|05.13.10 at 7:31 pm ET|
The talk this morning was of the Cleveland Cavaliers possibly making some kind of a lineup switch for Game 6. Cavs coach Mike Brown has been searching for the right combination of players since the series started and it’s fair to say after five games that he still has not settled on a set rotation.
Brown has already strayed from the early-series script by playing Zydrunas Ilgauskus ahead of J.J. Hickson in Game 5 and Daniel Gibson, who hasn’t played at all.
“When Gibson came in, when Ilgauskus came in, everyone’s antenna did go up a little bit because we knew what those guys do,” Ray Allen said before Game 6. “Those guys are good offensive players so everyone was on alert. For us, we know each other. [It’s] not as much of a surprise as it is when you see a guy go in, you adjust.”
The Celtics rolled with the adjustments just fine in Game 5 and part of that is that they are so set in their ways. The other part of that is preparation.
“We have to prepare for everything; big lineup, small lineup,” Doc Rivers said. “Fortunately or unfortunately for them, they have the ability to do a lot of different things because of their personnel. We can’t. We are who we are and we’re not going to change, and in some ways that makes it easier.”
Still, Rivers doesn’t think that the Cavs will change all that drastically in Game 6.
“They’re a solid basketball team,” he said. “They’re not going to change a lot. We wouldn’t be shocked to see Varejao maybe in the starting lineup or them going with size early. But they didn’t get this record by doing a lot of changing.”
|05.13.10 at 2:04 pm ET|
Reports out of the Cavaliers shootaround this morning indicate that Mike Brown is considering lineup changes for Game 6 tonight at the Garden. Plain Dealer beat writer Brian Windhorst noted that Brown is unlikely to change his starting five, but he brings up the one radical move that Brown has left: playing LeBron James at point guard.
The Cavs lineup would look like this: James at the point, Anthony Parker at off-guard and Antawn Jamison at small forward. The big men would be some cobination of J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao and Shaquille O’Neal, but probably the former to try to speed up play.
That would do a number of things: First, It would take Jamison away from Kevin Garnett where he is getting worked in the post and it would also remove Mo Williams out of the equation where he is getting worked against everyone. It would also set up James to match up directly with Rajon Rondo.
Brown tried a number of personnel adjustments in Game 5 including playing Zydrunas Ilgauskus ahead of Hickson, and calling on Daniel Gibson who hasn’t been in his rotation since March. Ilgauskus actually played well, but the moves had a feel of desperation about them.
This might be a desperate move, but it’s not necessarily a panic move. Taking Williams out of the lineup is addition by subtraction at this point and James has been successful guarding Rondo in small doses.
On the other hand, it could also open up Paul Pierce. The Celtics are going to keep pounding the ball to Garnett on the post regardless of who’s guarding him and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t keep attacking Jamison in whatever matchup he finds himself.
The Celtics have been able to come up with effective counters for whatever the Cavs have thrown at them and it would be surprising if they haven’t planned for this scenario as well.
|05.13.10 at 10:49 am ET|
ESPN columnist Bill Simmons joined the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday morning to talk about the Celtics‘ impressive performance in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers. To hear the interview, check out the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Said Simmons: “The last two games, I feel like they’ve finally looked like the team that they looked like before that Christmas Day 2008 game against the Lakers, when [their record] was 27-2. Then they lose that game, they go on a little skid, [Kevin] Garnett gets hurt, the team’s never really been the same. You look at this whole series, they’ve played better in four of the five games. And they’ve dominated two of them.”
Simmons said Rajon Rondo’s ability to dominate and LeBron James‘ failure to do the same is the obvious key. “It always come down to who has the best guy in a series, I always think. … The bottom line is Rondo’s played better than LeBron in this series. [Rondo’s] stats weren’t good in the first half of Game 5 — I didn’t feel like he was having a bad game, but in the second half I thought he dominated that game. He controlled the flow. He controls every aspect of that game. They can’t match up with him. They’re changing their defense to try to get him. He’s in Mo Williams‘ head. Mo Williams is a basket case. Now LeBron’s probably going to have to defend him.”
Simmons also pointed to an unheralded bench player who has made a big difference for Boston. “The shocker of all shockers is Tony Allen,” Simmons said. “Because this is a guy we’ve watched for six years. It actually started in the Miami series. He had a really good Game 1. I thought he helped them win Game 2. He and Rasheed [Wallace] were the things that kind of swing that game. Everyone was talking about Rondo in Game 4, and rightfully so, but Tony Allen — that was the best game of his career. He’s actually making layups, he’s finishing, he’s not doing stupid things.”
