|Is this the end of the LeBron era in Cleveland?||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.
|Why Spike Lee is rooting for the Celtics||05.11.10 at 12:09 pm ET|
Diehard New York fan Spike Lee is throwing his support to the Celtics ‘ but not without his own motivations.
As Lee explained to ESPNNewYork.com, he has the Knicks’ best interest in mind when he roots for the C’s. He hopes that an Eastern Conference semifinals loss for the Cavaliers could sway James to leave Cleveland during free agency this summer.
“We need LeBron,” Lee said. “I feel we have a better chance to get LeBron James if Cleveland loses this series to the Celtics. The quicker Cleveland loses, the better our chances are of getting LeBron.”
In spite of his allegiance to the Knicks, Lee actually has a few ties to the Celtics. He directed Ray Allen in ‘He Got Game’ and recently spoke with Rajon Rondo at an event for ‘Just Wright,’ a movie in which Rondo has a cameo.
While Lee told ESPN he does not think the Cavs have an answer for Rondo, he strongly re-emphasized the true reason behind his unexpected support for the C’s.
“I’m not putting on any green and I’m not going to kiss the Blarney Stone or do the shamrock thing,’ he said. ‘I hate the Red Sox as much as I hate the Celtics and the ghost of Johnny Most and all those guys. This is the first and last time I root for Boston on anything, but for this one possible result it’s worth it.”
|Jon Barry on D&C: Rondo in elite company||at 8:59 am ET|
Jon Barry, who serves as an NBA analyst on ESPN and ABC, joined the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to talk about the Celtics-Cavaliers series. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page. Barry said Rajon Rondo’s performance on Sunday cements his status as the maquee player on the C’s, ahead of the Big Three. Said Barry: “He’s quickly becoming the system, like Steve Nash in Phoenix. There’s not a guy in the league who wouldn’t say he wants to play with Steve Nash. Rondo’s quickly becoming the guys who is mentioned in that same breath.”
Barry said the Cavaliers continue to lean too heavily on LeBron James. “Their reliance on him to be superhuman is just too much,” Barry said. “When he doesn’t go crazy, they don’t win. They’ve got enough talent that they should be better than this.”
Barry suggested the Cavaliers should try inserting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who has taken a back seat to Shaquille O’Neal in the playoffs. And he expects to see the Cavs push the ball more aggressively and consistently, based on their success when they’ve done that in this series. “Cleveland in Game 3 did everything in transition. They pushed the tempo,” Barry said. “They did it in Game 3, then in Game 4, nothing. … I don’t understand how that happens.”
|Rondo has seen it all before||05.10.10 at 9:17 pm ET|
Even more, Rondo took the chance to show he can play history teacher, too.
‘It’s happened before,” Rondo said in recalling the 2008 NBA Finals. “LeBron is going to be LeBron. He’s a great help-defender so he’s definitely going to be helping. He’s a good defender. They did that a couple of years ago when Kobe was checking me in the Finals. So, I’m used to bigger guys giving me the shot and challenging me late because of their wingspan. But [Anthony] Parker, is 6-7, 6-6, he’s not LeBron but he’s similar. He’s not a first-team All Defense but he’s a good defender.
‘It really doesn’t matter about the matchups. Obviously, a big thing in the playoffs is the matchups, but for me, I don’t really care who’s guarding me. I’m still going to run our offense and our system. We run our sets on offense through Paul, Ray and Kevin.’
But Rondo isn’t as worried about who guards him Tuesday as he is the final result. A win and Rondo and the Celtics could clinch on home court Thursday night.
‘Each game you say is the most important game of the series, which is true,” he said. “Game 5 is the biggest game for us right now. There can be a momentum swing. The series has been up and down. I think each game is won, loss, won, loss so hopefully we can change it up and get two wins in a row.
‘The pressure is on them now and also on us. So there’s no one-way street now as far as to where the pressure is. I’m fairly confident we can go into Cleveland and get a win. We definitely have to be focused.’
As for getting Paul Pierce started, Rondo said he’ll do what he can but he knows his captain won’t force things.
‘We don’t want to sacrifice the entire offense or the team just to get Paul involved,” he said. “Paul is just an unselfish player so he’s not complaining about shots or that he’s only scoring 11 or 12 points. As long as we’re winning, he knows it’s a team sport. He’s very unselfish. It’s about sacrifices. Yesterday, I think Ray [Allen] got 21 shots up and myself. Maybe Paul gets 22 shots and maybe Ray and I only shoots four. It varies each game. If a guy has it going, you keep going to him.’
|Paul Pierce meet David Ortiz||at 4:32 pm ET|
After scoring just nine points in 31 minutes on Sunday in the 97-87 Celtics win over Cleveland that evened the series, 2-2, everyone wants to know if Paul Pierce is physically fine.
And if he is, as he told reporters following Monday’s practice, why then is he having such trouble getting his offensive game going?
‘I’m not a rookie, you guys. I’m not a rookie,” Pierce said with a painful smile very similar to the one a certain Red Sox slugger sported after getting grilled about his woes just TWO games into the season.
“It is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation, regardless. Whether it’s foul trouble, not playing, things not going so well for you, I know how to get through those times, mentally. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player where I had two or three fouls and not really playing the kind of basketball I want to. But the key is to keep focused and doing what you can to help the team win.’
And about your physical condition Paul?
‘There’s nothing wrong me,” Pierce said. “The key for me is being focused and giving my team what they need to win. So there’s nothing wrong with me.’
