Boston Celtics (2-2) @ Cleveland Cavaliers (2-2)
Time: Tuesday, May 11th, 8:00 PM EST
Venue: Quicken Loans Arena
TV: TNT Radio: WEEI
Officials: Joe Crawford, Marc Davis, Greg Willard (click for full report)
The Line: The series is tied 2-2, with each team dropping a home game.
Coincidentally, this was the exact route the regular season series took.
This series so far has been a wild ride. Game one, the boys looked like they were going to steal one, then LeBron asserted his authority (along with some rodent type creature called a "Mo Williams") and managed to man handle our Celtics.
Then game two took a decidedly green turn, with the Celtics absolutely dominating the Cavaliers, routing them on their own home floor, and thus stealing home court advantage.
Game three was just an absolute gas....if by gas I mean paralyzing demoralizing loss. Never was even a game, just an absolute massacre from minute uno.
Then, the C's turned the tables again and came out with a strong home win, to even up the series behind Rajon Rondo's god-like 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist performance.
So where does that leave tonight? I have no idea. There are many ancillary factors I will discuss further after the jump, but in reality the one factor that will decide this game is going to be which team has a 48 minute sense of urgency. The Cavs are supposed to win tonight, and if 4 games is any kind of a sample size, the pattern suggests that they will.
This series has gone nothing like it was supposed to. Pundits said it would go the typical 2-1-2 five game set. It's the pattern that NBA playoff series have when a clearly better team faces a still kinda good team (as everyone assumed was the case). The formula is simple, better team wins the first 2 at home, worse team scraps the bottom of the fryer for that last little bit of crunchy and puts together an over-achieving game in contest 3 to win thier first home game of the series, then the 'better' team buckles down and takes game 4 in the worse team's back yard, and brings it home to take game 5.
This series though, has been nothing of the sort. The home team has gotten blown out...just absolutely dominated...TWICE. The Celtics won the heart-breaker game (game 4), but LOST the game 3 gimmie, and lost it good. Cleveland lost home court advantage before the series even really started, then gained it back the next game. None of it makes an ounce of sense.
I can tell you, without needing advanced metrics or even solid technical basketball analysis that the winner of Game 5, like it 'twas in Games 2-4, will not be the team who exploits their match-ups better (can you say 'red herring', Mike Brown?), or the team with the most ingeniously drawn up plays (can you say 'sigh of relief', Mike Brown?). The winner tonight will be the team that hustles more, the team that is more aggressive, and the team that keeps it together for 48 minutes. Creating turnovers, getting to 50-50 balls, avoiding defensive lapses..these have been the hallmarks for each victor ever since Cleveland dropped the ball in Game 2, and tonight will be no different.
There is a saying (one I am surprised I haven't heard repeated about a bah-jillion times this series) that goes 'The series doesn't start until someone loses a home game'. Well, this has been a heck of a series for over a week now. I don't have any idea how this game is going to go tonight, but I'm ready for the show.
Game breakdown and more flat jokes after the jump, jump...kriss kross'll make ya....
Probable Starting Lineups
Injuries and Stuff: None
Injuries and stuff: None, although LeBron apparently hit his funny bone on his right elbow like a week and a half ago.
Match-up of the night: Rajon Rondo V LeBron James
Okay, this is a bit of hyperbole, because in no fashion will LeBron cover Rajon Rondo for large stretches tonight, it just doesn't make sense (more on that below) and even if he does guard Rondo for small stretches of play, it shouldn't matter much because he won't stop Rondo from passing the ball. Conversely, Rondo will NEVER cover LeBron.
So, why are they the match-up of the night? Because whichever player can impose his will on the game will probably be the winner. Both of these guys have shown this series that they can seemingly single-handedly decide the outcome of any single game. If either guy gets going early, not only will it show up on the scoreboard, but it will show up in the faces of the guys on the opposing teams. You don't suffer demoralizing box scores like Rondo's 28-18-13 in Game 4 or LeBron's 38-8-7 in Game 3 without gaining a healthy dose of fear and respect for the player. Also, when these guys get rolling, the rest of the team hops on the happy train and plays their heart out. Everything seems to come easier. Whichever guy is stopped from achieving a rhythm tonight will be a good foreshadowing device for predicting a loser.