On the other side of the court, Anderson Varejao’s disappearing act is leading to rumors that the forward is hiding an injury. “I think he’s injured. It’s just really weird how he’s been playing,” Simmons said. “He only played 17 minutes in Game 5. And this is a guy who kills the Celtics, He’s just such a bad matchup. And also when Cleveland plays well, he’s playing 35-40 minutes a game. I think he’s the second-most important guy. For what he’s doing in this series and the minutes he’s getting, I think that’s one of the reasons the Celtics have a 3-2 lead.”
Simmons questioned the performance of Cavs coach Mike Brown, saying, “When coaches are grasping for straws, you can see it.” Then he heaped praise on Doc Rivers, a coach Simmons frequently has crititicized. “I think this has been his best series ever,” Simmons said. “I just think he’s had a command of the series. The timeouts — he’s called great timeouts, which he never used to do. You can feel Cleveland coming on, and he’s been stopping the runs, which is nice.”
The winner of the Celtics-Cavaliers series gets the red-hot Magic, but Simmons said that would be an appealing matchup for the C’s. “The way they match up with Orlando, if they can somehow get by this Cleveland team for one more game, they match up fantastic with Orlando,” Simmons said. “They have guys to throw at Dwight Howard. Rondo can beat Jameer Nelson. Vince Carter, who’s been dribbling through the lane with impunity, they’ll just knock his butt down. He’s not going to be able to do that stuff against the Celtics. I think they match up so much better against Orlando than they do against Cleveland.”
|05.12.10 at 5:04 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Following the Celtics‘ Game 5 blowout road win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday, Kevin Garnett was quick to set the tone for the team’s mentality as they prepared to head back to Boston for a potential series-clincher on Thursday.
“We cannot come back here [to Cleveland],” said Garnett in a postgame interview . “We have to think this is out Game 7 coming up and we cannot afford to have the best team in the league have a Game 4 on their floor. Just not possible.”
Forgetting for a moment the irony of Kevin Garnett telling us that something is NOT possible, the Celtics on Wednesday were quick to agree that Game 6 falls in the “must-win” category.
“That’s the way we have to have it,” said Glen Davis following practice on Wednesday. “We got to look at it — Game 7. This is the last game. We gotta finish it, gotta close it out. He [Garnett] is right. We have to make sure that we go into the game like it’s our last.”
Kendrick Perkins — already no stranger to a Game 7 in his still-young career — wants no part of a winner take all battle in Cleveland, particulary when the Celtics have a chance to take care of business at home.
“Yeah it is,” said Perkins when asked if he agreed with Garnett’s thoughts. “It’s like our Game 7 coming up. We don’t want to back to Cleveland so we just have to come out with the right focus, right mindset.”
Davis is of course aware that the Celtics have already won a pair of games in Cleveland during this series, so winning a Game 7 (the real Game 7, not the Game 6 as Game 7, just to be clear) isn’t an impossible task. Still, the forward isn’t interested in tempting fate.
“It [Game 6] is the biggest game of the series,” said Davis. “Close game. Also, people don’t realize how much we have on our backs. If we lose this game at home, we have to go back to Cleveland. We know we can win there, but at the time, that’s their house, their environment, they play there more than we do. It’s a tough situation. We have to win this game.”
Doc Rivers is on board. The head coach was quick to remind the media on Wednesday that while the Celtics are one win away from moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals, the last victory will be the toughest.
“We have one home game left in this series,” Rivers noted. “We haven’t done anything. And we’ve made that clear. And you know that you are going to get Cleveland’s best shot.”
And you are going to get LeBron James‘ best shot as well. Rivers expects the two-time MVP to bounce back in Game 6.
“LeBron is going to play an amazing game and we’re going to have to be able to absorb that and still win the game.” Rivers said.
|05.12.10 at 4:44 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Associate coach Tom Thibodeau has already been mentioned in connection with a number of head coaching jobs this season, and if his resume needed any more polishing he can point to the work his defense has done against the Cavaliers in this series.
If you throw out Game 3 when the Cavs shot almost 60 percent and scored 124 points, they have averaged just 90.5 points and shot less than 43 percent from the floor. Even with Game 3 in the mix, they have shot just 27 percent from 3-point range.
Much of the focus, as always, has been on LeBron James, but the Celtics team defense has been stellar (again, aside from Game 3), and much of that credit goes to Thibodeau and the plan he has in place.
“He’s terrific,” Doc Rivers said Wednesday after the team conducted a short practice. “He’s the best defensive coach I think in the league. I don’t know if there’s a better one and our guys buy into it. I think that’s very important. If they don’t buy into what you’re doing, it’s not going to work. We have a group of guys who are willing to buy in to what we want them to do, to what Thibs wants them to do, and that’s why it works.”
