LeBron leads Cavs past Celtics

In a game that was closer than the final score, the Cavaliers went on a 9-2 run in the middle of the fourth quarter to coast to an impressive 98-83 victory over the struggling Celtics. Cleveland benefited from a couple of favorable calls to start that run. First, there was a phantom offensive foul on Leon Powe, and then there was the officials’ decision not to reset the shot clock after LeBron stole the ball and lost it out of bounds (which ultimately resulted in a shot clock violation for the Celtics). Even though the Cavs outplayed the Celtics for much of the game, Boston was hanging around and it was those two defensive stops that ignited the run that ultimately put the game out of reach.

LeBron was outstanding — 38 points, seven rebounds, six assists, four steals and three blocks. Truly, it was an MVP performance for all of the doubters out there. In the past, I’ve been critical of his defense, but it looks as if his stint with Team USA has done wonders for his intensity on that end of the court. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s extremely motivated when he faces Paul Pierce. Pierce struggled for much of the night and that had everything to do with LeBron’s defense.

A few random thoughts about the game…

– Where was the crowd? Given a game of this magnitude, I was expecting to tune in to see a playoff atmosphere, but the Cleveland fans sat on their hands for much of the game. They didn’t really get loud until that aforementioned run in the middle of the fourth quarter. It looked like a typical NBA crowd and that’s pretty sad given the relative importance of this game.

– I don’t like the call to wear the throwback uniforms in a game like this — it’s just too important of a game to throw crazy unis on your players. Basketball players are creatures of habit and it messes with their psyche to be wearing road throwbacks in a game of this magnitude. Ultimately, it didn’t matter, but it might have.

– Did anyone else see KG intentionally run into LeBron after the refs refused to reset the shot clock? He walked right past LeBron and hit him with a shoulder. He looked like a high school bully trying to pick a fight. LeBron reacted by turning and glancing at Garnett, but kept his cool.

– The Celtics have to do something about their bench. They lost James Posey and P.J. Brown and the guys they currently have aren’t ready to step in and play crunch time minutes like those guys did in the playoffs last season. This will be one of the more interesting storylines between now and the trade deadline and then throughout the playoffs. If the Celtics don’t repeat or at least make the Finals, then Danny Ainge is going to be second-guessed for electing not to re-sign Posey. He is likely to make a move or two to bolster the bench, but as I wrote earlier this week, they don’t have any expendable pieces to offer in trade.

– I brought this up last season, but I don’t like the way Doc Rivers uses Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen. When you have three players of that caliber, there’s no reason to have more than one of them out of the game at any given time. Rivers elects to bench Pierce and KG at the same time and have Ray Ray out there with the reserves, but he’s not capable of carrying that unit night in and night out, especially now that they’re without Posey and Brown. I would have two of the Big Three on the court at all times. But that’s me.

– Mo Williams looks like a great fit in Cleveland. He had 13 points on 5-9 shooting, and was the Cavs’ main playmaker when LeBron went to the bench. I was sad to see the Bucks trade him away, but apparently he didn’t get along with Michael Redd — who knows, maybe Milwaukee should have jettisoned Redd instead. Williams has always struggled with his defense, but now that LeBron is doing most of the playmaking on offense, Mo can focus more on defending his guy and getting after loose balls. He had a couple of nice hustle plays tonight.

– Wally Szczerbiak is washed up. I don’t know if Mike Brown was trying to showcase him tonight for a trade, but it’s mind-boggling to me that this guy is getting minutes over Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic. He can’t really defend and if his shot isn’t falling (and it wasn’t tonight), he’s basically useless. It will be interesting to see if the Cavs decide to trade him for some more help or if they let his contract expire at the end of the season and take the salary cap relief.

– J.J. Hickson looks like a player. He’s raw, but he’s athletic and has some moves down low.

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