Friday, January 9, 2009

Celtics-Cavs Running Diary (™Bill Simmons)

FOURTH QUARTER:

• (4:14): Scal and O'Bryant enter the game, and Doc has thrown in the towel as the Big 3 heads to the bench. The crowd breaks out the rare "Over-rated!" chant, and I can't even muster any anti-Cleveland comments in a rebuttal at this point. Actually: Cleveland sucks. There.

Some quick thoughts about the game:

1) Cleveland is clearly the best team in the league, and it will be tough to beat them in a seven-game series if they earn home court advantage. The Celtics have now lost 10 straight in Cleveland, and the Cavs are 19-0 at home this season. Geez. When did freaking Cleveland become the Boston Garden circa 1986? 

2) Rondo is lost. There were probably 10 times where he penetrated just inside the free throw line and created space to square up for a nice, easy pull-up or floater, the kind of shot confident point guards (think Nash) take all the time. Rondo didn't even look at the rim. He continued skating horizontally (i.e. parallel to the baseline) and kicked to a jump-shooter. He had one field goal tonight. Rondo has to score for the Celtics to regain their old form. 

3) People are going to get on Pierce for his 4-for-15 performance, but he was due for a bad shooting game. He's been the only guy hitting shots at a decent clip lately, so I'll let this one slide. 

That's it. I can't think anymore about this game. But I'm worried. This game wasn't close. 


• (4:30): Rondo takes a three from the left wing. It's a brick. I smile. (87-71, Bronnites).

• (6:10): Lebron with a steal, dribbles down the court side-by-side with Rondo, sheds Rajon and goes up for a crazy lefty scoop shot with the trailing Ray Allen in his face. It swishes. The announcers and the crowd go crazy, Wally is doing the dumb "you're so hot I have to fan you" towel wave and the game is over. Book it. I don't think Garnett has touched the ball in a scoring position on offense this entire quarter. Yup--no FG attempts so far for KG. (83-68, Cavs).

• (7:25): Varejao with a flop so ridiculous Van Gundy AND the refs call him out. Pierce fouled him on the way up, but long after the contact ended, Varejao lurched awkwardly to the ground and then, with some final gusto, shook his head around to try and make it look like his head slammed into the floor. Maybe he thought his floppy hair would create some sort of optical illusion. The ref approached Varejeo and patted him forcefully on the leg several times, as if to say, "Get up and stop wasting my time. No one bought that." No one in the crowd even booed Pierce. They realized it was bogus. Varejao is Brazilian, right? More evidence (as if we needed it) of soccer's insidious influence on basketball. 

• (8:10): The crowd chants "Boston Sucks" during some dead time. These people live in Cleveland. I've never even been to Cleveland, but I know it sucks. Hey, we have the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, so we're a real city now! No, you're not. Meanwhile, Bron keeps getting to the rim and finishing, and it's 78-66, and the game feels over. 

•(9:52): Awesome moment from Lebron, who started the fourth on the bench. Pierce hits a fadeaway to cut the lead to 10, and Bron stands up and looks at Mike Brown, showing him he's ready to go in. Brown says no, and Bron sits down. Thirty seconds later, Powe muscles in an and-one, and suddenly Coach Brown motions for Lebron to come on in, son. (74-66, Cavs).

•(12:00): The only hope: Pierce has a huge fourth quarter. Oh! Scratch that! We have new hope! Scal has checked in!!!

