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May 14, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Celtics Do It Together

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Boston 94, Cleveland 85 (Celtics win series 4-2)
Pace: 96.0
Offensive Ratings: Celtics 97.9, Cavaliers 88.5

This is stealing a page from Bill Simmons, but I'm far from the first Web writer to borrow from the estimable Sports Guy, so I hope you won't view me as being overly derivative. I wanted to capture my shifting thoughts on Game 6 of the Cavaliers-Celtics on Thursday, which comes on the heels of one of the most-debated games in recent NBA history, so I'm putting this in a quasi-diary format. I won't be using a typical time stamp because I never watch sports in real time. (Really hate commercials.) Instead, I'll just the log the time of my DVR recording.

0:07 Entering the game, I'm really anxious to see how LeBron James responds, as is every other basketball fan in the known world. Is he aware of the extent his performance in Game 5 has been sliced, diced and philosophized? What will his initial approach be? Brian Windhorst, the fine Cavs beat writer from the Plains-Dealer, wrote earlier in the day that James may play a fair amount of point guard in Thursday's game. If so, this strikes me as a desperation move on the part of Cleveland coach Mike Brown, though, admittedly, this may be the time for desperation. However, James is already by far the primary scorer and playmaker for Cleveland and changing his position is only going to thrust others into uncomfortable roles. The notion was that Mo Williams' time would be slashed. As rough as Williams has had it in this series, I just don't see how the Cavs can win without him stepping up. If James can't hurt Boston from the perimeter, Williams has to fill the void. The starting lineups are the same for both teams as they've been throughout the series, not that I expected anything different.

0:07 Brown starts with Shaq against Garnett. All KG has to do is get him out on the floor with some space to work. This should also allow Perkins to go to work on the left block against Jamison with that little jump hook. Garnett starts the scoring with jumper.

0:07 LeBron gets on the board right away. Cleveland brings everyone out high to create spacing along the baseline, then James backcuts on Pierce and gets an uncontested dunk. This sort of set is something the Cavs run very well, especially when they have their more mobile big men on the floor. Typically, however, James is the deliverer, not the receiver, out of this set. Mo Williams made a nice bounce pass.

0:08 Garnett has already hit two more or less uncontested jumpers against Shaq. Jeff Van Gundy applauded the move to put Shaq on KG. I donít see much to like.

0:09 A fast start for the Celtics. Two jumpers by Garnett, one each by Allen and Pierce. Eight points on four possessions. Cavs have two on three, with LeBron using all three.

0:13 Not a great deal of ball movement for either team. Mo Williams is being aggressive with his shot, but is doing so in isolation. Could be worth it to get him going. Celtics are trying to exploit OíNeal and Williams with isos and screens, but their passing has basically been strictly on drive-and-kicks. Could become stagnant real fast.

0:14 First 10 possession check: Boston has 120.0 Offensive Rating; Cleveland is at 70.0. James tried to be aggressive early; Celts werenít having it. He hasnít been involved in Cavsí last six trips down the floor. Both teams seem to be rushing into early shots right now.

0:14 No Jeff, take Shaq off the floor. (Van Gundy suggested only option to having Shaq check Garnett was to bring in Varejao early and remove Jamison.) As I type that, Jamison gets caught way out of position as the Cavs sort of triple-blitzed Rondo out top on screen set by Garnett. Rondo just dribbled to the middle of the floor, while Perkins slipped into the lane. Rondo fed him for an easy dunk.

0:18 Doc says media coverage of LeBron last two days has been awful. What he said. Then LeBron tries to softly lay in a dump-off pass in traffic and Perkins sends it back the other way. It was a soft play. Dunk that s***.

0:25 Celts still up by six and James still isnít a big part of the Cleveland offense. However, heís become more active on defensive end with a couple of sneaky steals, one of them a sheer hustle play when he intercepted a Pierce throw-ahead to a spotting Ray Allen.

0:26 20 possession check: Bostonís Offensive Rating has slipped to 100.0, Clevelandís is ďupĒ to 75.0. Cleveland doing a good job of forcing Celtic jumper, but still not solving Bostonís defense.

