-0. Cleveland goes to an arena where it could not win the last time the teams met in the playoffs, aware it could come back home down 3-1.
The feel could change again in Boston, but at this point Antawn Jamison summed up the feelings of the Celtics when he said: "They believe."
Which should shock the Cavs into a better sense of reality. For some reason, the Cavs seemed to approach the game as if the series was 3-0 instead of 1-0. The Celtics approached the game like they should.
"They beat us to the punch and it showed," Brown said. "We've got to bring more fight to the table. We've got to be tougher than we were tonight if we expect to win this series."