‘No, Paul’s fine, Paul’s fine,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers added. “Obviously, we want more out of him but we’re getting a lot out of him. I think unfortunately for Paul, he’s an offensive player and that’s what everyone sees in him and he has a defensive part in this series so they’re going to look at his offensive numbers so that’s the bad part of being Paul Pierce, really.’
Specifically, it was the early foul trouble in Games 3 and 4 at the Garden that Pierce pointed to as the main culprit in robbing him of offensive rhythm.
“If you’re a scorer, you’re a scorer for life,” Rivers said. “It’s like you’re in a gang, a scoring gang. I think scorers still think, ‘OK,’ and then once they get into it they realize, ‘Wow, this is tough.’ We just keep telling him to be aggressive. The one thing I did tell him was I thought I did think we got the right matchups for him he wasn’t looking to score. When we do get those situations, we need him to morph back into Paul.”
‘We don’t want to sacrifice the entire offense or the team just to get Paul involved,” added Rajon Rondo. “Paul is just an unselfish player so he’s not complaining about shots or that he’s only scoring 11 or 12 points. As long as we’re winning, he knows it’s a team sport. He’s very unselfish. It’s about sacrifices. Yesterday, I think Ray [Allen] got 21 shots up and myself. Maybe Paul gets 22 shots and maybe Ray and I only shoots four. It varies each game. If a guy has it going, you keep going to him.’
Pierce said he will not let games of 13, 14, 11 and nine points take him out of his focus of doing what it takes to help the team win the series, namely defend and help on LeBron James.
‘All that other stuff goes out the window, being frustrated,” Pierce said. “You really have to concentrate on the game when you’re not in the game so that when you go back in the game, you can finish it.
‘I’m digging myself a ditch as far as my fouls but I think they’re good fouls I’m getting, some bad ones but that’s the way the game goes. It’s nothing I’m really worried about. I know I can do a better job and control. No matter how I’m doing offensively, as long as we win, that’s all that matters to me.’
And winning Game 5 in Cleveland Tuesday is Job No. 1.
‘We definitely have a sense of urgency going into Game 5,” Pierce said. “We have to treat it like a Game 7, trying to gather some momentum, like we’ve been trying to do. We know it’s going to be a tough place to play back in Cleveland, trying to get two wins. It’s going to be very difficult. I think we’re going to put our hard hats on and clean up some of things we didn’t do right last night and in Game 3, and hopefully, try to steal another win.’
|Doc: We don’t care who guards Rondo||at 4:17 pm ET|
That’s fine with the Celtics who have been waiting for this to happen since the series started.
“We don’t care who guards Rondo,” Doc Rivers said Monday. “We’re going to still run out stuff. It’s not like we’re going to stop running our offense. We anticipated it. I’ve only talked about it for three games. We know it’s going to come at some point in this series. When it does we have to find a way of using Rondo and making sure he’s still the facilitator.”
Rivers felt that one of the keys in Rondo’s huge Game 4 performance was that he made things happen off ball movement. This was a key difference from Game 3 when most of the Celtics offense came off one-on-one isolation plays (or rather breakdowns).
Rondo, who sees more gimmick defenses and adjustments than any of the other Celtics combined, isn’t worried about it either.
“It’s happened before,” Rondo said. “LeBron is going to be LeBron. He’s a great help-defender so he’s definitely going to be helping. He’s a good defender. They did that a couple of years ago when Kobe [Bryant] was checking me in the Finals. So, I’m used to bigger guys giving me the shot and challenging me late because of their wingspan.”
Brown has resisted employing the LeBron option to this point and a good reason for doing so is that James has taken Paul Pierce out of the series to this point. If he does take Rondo, that would put Anthony Parker on Pierce, and while Parker is a good, veteran defender, he’s no nearly as physically imposing as James.
“That’s probably one of the reasons they haven’t,” Rivers said. “But they’re going to at some point. It may not be all game. It may be in the fourth quarter. It may be in the second half, out of timeouts. And will be ready for it.”
|Pierce: There’s nothing wrong with me||at 3:05 pm ET|
Pierce has dealt with a myriad of injuries this season, but given the caveat that every player is a little banged up at this point in the season, he stated flatly Monday after the Celtics went through a brief practice that he was fine.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Pierce said. “For me, it’s just being ready, being focused, giving my team whatever it needs to win. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
There are other mitigating factors that have contributed to his sub-par numbers (16-for-50, 4-for-18 from 3-point range). For one, he has found himself in early foul trouble and for another, he is guarding LeBron James at the other end of the floor.
“I’m digging myself a ditch as far as with my fouls,” Pierce said. “I think they’re good fouls that I’m giving, some bad ones, but that’s the way the game goes.”
“Paul’s fine,” Doc Rivers said when asked about his health. “Obviously we want more out of him, but we’re getting a lot out of him. I think, unfortunately for Paul, he’s an offensive players and that’s what everyone sees in him. He has a defensive role in this series and so they’re going to look at his offensive numbers. That’s the bad part of being Paul Pierce, really. If it was Tony Allen, people would be happy. He’s doing a great job defensively, but it’s Paul, so they want more. And we’re going to get more out of Paul. I believe that.”
Pierce was asked if he felt like he at least one vintage Paul Pierce game in him for the last three games of the series.
“I hope so, but that’s not something I’m pressing,” he said. “I’m trying to help my team win. Whether it’s scoring or defense, it’s about winning.”
Pierce is also a veteran, and he’s drawing on past experiences to get him through this stretch.
“I’m not a rookie,” Pierce said. “It is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation. I know I can get through those times mentally. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player, where I had two or three fouls and not really playing the type of basketball I wanted to play. The key is to just stay focused and doing what you can do to help the team. All that other stuff goes out the window.”