0:30 Ilgauskas making an early appearance, pairing with Varejao up front. This is where youíd like to see Hickson. Moon comes in a short while later, so Brown has almost his second unit in the game with James. Still would like to see Hickson. Did I already say that?

0:39 END OF FIRST QUARTER. Cleveland closes quarter strong, trimming lead to one at one point. Boston scored five points on last 12 possessions, while the Cavs put up 15 on final 12 to close gap. James abandoned his perimeter game for most part and found other ways to get points. He and Williams were huge. The easy looks Boston had early dissipated, and the Cavs clearly have the momentum entering the second quarter. Celticsí bench hasnít played well on either end of the floor initially. Game was played at brisk paceó106.0 pace, if you can believe thatóbut neither offense managed a point per possession.

0:45 I can see Van Gundyís point about not giving Rondo too much space in which to work out top, so he likes West playing tight on Rondo. Rondo drives around him, but Clevelandís defense has to rotate over to help. On most recent play, Rondo got by West a little too easily and Varejao was slow to come over to help. Rondo ends up with the traditional three-point play. Celtics have 28 points on 28 possessions!

0:47 James is used by a decoy as Cleveland runs a play on the left side of the court. The Celtics overload the strong side and, finally, James cuts along the baseline, but Delonte Westís desperate pass is picked off by Tony Allen. West is not helping Clevelandís cause. Heís made a couple of bad turnovers, missed his open looks and been exploited on defense. Making things worse, Rondo pushed the ball down the floor after the turnover, then hit Allen for a layup. James didnít make it back down the floor. Second quarter is not going well for Cleveland. Boston has eight points on three possessions so far in the quarter, is on an eight-point run and has its biggest lead at 33-23.

0:54 James is not even looking for the jumper, but his body language suggests a guy on the attack. Cleveland ran a double-screen for him, he drove and was bumped by Rasheed, who then picked up a technical. Cavs have stemmed the Celticsí early tide in the quarter.

0:57 Cavs go on an 8-0 run overall, holding the Celtics scoreless on five straight trips. James has created with the pass against Bostonís aggressive defense, while cutters Moon and Varejao have also been finding working room. Boston not finding looks; Garnett is still resting, Pierce is sitting with three fouls, Ray Allen has not gotten off. Celts end run as Tony Allen picks up a foul in transition. By the wayóJames is now guarding Rondo, though I havenít really seen James playing the lead guard spot on offense.

1:05 Tide of this game has turned. Cavs now getting it done on offense behind Mo Williams, who has been aggressively pushing the ball down the floor. Heís got 18 points and Cavs are within 1. Cleveland has scored on four of last five possessions.

1:22 END OF SECOND QUARTER. More offense in the second quarter, but overall, Cleveland has a 98.0 Off. Rtg; Boston is a 100.0. Pace is at 50.5, with Celts getting extra possession. What a huge first half for Mo Williams, whose offense made up for his plentiful defensive breakdowns. He had 10 points on three shots in the quarter. Tony Allen also had 10 points in the period. The brisk pace is leading to a lot of turnoversó22 overall, 13 by Cleveland. LeBron had four of those; he had 12 points, 5 boards, 5 assists, 18 possessions. Williams had 20 points in the half, took 10 shots. For Boston, what jumps out is that Pierce had two points, seven possessions used. Celts have an 11-4 advantage off of fastbreaks. Those four Cleveland fastbreak points have come on eight transition opportunities. If the Cavs had converted more of those, they could have a comfortable lead rather than trailing by two.

1:42 Garnett makes a nice skip a pass to Allen in the corner, but Ray-Ray misses another three. Heís 0-of-4 from downtown in the game. You get the feeling Allen is going to have to get going for Boston to get over the top. Meanwhile, Shaq just grabbed his third offensive rebound as second-chance points are starting to mount in Clevelandís favor. Game is tied.

