Well that game was… interesting.After watching the Cavs get manhandled in the first half, they come back to win it in Boston 108-88, outscoring Boston 60-32. As surprising as the outcome was, the game played out like a lot of Boston’s games this year. The Celtics couldn’t keep up with a small, spry, long, athletic lineup. They were 0-4 against the Hawks this year, and this athletic Cavs lineup gave them fits. I’ve been advocating a 5-Forward lineup for a little while now, and the Cavs essentially employed one all 2nd half tonight.
The Cavs started the game flat, getting down 10 after the first quarter and down 8 at the half. They looked out of rhythm and out of sorts. Mo was getting eaten up by Rondo. Give credit to Doc Rivers (or Rondo, if he broke the play 50 times), but the Celtics know how to exploit the weak links in other teams defenses. Rondo slowed down a bit when Delonte came in, but the Cavs guards need to play better defense and make more open shots. In the second quarter, they showed a bit more energy (especially from Varejao), but the defense was looking atrocious. The Celtics were getting any look they wanted for the first few minutes. But all of that changed with Glen “I don’t want to be called Big Baby anymore but no other nickname suits my puerile body” Davis sprained Shaq’s thumb. Shaq called a timeout on the next possession, and he left for the rest of the game. Definitely a scary moment (Windhorst pointed out that last week the Cavs had 2 centers, this week they have 0), but it was the turning point of the game.
During halftime, Charles Barkley seemed to predict that the loss of Shaq would be a blessing in disguise for the Cavs, enabling them to play some quick smallball. And after Shaq left, the 4-to-5 forward lineup was in play. LeBron, Antawn, Hickson, and Varejao played some great ball in the 2nd half with one of Jamario, Delonte, Mo, or AP. When this lineup got rolling, the Celtics seemed out of sorts (role reversal!), and the icing on the cake was a couple of 27-footers clanking off the rim by Rasheed Wallace. Even though the Cavs were still down 1 at the end of the third quarter, those clankers were a good sign for me.
TNT flashed a graphic towards the end of the 4th quarter, documenting Boston’s FG% per quarter: (70, 50, 30, 17). By the end of the 4th quarter, the Celtics were 3/20, dropping to 15% in the 4th. Wow.
Things I noticed:
1) Mo Williams came back! He hit some biiiig 3s in the 4th off the dribble, off some great passes, and in transition. Great to have him back. This game will probably give him the kick in the butt he needed for his confidence. Gooseneck!
2) Much improved guard play tonight. Rondo and Allen went off for theirs, but they’re really good, so I’m not going to complain too much. Especially because Mo, Delonte, and AP looked alive tonight. Great job, guys. The frontcourt didn’t need to bail them out this time, and with the whole team clicking, everyone seemed to have an easier time creating and scoring.
3) Really fantastic bench play tonight. Game high +/- to JJ and Delonte (+27!). Andy had +18. Jamison had -3, but I’m OK with it, because he scored some big points to help close out the third quarter.
4) JJ got a DNP on Tuesday. Tonight, he proved he’s a valuable rotation player. He was 4-6 for 8 points and 4 rebounds tonight in 23 excellent, weakside-devouring minutes. I’m glad he’s here.
5) Mike Brown got some really important mileage out of a new lineup. Usually for the playoffs, rosters are about 8 people deep. But Brown showed that this roster’s depth has to be used to its fullest potential. Got a team like Orlando that spreads the floor and has an inside threat? Use Jamison and Shaq. Got a team like Boston that can’t keep up with athleticism? Use a 5 Forward lineup. Got a team like the Lakers with three prolifically scoring bigs? Use the twin towers lineup (when Z gets back). Got a team like Charlotte that only goes 6 players deep? Show them you can go 12 players deep and tire them out.
6) Mike Brown also called good timeouts tonight, and when they came out of timeouts, he put in players to address problems. Rondo lighting you up? In comes Delonte. Sheed crowding the paint? Bring in Jamison to spread the floor. Job well done tonight, Mike.
7) Glen Davis annoyed me tonight. I feel like he’s the kid on the playground when you’re 6 that your parents don’t want you hanging around, because he’s so clumsy, either he gets hurt and you get in trouble, or you get hurt. Well, not only did his fake hustle sprain the crap out of Shaq’s thumb, but Jamario slammed his head into Davis’s knee after a Tony Allen offensive foul. Stop unnecessarily hurting our players, Glen!
8) Varejao got a technical foul in the 4th. Why? Perkins threw a non-threatening elbow at LeBron, and Varejao had his back and shoved Perk. Team loyalty and protecting your boys. I’m proud of you, Andy. As is the NBA of the 1980s.