If Ugly could be bottled, you could have sold several gallons of it tonight at the Q. Following up a first half that bore a striking resemblance to the first half on Saturday night with just about the worst third quarter imaginable, the Cavaliers, after falling behind by 25 and then rallying to within ten, ran out of gas and were soundly defeated by the Celtics, 104-86. And we are right back where we started from, dead even in this series, with one exception: Home-court advantage now belongs to Boston.
It seemed almost pre-ordained...the big pregame ceremony with David Stern presenting LeBron James with the MVP trophy, while the Celtics calmly collected near their bench, seemingly ready to steal the headlines in this game...Boston certainly was in game form right from the start, even though Cleveland took a brief 17-16 lead late in the first. The final possession of the first quarter, Rajon Rondo calmly nailing a three to extend Boston's lead to 26-22...it just felt like, tonight at least, the Cavaliers were in big trouble. The Celtics shooting 67% from the field in the opening quarter, Shaq looking like he was trying to sink a basketball in a hoop the size of a cup on a green at Manakiki, as the ball bounced left, bounced right, came up short, etc. going everywhere but in, LeBron seeming to be tentative again, Mo Williams showing none of his magic from the other night.
Yet by the half, the margin was still only four, much better than the eleven the Cavs had been down on Saturday, and even though Boston again had the lead in every offensive category, at least percentage-wise. Cleveland was hanging in there thanks to a 13 to four advantage in free throws, although at that stage there were already five misses. Antawn Jamison was the only Cav in double figures at the intermission, with 11 points, while LeBron and Anderson Varejao had eight. Mo Williams had done nothing to heat up, standing at one of 7 from the field at the break. Meanwhile Boston was shooting 51%, had doubled up the Cavs with six threes, had Rajon Rondo with 12 assists to go with eight points, had Rasheed Wallace playing like he was still a Piston, raining threes and shorter jumpers for 13 points...and yet...only down four, and with the memory of 48 hours earlier fresh in Boston's mind.
Then came the third quarter.
A Rondo hoop only a couple of minutes in and the lead was suddenly in double figures at 64-53, and the Cavs looked lifeless. Boston, old, worn-out, out-of-gas Boston, was hustling for every rebound, out-fighting the Cavaliers for loose balls, Rondo was out Nash-ing Steve Nash. A James bucket later in the quarter cut the lead, which had grown to 14, down to twelve, at 69-57...and Boston proceeded to run off eleven straight points, and 14 of the last seventeen of the quarter, and when the dust had cleared, Cleveland was down by 23, and boos could be heard clearly. The story of the third was Boston shooting 58% from the field, while Cleveland went five of 16 for 31%, missed all three 3-point attempts, and missed three more free throws. Boston outscored Cleveland in the third twelve minutes by an outrageous 31-12.
Okay, game over, and why is LeBron still out there, it is clear he doesn't have it, the fourth quarter is rolling along here and we're down 91-66, why is he still in the game? And can you not hear the P.A. announcer trying a 'Gimme a C, gimme an A..." chant there, and the crowd sounding like they are watching a touch-football game at Edgewater Park? Oh look, a basket, and hey, there's another....and then there was another, and suddenly, out of nowhere, Cleveland had run off fifteen straight points to cut it to 91-81 with over four minutes to go. But then, a couple of missed long threes, Boston grabs a couple of offensive boards, goes on a little run of its own, and the game, notwithstanding the teasing run by the home team just to give the crowd some semblance of hope, was truly over.
There was some ugliness tonight besides the actual result, including a couple of scuffles underneath the Boston basket involving Anderson Varejao, and a Paul Pierce clothesline of Mo Williams which put Mo on the floor and caused some moron to launch a beer bottle from the crowd. Luckily the bottle missed everything, leading me to assume that the thrower must have been watching free throw attempts for too long...okay, bad attempt at humor, but...
...it's a loss, and only one game, the series is tied, it is not the end of the world. As I said in my look back at the history of Cleveland-Boston match-ups in the playoffs, the only time the Cavs actually beat Boston in the post season, Cleveland had home-court and lost the advantage in Game Two, yet still managed to win one in Boston and to win the series...that is all that is needed now, to win one game on the east coast, and to come back and hold serve at the Q next time, by coming out ready, not to face the 'old' team the media is trying to foist on everyone, but to face a damned good and experienced team.
Game Three is Friday night in Boston. The time to start taking that game seriously began at the final horn tonight.