THIRD QUARTER:
•(0:00): Bron and West hit 3s around a Baby turnover, and it's a double-digit lead after three. Lebron has outscored Pierce 28-7, Rondo has one field goal and Lebron is running around on defense causing problems and this has stopped being fun. The ESPN crew is slobbering all over themselves to point out that Lebron has become a great all-around player. Van Gundy calls his D Pippen-like, Shulman says he's "dominating every aspect of the game" and I'm thinking that maybe if we had Tony Allen tonight things would be different. Thinking Tony Allen is the missing piece = time for a beer. (72-60, Lebrons)

• (2:30): Here's a nice 15 seconds. Rondo shows his value by getting a DRB in traffic, rocketing out of the pack and creating a 2-on-1 with Allen. Bounce pass, Allen goes up for a lay-in only to have Lebron fly in like a freaking super hero (We are All Witnesses) and swat it off the glass. Now, I'm a Celtics homer, but this looked like a goal-tend to me. On the other end, Lebron gets the ball about 18 feet away with Rondo on him. Bron sees Rondo's arm extended and does that annoying thing shooters do now where they take a "jump" shot, only they jump just slightly forward, so their arm brushes against the defender's extended arm. Foul on Rondo, and the shot falls (of course). 

This little "jump into the defender's arm" technique is the new version of the Reggie Miller/Mailman leg kick in terms of drawing bogus fouls. I hate it. Paul Pierce should start doing it. (63-56)

•(4:40): I HATE this sequence. Celtics get a steal, and Rondo slips open along the baseline on the other end. He goes up for what should be a lay-in or a foul as West (I think) jumps up to challenge. Rondo should just go up strong. Instead, he brings the ball down for one of those aforementioned crazy wrap-arounds for a trailer who's not there...and he's not there, and Cleveland steals it and I'm cursing and there's Varejao (of course it's the most annoying Cav) hitting a twisting lay-up, and one. Hey, Rajon: SHOOT! (59-51, Cavs). 

• (10:00): I LOVE this sequence. Rondo pokes the ball away and sprints on offense. Perk picks up the loose ball and hits Rondo ahead of the pack. It's Rondo and Lebron in a race to the rim, with Rajon coming in at an angle and Lebron streaking down the middle--a classic shot-block position. Rondo goes up for the lay-up, Bron rises for the block, and I expect Rondo to freak out and try some crazy wrap-around pass to a trailer who's not there. Instead, he goes up strong, bodies up to Bron and draws a foul. Two foul shots. (49-45, Cavs).

SECOND QUARTER:

•(0:00): The C's finish on a 5-0 run (including a Pierce 3 that felt like a huge relief), and the play-by-play guy does the whole "it could be a lot worse" thing. The most notable thing that happened was Van Gundy declaring Lebron is better than Larry Bird, which is offensive to me because a) Lebron is 24 and we're talking about the Basketball Jesus and b) I know it's only a matter of time until that statement is true, if it's not already, and this hurts me. (49-40, Cavs)

Halftime stats of note:

-Cleveland: 54% shooting; just two turnovers; 15 for Bron, 9 for Mo Williams. The offense is performing as advertised. 

-Boston: 45% shooting, 1-7 from deep, six turnovers (that's good for them!). 

• (2:39): Here's a sequence that sort of defines the game. The C's were down 41-33. Their next three possessions went: Pierce missed 3, turnover, turnover. Cleveland hadn't scored in that span, either, meaning each possession brought the chance to make the game close. After the second Boston turnover (a botched pass from Pierce to KG on a pick-and-roll), Lebron went around a high screen, took a couple of dribbles at the top of the arc, realized no one had bothered to jump out on him and drained a wide open 3. This is what JVG (and everyone else) is talking about when they say the C's defensive intensity isn't there. Doc's advice in the huddle: "Keep plugging away!" (44-33 Cavs). 

•(6:03): Leon Powe drops the ball, Boobie! hits a three and the Cavs are up 10 again. Timeout, starters are coming back in. Net gain/loss from bench: 0. I'll take it. One thing about Powe: If he develops a jumper, he'll become a very, very good offensive player. Varejao couldn't stop him in the post (Powe made three quick FGs) and started playing off him, giving Powe an open 13-footer from the spot where Duncan would bank it in. Powe, channeling Rondo, insisted on trying to get the rim anyway and turned it over. (41-31, Cavs)

• (8:29): Bron's on the bench, so the C's reserves actually have cut the lead down to seven. JVG calls Baby "a basketball player" (fact-checking...Yup, he's right) and points out that Baby is a decent one-on-one defender. He can't jump at all, but he's got quick little (fat) feet and contests shots. It helps that Z is out and the Cavs have no post-up players who can take advantage of the lack of size and shot-blocking off the C's bench. Wally and Ray are trying to take advantage of each other (not like that!) and are tossing up some bricks. 