1:43 Cleveland scores first five points of second half to go up by three. Parker just hit a corner three after the Celticsí defense got all bunched up on the right side of the floor, and James just swung the ball. Paul Pierce was caught having to defend James and Parker on the play. Boston looks a little flat-footed right now.

1:56 Rather than taking control, the Cavs went on a prolonged drought, going scoreless on five straight trips down the floor. Shaq scored on still another second-chance opportunity to knot the game at 57.

2:02 As quarter has developed, Boston has heated up once again from outside and has taken control. Itís a 16-3 run overall, turning the Cavsí four-point advantage to a nine-point Celtics lead. James just is not a threat from the outside and while heís working hard and contributing in many other facets of the game, he canít take over like the Cavs need him toóhe just canít. The Cavs have scored on just two of their last 11 possessions. Meanwhile, Boston has scored on four straight trips and none of them featured any real ball movementójust Rondo kicking to the open guy for an open jumper.

2:16 END OF THIRD QUARTER. Not looking good for Cleveland. Boston scored on 10 of last 14 possessions in period. Williams slowed down for the Cavs and James still shows no signs of being able to hit an outside shot. With 73 possessions for each team, Bostonís Offensive Rating is up to 104.1; Cleveland is at 91.8. James was 1-of-4 in the period; heís 5-of-16 in the game and has seven turnovers. His raw lineó17 points, 13 boards, 8 assists, 3 stealsóreflects just how hard heís working, but the Cavs just havenít been efficient on offense with him ailing. And, yes, I think heís ailing. That seems pretty clear. Clevelandís 10-2 edge on offensive glass and 13-6 on second-chance points has kept them within hailing distance. Entering the fourth quarter, if not James, then who? James has been aggressive, but the Celtics have locked down the lane.

2:25 Wow. Rondo started the fourth quarter by driving right to the hoop to put Boston up by 11. Since then, itís been all Cleveland. The Celtics have come up empty on five straight trips. Boston has stagnated in a major way. Meanwhile, the missing outside shot of James has miraculously returned. Heís pulled up twice in a row in transition and buried treys. Cavs are within four. Timeout Boston. Itís ainít over yet.

2:35 Celtics staved off the run. Four straight stops, two of them off of Jamesí turnovers. Rondo scores in transition on first miscue; Pierce hits a three as a trailer in transition off the second. Boston is back up by nine. Turnovers killing James and the Cavs. You know the momentum has shifted with Rasheed makes the cardinal error of saving a ball blindly over his shoulder right in front of the Cleveland basket. The ball goes right to Pierce.

2:36 Cleveland is really gripping. They havenít scored in six possessions and have missed two quick pull-up shots in transition on the last two trips down. Then Pierce drives and kicks to Rasheed for a corner three, putting Boston up 12 to match its biggest lead. I love that Doc has Rasheed in there to go against Shaq, who wonít follow him to the three-point line. Yet another way to victimize the aged big man on the defensive end.

2:37 Then Williams gets stripped, Rondo leaves it for KG, a monster dunk, and the house comes down. Cavs are looking mortality squarely in the eyes.

2:54 END OF THE FOURTH QUARTER. And itís over. Cleveland just didnít have enough down the stretch, on either end. Boston moves onto conference finals.

CODA In the end, Jamesí line was impressive--27 points, 19 boards, 10 assists. But he had to work awfully hard to get there, with 35 possessions and nine turnovers. Say what you will about Jamesí performance. I suspect youíll see more than one article taking the angle that he didnít rise to the occasion. But if you were watching that game on Thursday, you canít say he failed to give maximum effort. I look at the box score and see 15 minutes for Ilgauskas and 10 seconds for Hickson. The Cavs had 10 missed free throws and 24 turnovers. Jamison was 2-of-10 from the floor. Clevelandís bench was outscored 24-13. Boston had a 19-8 edge in transition. There are lots of reasons Cleveland lost, but hereís the biggest reason: Boston outplayed the Cavaliers. It should be a heck of a matchup in the next round, as the last two Eastern Conference champions battle head to head.

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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Playoff Prospectus (05/17)
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Playoff Preview (05/16)

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