It started out a basketball game and turned into a street riot. There were 49 second-half foul shot which has to be some sort of post-millennial playoff record and explains why the game went on through the first quarter of the Spurs-Clippers contest. If you saw it you know what a mess it was.
Nobody commented that we’ve read, but there hasn’t been a non-overtime game in the last 15 years where two teams shot so many free throws. While such physical games were a hallmark of basketball in the eighties and nineties, the league’s instigated rules to remove that more brutal, thuggish part of the game.
The last time the Cavaliers shot 43 free throws like they did Sunday was in a very physical game against the Washington Wizards during LeBron James’ very first playoff run, nine years ago. (Against Brendan Haywood and Gilbert Arenas.) That game went into overtime. Indeed, there have only been three non-overtime games in the last 15 years where even one team took as many as the 37 free throws the Celtics shot.
Each of those three games occurred at least nine-years ago, and in none of them did the opponent shoot nearly as many free throws, none coming within 15 combined free throws of last night’s monstrosity. Eighty free throws is a sign the refs had lost all control, which pretty much everyone has commented.
We’ll add a couple quick thoughts before moving onto our game review. While such jockeying and tying up occurs underneath the basket all the time, when players are in close quarters, it’s quite another thing when players are in the open court chasing a loose ball. While Love might feel it was malicious – and certainly in execution it was – we’re not quite ready to attribute intent to injure.
That said, it was sort of the natural result of a series boasting unnecessary physicality which the refs didn’t do enough to discourage. The Celtics play hard but at some point that began to cross over into something else. Whether it was Evan Turner’s tackle of LeBron James in Game 3 or the two other reviewed calls in that game, the tone was set in Boston, and it ended with the Cavaliers potentially losing three players for the first game of the playoffs series with the Bulls-Bucks.
Love has a dislocated shoulder and until he’s evaluated his return time is guess work. In the Cavaliers favor is a long first round wait that will extend until at least Saturday (if the Bulls win tonight) and could go to Monday (if the Bucks extend it) or beyond if that series goes the limit. That’s extra healing time for an injury that can linger for five weeks (as it did when Iman Shumpert suffered his injury in mid-December) to popping it back in and going back out there (Glen Davis and Avery Bradley have popped a shoulder back in and gone back out there).
Kendrick Perkins could also potentially facing a suspension for his hard foul on Crowder. There’s an argument to be advanced that if the referees had dealt properly with Perkins’ obviously intentional foul, the matter could’ve been settled and we might’ve gotten back to basketball.
It was a little over 90 seconds into the third quarter when the Cavaliers retaliated again. Smith can try to pass it off however he likes, but if you watch, he threw the left arm to push Crowder toward his right before coming back the other way with what looked like a closed fist.
It’s a great Mortal Kombat move, but not so much of a basketball play. Basketball is a physical sport with a lot of shoving and pushing underneath, much of it dirty on both sides, and yet most players can restrain themselves from cold-cocking a guy. You’re welcome to disagree, that’s just how we feel. Wayne Brady’s evil alter ego need not enter into the basketball court.
We’ve heard some make apologies for him, and Smith has been an exemplary citizen to date, but it’s hard to forget he had a similar occurrence in Boston three years to the date with Jason Terry. That volatility is baked into the Smith package and was responsible for the steep discount. His absence along with the potential loss of Love leaves an enormous scoring vacuum that Irving and James will be further pressed to fill.
They did well enough shooting 17-39 after Love left the game, but of the guys asked to fill in only Shumpert truly stepped up. Shumpert got to the line 8 times, converted all of them and hit three of four shots. Outside of Shumpert and the Big Two, the Cavs shot 4-22, led by Matthew Dellavedova (1-6) and James Jones (-0-6).
If we think back to the team prior to the addition of Smith, it took way too many 3s for how well they shot. The team was shooting 34.5% (18th) and shooting 23.3/gm (12th). From that point forward the Cavs would shoot 30.6/gm, 2nd most in the league (to the Rockets) and drain 37.9% (4th).
After Love left, the Cavaliers shot 5-27 from 3 and 19-38 inside the arc. The tendency to hoist up too many threes – Matthew Dellavedova 1-4, James Jones 0-6, LeBron 1-6, Smith 0-4 after his departure – must not become a feature of the offense in general. Cutting and movement have to be the hallmark going forward because if it gets into Kyrie and LeBron against the world, and ball movement stops the Cavs will get clobbered. We already saw some of that yesterday.
One of the great unappreciated aspects of yesterday’s game was the team’s first half crispness. Despite losing Love, it took the Cavs 15 minutes to commit their first turnover, and finished with three in the first half, two on offensive foul calls, one of them a dodgy call on James for pushing off even though Zeller was inside the circle and didn’t appear to maintain his verticality.
That allowed the Cavs to go into half with a 21-point lead, their largest of the game. In the first half they held the Celtics main ballhandlers, Evan Turner and Isaiah Thomas to 0-11 from field. Once they arrived in Boston the Cavs really swallowed up Thomas. They had a combination of coverages. Going left, to Thomas’ strong hand they tried to contain or “corral” Thomas as Blatt described (minimally) after the game.
On the above play to Thomas’ left hand they tried to essentially bracket him with two men, the big man hanging back to ensure Thomas doesn’t get an opening to the basket while the guard fences him toward the corner trying to limit his passing angles.
Going to his weaker hand they hedged the pick and roll hard, forcing Thomas outside much like a defensive end strings out a running back on the sweep. Tristan in the illustration throws his hip out forcing Thomas to go further East-West to get around Thompson, while Kyrie races toward the baseline to cut Thomas off at the pass. It proved very effective through most of the game, though Thomas did get to the line a lot.
When Thomas did penetrate into the lane, Mozgov was usually there to contest his shot. Keeping Mozgov out of foul trouble will be a big key if Love does indeed miss some games.
Obviously we’re worried like anyone else about how long Love might be out and how well he will play when he comes back. There will be a lot of speculation during the next week but we encourage you to ignore the hype and wait for the proof. When it comes to injuries everyone in the NBA is pretty damn cagey.
We are concerned about the fact that the Cavs only managed 7 assists on 24 baskets after Love’s departure. The lack of movement and passing wasn’t as bad on the eyes as it is on the stat sheet. A couple of good passes were converted into foul shots, but by and large the offense was a little stagnant after Smith’s departure and launched a ton of 3s. We’d rather see some offense and movement than that drive-and-dish when you’re lacking at least one of the major components in J.R. Smith.
However it’s equally hard to escape the fact that the Cavaliers played a very good defensive series against the Celtics. It helped that they didn’t have shot makers but the defense was tight and in game four the hands were up and slapping, creating loose ball opportunities.
We’ll be back this week as we wait out the Bucks series, and look at how my prognostications for the first round fared. Maybe late in the week when we have a little more idea what the story is with the Bulls, J.R. Smith, Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Love, we’ll hazard some guesses about then next series.
As always you can follow me on Twitter @CRS_1ne, and hear us Monday mornings around 10:45 on Michael James’ Defend Cleveland show on WRUW, 91.5. Look for my columns all week on the Scene blog and find my prior columns in the archive and all my writing at chrisparker.contently.com.