Hy-PO-thetical Match-up of the night: Paul Pierce V Anthony Parker/Delonte West/Jamario Moon
LeBron James was a first team All-Defensive selection this season, did you know that? He was also Knighted, Elected, Appointed, and declared the 'Chosen One' by a pride of female lions. Point is, the guy is one heck of a ball player. Now Paul Pierce has taken a lot of flack, both from his home town fans and from the lame-stream media talking heads (see what I did there?) for his performance this post season, and frankly his offense, besides a few choice moments, has been pretty mediocre at best.
On top of that, Pierce has been pretty decent on LeBron James for a lot of this series, and while that might not get the big sexy headlines, it is one of the more important roles played by any player through five games. The flip side of that however, is that LeBron has been mostly shutting down Pierce on the offensive end.
Do not, however, believe the stories of our captain's demise. IF LeBron walks the walk and attempts to guard the human blur of awesome known as Rajon Rondo all by his lonesome, and IF Rondo cannot just jump to hyperdrive and get to the hoop anyways, there are going to be some fresh marks ripe for the exploitation guarding Paul Pierce. Delonte West is too small, plus he can only turn left (he's not an ambi-turner). Anthony Parker is too slow and too weak, despite his obviously good genetic composition. Jamario Moon is too obscure to justify with a witty rejoiner, but he can't check Pierce either. The Cavaliers probably will not put LeBron on Rondo, mostly because they don't really have that option to begin with. But if they do, Pierce will have his moment, and well all know that the Captain is a fan of moments. And winning games from a wheelchair. And Blood, Sweat, and Tears.
Three Keys To The Game For The Good Guys:
1) If You See LeBron, and He's Heading To The Hoop, Stop Him.- LeBron James cannot, I repeat cannot, be allowed to feel like he can get to the hoop on demand early tonight. That is how you lose games against the Cavaliers; LeBron James starts getting to the hoop, everyone gets in foul trouble, and the Cavs just have to headfake at the basket to either actually make their 2 points, or go to the line to earn them. This cannot happen tonight, he needs to be stopped before he gets into the paint, and that requires lateral movement, communication, and mistake free help defense. Earn that paycheck, Tom Thibodeau.
2) Get Those 50-50 Balls!- Ever notice every time the Celtics are winning, the announcer always says "They're hustling harder for rebounds, they're getting after loose balls, they're just playing harder."? It doesn't take a degree in rocket appliances to know that the team that hustles harder has a good chance of winning. Worst case Ontario you get some floor burns. The Cavaliers, they will be hustling tonight. Andersen Varejao was seen earlier today going through residential neighborhoods jumping in front of moving vehicles to hone his charge taking technique. Shaquille O'Neal has been sweating since 8am. Well that last one is pretty par for the course, but trust me, the Cavs will be ready. The Celtics need to match the Cavaliers desperation.
3) Dear Rajon Rondo, One More Favor?- Rajon Rondo is already running the offense, getting boards,and dominating ESPN headlines. We need one more favor out of him. Not just him actually, we need it out of Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins too. We need our boys to stop the Cavaliers not named LeBron James. We need them to do that AND play flawless help defense on LeBron James. Tall order? Maybe, but Shaquille O'Neal's play has been a good indicator so far in the losses for the Cavs. Mo Williams is below his season average, only having one good game, and Antawn Jamison is shooing 2-11 from 3 pt land for the season.
The number one priority amongst the three non-LeBrons though should be Mo Williams. He's a player that plays hot, he plays emotionally. When he's down, he brings those around him down. When he's on, he energizes those around him. Also, he handles the ball every time the Cavs have a possession. The Celtics need Mo Williams to have a bad game tonight, and Rondo can probably make it happen. He's first team all-defense after all, and he's doing basically everything else anyways.