BOSTON - MAY 09: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics react to a call during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2010 NBA playoffs at TD Garden on May 9, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts NOTE TO USER: User Expressly Acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
How about this. Let's forget Game 1-4 of the Cavaliers series with the Boston Celtics and focus on the future. This series is nothing more than a Best 2-out-3 for the chance to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. For all the talk of the play of Rajon Rondo, the lack of urgency from the Cavaliers, LeBron's elbow, Shaq's unhappiness with playing time and Paul Pierce's disappearing game, this series has been incredibly even - and uneven at the same time.
With the series tied at 2, both teams have won a home game, both teams have won road games by big margins. At times during the series, the effort and energy level of both teams has been questioned. Amazing how the roller coaster of the playoffs can affect even the most seasoned journalist and basketball 'expert'. With each quarter, the praise or bashing commences. How about this - the Cavaliers and Celtics are evenly matched and this series is just an extension of that.
As we head into tonight's 'pivotal' Game 5 at the Q, there are some questions that have been floating around the blogosphere and twitterverse that I thought I would take a stab at - to help pass the time until tonight's game.
1. Will the Cavaliers play with that sense of urgency we have come to expect?
A funny term, 'Sense of Urgency'. While it is true that the Celtics seemed to win every lose ball, get to every 50/50 ball and make every hustle play in Games 2 and 4, the Cavaliers didn't help matters by taking, and missing, a ton of jump-shots. More on that later.
To me, it isn't about effort or urgency, it is about having a mindset that you are going to attack the basket. The Cavaliers did that in Game 3 - following LeBron's lead. They kept attacking the rim. This had multiple effects on the Celtics. First, the strategy got the Celtics' big men in foul trouble. It also allowed the offense to get into a rhythm. How many times have you seen a jump-shooter who is struggling catch fire after a dunk or layup? Mo Williams is the perfect example of this after his Game 1 dunk.
Most importantly, when the Cavs are scoring, it forces Boston to inbound the ball, allowing the Cavaliers defense to get set. It allowed Anthony Parker to get into Rajon Rondo making it more difficult to get the Celtics into their offense. The result was some poor execution.
The Cavaliers scored 36 points in the 1st Quarter and attempted just 1 three pointer. That was on the final play when Mo Williams took a 30-footer at the buzzer. That is the type efficient offense the Cavaliers need to get into the habit of instead of the drive-and-kick offense they seem to settle for. To compare, in Game 4, the Cavaliers took four 3-pointers in the 1st Quarter, and LeBron settled for 2 other jumpers from just inside the 3-point line.
Paul Pierce has already come out and stated the obvious - that tonight is the biggest game of the Celtics season. Something tells me the Cavaliers know that as well.
2. So, what do we do about Rajon Rondo?
That is the big question, but like the last one, people are making too much of it. Rondo is at his best in transition. It won't matter who is defending him. How do you slow down transition? Attack on the other end and force your opponent to play defense. Quick shots, early in the shot-clock, from long-range are the antithesis of that. Long shots create long rebounds. Rondo is a great rebounding Guard. Hell, on Sunday he finished with 18 rebounds. While basketball fundamentals, like boxing out, can limit that number, I have a feeling Rondo won't approach that number if the Cavaliers attack the basket like they did in Game 3.
The Cavaliers are also doing Boston a huge favor by taking long jumpshots. Boston can stay out of foul trouble and doesn't really have to defend. In other words, the best way to defend Rajon Rondo - and the rest of the Celtics for that matter - is to play solid offense on the other end. No bells, whistles, or gimmicks.
3. Is Mike Brown's job in jeopardy should the Cavaliers lose this series?
I have pondered over this one for awhile and each time I come to the conclusion that a loss to the Celtics in this series - especially they way it has gone from a consistency standpoint - could mean trouble for Brown. While he has proven to be a solid defensive coach - and finds ways to adjust game to game - Brown's struggles with in-game adjustments, as well as a rotation that seems inconsistent, yet rigid at the same time have proven to be cause for concern.
We have seen this in the past. Doug Collins could never get the Bulls over the hump in MJ's early days. Sometimes the progression - and pressure - to become a champion means there is some turnover. It is much too early to really concern ourselves with it, but figured it deserved mention.
4. Why the Cavaliers will win this series
The NBA Playoffs are a true grind, despite Phoenix, Orlando and Los Angeles trying to prove otherwise. There were really 5 contenders for the NBA Championship, and those 5 teams are playing. A much weaker Boston team gave Orlando just as hard of a time last season. They are a proud bunch and know this might be their last-best shot at a Title.
That said, I still like the Cavaliers to get it done, starting tonight. Boston needs to be perfect to win. OK, perhaps not perfect, but if they don't get historical performances for 48 minutes, the Cavaliers can blow them out. The Cavs did it in the 3rd Quarter of Game 1 and for 48 minutes in Game 3. Even in Games 2 and 4, the Cavaliers had chances late if they had executed better despite playing poorly for large chunks in both games. That means the Cavaliers margin for error is much higher than the Celtics.
With 2 of the 3 games at The Q, I expect the home team to come out swinging to defend their court. The Cavaliers have proved time and time again after a loss that they mean business the next night. I expect them to be ready tonight.