• (12:00): Celtics line-up: Powe, House, Baby, Pruitt, Ray Allen. Let's see how it goes.

FIRST QUARTER:

• (0:00): Well, this is fun. In the last two minutes, we've had an open Wally 3 (assist froma a doubled-up Lebron, natch), two Lebron dunks and a Lebron lay-up, and it's 33-23 Cleveland. Cavs are shooting close to 80 percent. One bright spot: with about 2 minutes left, Rondo curled, received a pass at the top of the key, rose and fired in one smooth motion....and....it went in. Hey, Rajon: SHOOT! Oh, and Perk is OK. 

• (3:17): Shit. Perkins, who's having a great start with 8 pts on 4-for-4 shooting, gets fouled on the way up and comes down grimacing, holding his left shoulder--the same left shoulder he hurt last year in the playoffs and aggravates now and then. On the bright side, Perkins is really learning to finish around the rim. 

As for Rondo, Cleveland is not guarding him on the perimeter. He's not even looking to shoot. Rajon: SHOOT!

•  (4:44): Lebron makes Pierce look silly on a cross-over drive to the hoop, and one. Pierce cannot guard him one-on-one, but we knew this already. (22-14, Cavs).

• (6:45) Two things just happened. One: Dan Shulman on play-by-play just mentioned Lebron's height and weight again. STOP. KG, after a made free throw by Lebron, takes a swipe at Varejao and gets T'd up. Mark Jackson says KG often gives "these little reminders" to opponents. I just think his behavior is becoming idiotic at this point.  (19-14, Cavs)

• (8:30) Cleveland scores on their first six possessions. Some easy ones in there. Van Gundy: "That's not championship caliber defense." 

•Big Z is out for this game. That helps. The Celtics are wearing white and the Cavs are wearing blue throwbacks of some kind.  Van Gundy says there are too many retro nights now. This is why he's awesome.

PRE-GAME on ESPN:

Lebron is a Hoss:

Stu has mentioned Lebron's height and weight at least three times already (6'8'', 270). He's big AND fast! That's a scary combination! He then calls Tim Tebow the "Kevin Garnett of college football," or maybe he called Garnett the Tebow of the NBA. Either way it makes no sense, and hey, the game's starting after these commercials.

Oh, That Lebron!

We are subjected to a five-minute video from the Olympics featuring Lebron telling bad jokes while his teammates "crack up." He's just talking in funny voices and doing things like pretending to announce starting line-ups like a PA announcer ("Kobe Bryant...Bryant...Bryant"). "He never stops!" Kobe says breathlessly. 

All I can think about: I can't wait to listen to Jeff Van Gundy talk about basketball. 

And on the Cavs

The quartet moves to the question of why Cleveland has improved. Mash has a nice analysis of what Mo brings to the table. Stu counters with this (in mock exasperation): "Aren't they better because, I don't know, Lebron James is better this season?" Thanks, Stu. Mash says Lebron is chasing Kobe. In championships, yes. As a player, Lebron has passed Mamba. Doesn't everyone know this by now? 

The studio guys on the C's: 

Jamal Mashburn: "Rondo can't shoot." 

Avery Johnson: "They've been exposed." He then suggests the Celtics pursue a trade for Stephen Jackson. Jackson is 30 and signed a three-year extension in November. No thanks. 

Wilbon follows by suggesting the Celtics have to make a move now and don't have the luxury of waiting to see what the Cavs do with Wally World's contract. 

I now really really want Boston to win this game.


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