Paul Pierce has been in the crosshairs thanks to his matchup with James, but he has been quick to deflect praise back to his teammates. The Celtics have a solid gameplan for James: Try to make him take jump shots, keep him out of the paint whenever possible and don’t allow layups. The initial onus is on Pierce, of course, but he knows he has help waiting for him in the paint.
The other issue with a player like James is with all that focus and attention, his teammates can get open, but the Celtics have done a superb job of shutting down his complimentary players.
Antawn Jamison has averaged 13.2 points, and has been held under 20 points in every game except for Game 3. Mo Williams has also struggled, shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 3-for-15 from 3-point range. Anthony Parker has shot the ball well, but he’s simply not a threat like Jamison and and Williams.
The Celtics have a solid plan in place and the players are executing. That’s not an accident. Thibodeau is known as a grinder. A coach who puts in long hours of work and preparation. That kind of work should be appreciated without fail, but that’s not always the case in this league.
The Celtics, however, are firmly are on board with what Thibodeau preaches and it starts with Kevin Garnett.
“He needs the support of his head coach, one, and then it’s the best player,” Rivers said. “If the best player buys in, everyone follows. Tim Duncan bought in to Pop and [Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer] and they all followed. It’s the same here. Kevin bought in on Day One. And what choice do you have? You have to follow.”
If Thibodeau does finally break through and get a head coaching job, the Celtics will have a large hole to fill. But for now they are more than happy that he is on their side.
|05.12.10 at 4:08 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Things got a little heated Tuesday in Game 5 of the Celtics series with the Cavs as there were two sets of double technical fouls issued. The first pair were handed out to Kendrick Perkins and Shaquille O’Neal. The second went to Rajon Rondo and Mo Williams.
Rondo didn’t talk to the media Wednesday, but Perkins was asked about the exchange.
“I got caught up in the moment,” Perkins said. “He threw an elbow. He hit me in my neck. I just told him watch his elbows. If you let a guy keep throwing elbows and don’t tell him and let him get too comfortable, he’s going to keep doing it. At some point as a man you got to stand up.”
|05.12.10 at 11:58 am ET|
Last Friday, in the wake of the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ dominant 124-95 win over the Celtics at TD Garden in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, everyone was ready to call the series over. LeBron James was back, putting behind any notions of a elbow troubles by coming through with an unstoppable performance, tallying 38 points, eight boards and seven assists in the blowout.
But that was then, and this is now. Now being the day after James submitted an astonishing 3-14 effort and finished with just 15 points in a 120-88 Game 5 loss to the Celtics. Just when it looked like James and the Cavs were going to take control of the series, the Celtics bounced back to win two straight, and now have the chance to take the series in Game 6 at the Garden Thursday.
By no means are the Cavaliers done, particularly the way the Celtics have played at home this season. But there was an air of finality on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as only a handful of people were left in the seats to watch what might have been LeBron James’ last game on that court as part of the home team.
The question has loomed large in Cleveland (and New York) all season, and with the Cavs one game away from having their season come to an abrupt finish fans are getting antsy. Depending on whether or not you want to believe James’ “official biographer,” he is all but gone from Cleveland, whether the Cavs can rebound and end up winning the title or not. And with offers like this, how could you blame him?
While LeBron’s destination for the 2010-11 season isn’t a certainty, there was no denying that he struggled mightily on Tuesday night. And the King is catching a lot of flack for his performance, with much of the blame being placed squarely on his shoulders despite the struggles the rest of his team had both offensively and particularly defensively in Game 5. Much of the discussion has centered on the fact that the Cavs have looked like a team without much of an identity, particularly when compared to the Celtics. For all the hoopla over Boston’s regular season troubles, it is the Celtics who have found the rhythm in this series (minus that Game 3, where it seemed they barely showed up) and the Cavs who have looked lost.
There is at least some sentiment that that could be caused by chemistry issues. For all the talk of Cleveland’s abundance of talent, Mike Brown has had trouble juggling it in this series. That was on display Tuesday night when he gave Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had barely played at all in this series, an extended run and even put a cold Daniel Gibson in during the third quarter when he felt the game slipping away. There is some suggestion that maybe a new coach could keep LeBron in his home state. Despite what Brown has done to help mold this Cleveland into a contender, you can bet that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert will do whatever it takes to keep James from leaving. But it is not like the blame that has been placed on LeBron himself has not been warranted. Brian Windhorst, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s beat writer for the Cavs, wrote that he has seen chemistry problems develop as James has acted increasingly “disengaged” in this playoff series.
So you have every right to be afraid, Cleveland fans. If the Celtics win on Thursday, the Cavs could lose a lot more than just this series.
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