Celtics' Win Leaves Cavs Searching for Answers
LeBron James said the Cavs played "well."
Mo Williams agreed. He even said it: "I think it was a well-played game."
But the Cavs' coach was not as complimentary. Mike Brown pointed out two statistics that drew his ire, statistics that showed the Cavs were outhustled by the Celtics in Game 4: Boston had 23 fastbreak points to Cleveland's seven, and Boston had 13 second-chance points to none for Cleveland. He might have also pointed out that Boston point guard Rajon Rondo had more offensive rebounds (four) than the entire Cavs team (three).
So while the Cavs spend time trying to figure out how to deal with Rondo -- who was simply sensational -- they also might spend some time peering inward at themselves. Because aside from one game against Chicago in Game 4 and one extremely impressive game against Boston in Game 3, the Cavs have been inconsistent and unable to sustain a high level of play through an entire game.
"The transition baskets and the second-chance baskets, those hustle categories," Brown said. "At the end of the day we were beaten 36 points to seven points and that shows that Boston was more aggressive, especially in the first half. We did a better job of it in the second half, but we have to do it for 48 minutes. We talk about it all the time: the most aggressive team is going to win."
Other numbers Brown will ponder: The Cavs finished the regular season as the league's best rebounding team, but they were outrebounded 47-33 in this loss. Rondo, a point guard, had 18 rebounds.
"We are going to look at it, and we are going to look at his rebounding capabilities," Brown said.
The Cavs started fairly well, scoring the game's first seven points. But from that point the Celtics controlled the quarter, outscoring Cleveland 31-15 the rest of the way. Then when the game was at its most crucial, they played poorly. Cleveland's first six possessions in the fourth quarter led to four turnovers and two blocked shots, which turned a 70-70 tie into an 84-72 Boston lead.
James called them "careless turnovers." Williams said the Cavs had "mental lapses." Which one would think equates to playing poorly.
Why that would happen in a playoff game, a time when James has said every possessions matters, is up for debate.
This is not a new phenomenon. The Cavs played this way during the regular season, turning things on when they needed to after coasting or not playing hard early in a game. In the playoffs, though, the teams they are trying to turn it on against are more motivated, and usually high quality.
"There is no explanation for it," Brown said. "We're just not doing it. We have to do a better job. We talk about it, preach it. Our guys even talk about it, preach it. Now we've just go to go out and do it. It's a 48-minute game. We can't afford to play a half on the road against a team like this. Even at home, during the playoffs you can't afford to play a half, you can't afford to play a quarter, you can't even afford to play three-quarters of a basketball game.
"You have to come out and you got to establish yourself from the beginning. You've got to set the tone and it's got to be there for 48 minutes of the ballgame and tonight it wasn't."
Other numbers illustrated the struggles. Boston had 10 steals; the Cavs, 17 turnovers. And Boston played much better defensively than in Game 3, limiting the Cavs to 40.3 percent shooting after the Cavs had shot 60 percent in Game 3.
"As a team," James said. "I don't feel like our aggression was down. We went to the free throw line 39 times, so that's really aggressive. I think for myself I was inconsistent sometimes coming off pick-and-rolls if I wanted to shoot it or make passes and I turned the ball over. Uncharacteristic of myself. All in all we were aggressive as a team."
The number of foul shots, though, seemed as much because the officiating crew called an extremely tight game as it did that the Cavs were being aggressive. But James said his team's problems were missing chances, turnovers and missed shots.
"Those are things that you hope to control, but we didn't," he said.
Shaquille O'Neal missed the final 11 minutes after picking up his fifth foul, then declined to speak to the media after the game. One report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said O'Neal was seen asking to be put back into the game in the fourth quarter, and James said he was "surprised" O'Neal sat so long because he had played so well.
When O'Neal left, the score was 76-72 Boston. The Celtics scored the next eight points.
"They definitely turned it around at that point," James said.
For James, who calls himself "the closer" for the way he finishes games, the fourth quarter was not one of his best. The Celtics returned to their form of clogging the driving lanes and giving him no room to maneuver. In the final 12 minutes he made just 2 of 7 shots and had a turnover. In the second half, he was 4 for 10. At times, he dribbled while his teammates watched, at others he passed and set up teammates, but they missed shots.
"You know," Brown said. "I have not talked to him. You'll have to talk to him and ask him what his mindset was throughout the course of the game."