With the possible exception of Crocodile Dundee, nobody brings a knife to a gunfight, or they wind up like the sabre-swinging dude from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. “Yeah, nice sword, fella.”
In the case of the Celtics, it’s all they’ve been able to afford, and their goal is to rope-a-dope the Cavaliers close enough to give them a taste of cold steel. The problem as fans is that the Cavaliers may just be one poor LeBron James performance from falling into this trap.
Watching the Cavaliers play is without doubt one of those modern horror films where they keep fucking with you until you begin to get exhausted by it, and suddenly there’s a handful of heads in the duffel bag behind your seat, and you’ve got a broken taillight.
What we specifically mean is that if the Cavaliers don’t get a handle on their handle and stop committing turnovers, or stay focused on the boards while showing some semblance of an offense on offense, they might get themselves in trouble in Boston. Indeed, most people have baked a Game 3 loss into the equation, so here that’s less of an issue.
With the Bulls on the horizon that’s more of an issue. (Don’t discount the Bucks so quickly, either.) The Cavaliers don’t force a lot of turnovers and they’re a little shoddy on the defensive boards, particularly when Kevin Love’s not in the game. (Without doubt the most underrated part of his game.)
This means the Cavaliers often get less possessions than their opponent. Indeed, while the Cavs beat the Celts 9-4 on the offensive boards, creating five more possessions, they gave four of them away in turnovers (10 to 6).
The Cavs big weapon, the three point shot? They were 2-14 in the second half. So don’t expect that to be bailing you out. It’s even possible our success during the regular season with the three may have left us a tad to reliant on it for the playoffs.
After the first quarter, the Cavaliers were 4-20 from 3 (James, Love 0-3; JR 1-5; Ky 2-6; Rest 1-3) and the were 20-35 from 2. The Celtics convinced the Cavaliers to take more 3s. The team’s ability to get to the line nine more times in the final three quarters was the entire point differential the rest of the way.
Does that sound like a team we dominated at home? The Cavaliers won’t be getting those whistles in the Garden, of that you can be sure. And let’s be honest, a couple of the foul calls on Bradley go the other way, we maybe have a different result.
You can chalk that up to basketball and the fact that every team is competitive but it’s worrisome. The Celtics aren’t likely to beat the Cavalier but their scrappy play and ability to match-up defensively with the Cavs is enough to make you wonder:
If Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler (or Michael Carter Williams and – could you imagine — the Buck’s “Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo) can take LeBron James & Kyrie Irving out of the equation – can the other guys respond. Everyone commented that the pair scored 24 points in the fourth quarter.
They also accounted for nearly two-thirds of the second half shots (24 to 13) with six swallowed by J.R. Smith, and three each by Love and Mozgov. Love did get four free throws, but both played less than Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson who didn’t shoot the entire second half. Maybe that’s not a problem, and maybe it could be at some point.
During Coach David Blatt’s pregame presser for game two, we asked about the use of isolation and whether, despite the team’s success at it, he needed to temper its use lest it lead to offensive stagnation. (Thanks to the folks on the RealCavsFans.com forums who helped inspire the query.)
It’s a pretty straightforward query. Most people with eyes know when LeBron goes one-on-one everyone else on the team tends to pull up a chair. But Blatt is not one to criticize anyone publicly, which sometimes makes for some Dancing With the Stars-worthy linguistic moves. Blatt initially challenges the very qualification of “iso”.
“They will qualify something as an ISO purely from the fact a player might hold the ball for a certain period of time,” Blatt said. “But a lot of times that comes from actions to get them in that situation because those are the things that perhaps that player does the best. We do take advantage of it because we have great one-on-one talent and we use it to our advantage. But I don’t think we lack in ball movement or assists or creativity for the team. I think we’re doing pretty well in that area too.”
We felt he might be squirming out of the question, so we asked more directly. “So are the two things unrelated, or just unrelated as far as to how your team plays,” we asked.
“Oh, they’re related, they’re related,” Blatt confessed, then pleaded to PR Chief Tad Carper. “There he goes making me think hard before a game.”
Perhaps Blatt truly believes that his team doesn’t have an issue, or more likely that’s not something he’ll discuss with the press. A little more than halfway through the third quarter, JR Smith hit his only three of the night, following a missed Kevin Love 3 and a Tristan Thompson offensive rebound.
From that point forward, Irving or James shot 19 of the next 25 and scored all the rest of the team’s points the next 18 minutes. Their mates were 0-6, five of them 3s, four of the shots going to an ice-cold Smith. We’re not basketball coach but we can’t see where that is sustainable going forward.
Another troubling fact – the Cavs only shot 8 free throws from that point forward versus 13 for the Celtics, and committed 8 turnovers that final 18 minutes, no doubt a result of too much LeBron & Kyrie hero ball. That will bite them in the ass if they don’t get better at sharing.
We had the wonderful opportunity to be on WAKR, 1590 AM with Ray Horner this morning and pointed out that this in some sense is the kernel of serious matter within the giant dung hill of crap that people have talked about David Blatt and LeBron James: When the game gets down to the end and the Cavs are down, will James take too much on his shoulders?
It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that for every big shot Jordan hit, there was a John Paxson, Steve Kerr or Toni Kukoc draining a shot after MJ deferred. James has made his legacy on his willingness to defer, but there’s a distinction between willingness to defer and letting someone else win the game.
When push comes to shove does he trust his cast enough to let his season and in some measure his legacy rest in another’s hands?
As always, we’ll be live tweeting and posting video from the game. We can be followed on Twitter @CRS_1ne. We’ll be back tomorrow with a post-game recap (promise!). You can also hear us on Michael James’ Defend Cleveland show on Mondays around 10:45 a.m. You can find an archive of my Cleveland Scene stories here
and many of my other clips at chrisparker.contently.com.