More Cavs/Celtics Fallout

Bill Simmons, ESPN: You cannot call what happened in the Cavs-Celtics series an upset. Boston played better in five of the six games. The C’s had four of the five best players. They were better defensively. Their best player (Rajon Rondo) played better than Cleveland’s best player (LeBron James). They had playoff-proven guys who kept coming through. They had better crowds. They showed more heart. This was not an upset … but still, it felt like one. And only because we were duped by Cleveland’s faux urgency (for most of the season, it felt genuine) and Boston’s retro-urgency (for most of the season, it was dormant). The playoffs hinge on toughness, chemistry, defense, leadership and urgency. Cleveland lost all those battles. Every one of them. … If he cares about winning titles (multiple) and reaching his full potential as a player, he has only one move: the Chicago Bulls. That’s always been the play. If you’ve been listening to my podcast or reading this column, you know that I’ve been touting this possibility since the winter, and here’s why: Deep down, I think LeBron (and, just as important, the people around him) realizes that he needs one more kick-ass player to make his life easier. That means Miami or Chicago. And really, I can’t imagine him signing with Miami because Dwyane Wade is almost too good. LeBron wants help, but he doesn’t want to be perceived as riding someone else’s coattails, either. Wade might be the best player alive for all we know — he certainly was in 2006, and he’s been banged-up and trapped on bad teams ever since. No, Chicago makes more sense. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah proved they were warriors these past two springs. They could be LeBron’s Pippen/Grant or McHale/DJ. Easily. Rose could take the creative load off LeBron on nights when he doesn’t have it. Rose could come through a few times in the clutch. Rose could hide some of LeBron’s faults. It’s the single smartest basketball move for LeBron James.

Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: Whether by design or defeat or both, he’s made it possible to get out while the going is great. To hand-pick another group of sycophants to have his way and never have to answer for His Way, however misguided. The tri-state area, Miami, Chicago, who knows? He doesn’t even want to know. He just wants to get back to remembering what it’s like to be the self-proclaimed “King.” The sort of guy who has to remind you what he wants his nickname to be. Doesn’t have to answer for nine turnovers in a deciding game. Won’t have to answer for not attempting to take control of the game until the latter stages of the fourth quarter, and only in the form of a couple of desperate 3-pointers that happened to go in. Won’t have to answer for that defense, which was embarrassing. Just has to answer to the question, “Who’s the NBA’s best player?” It’s still James, you know. Just because we don’t really care for him at the present, it doesn’t take away from his greatness. We’ve all got brains big enough to handle him being the game’s best player and a crushing failure as a leader when it counted most in this series. If anything, it should add to the enmity that you’ve no doubt developed over the last week for this ghost. This person who should know better, but doesn’t want to hear it.

Israel Gutierrez, Miami Herald: If it is true that James is about winning first, as he insisted in his postgame, post-series, post-Cleveland interview Thursday, then this is an automatic. If his obvious frustration with Cavs teammates and their inability to function without him is a driving force for LeBron, then playing alongside Wade will offer him exactly what he desires. When you consider that the Heat can sell a player like Michael Beasley to a team with salary-cap space to create enough space to sign a third substantial star, possibly a big man like an Amare Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer, then it only makes Miami more intriguing because of the real possibility a true dynasty can exist. There are two arguments against Miami that tend to dominate, neither of them making much sense. The first tends to be ego. As in, James’ ego won’t let him come to Wade’s town and not be the obvious attraction. It might be Wade’s town, but in basketball terms, it’s LeBron’s world, as Kevin Garnett confirmed after Thursday’s game. It has been for a half decade, practically, and sharing space with Wade can only help his global takeover because it’ll finally offer him that championship that has escaped him. No matter where he goes, James will not play second fiddle. Besides, it’s practically necessary these days, when you think about it, to have a player of similarly superstar caliber by your side. Kobe Bryant had arguably the best post player in the league, at the time, helping him win each of his four titles, first Shaquille O’Neal and now Pau Gasol. No one does this alone.

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Leaving is the easy thing to do

Heading into this year’s playoffs, the conventional wisdom was that if the Cavs won a title, or at least made it to the Finals, LeBron James would likely re-sign to continue his quest for a championship. But if the Cavs suffered another pre-Finals flame out like last year’s Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Magic, he would sign elsewhere.

Well, we all know what happened. An aging but experienced (and cohesive) Celtics team basically dismantled the Cavs in the last three games of the series. Every Celtic knew his role and team flat out executed better, both offensively and defensively.

Where does this leave LeBron? He said after the game that his team had “a plan” and was going to execute that plan. Forget the fact that a few questions before he was asked if he had a plan and answered with a resounding, “No.” Of course he has a plan. He’s being disingenuous when he says that he hasn’t thought about the different scenarios that could play out this postseason and offseason.

He’s clearly not happy with Mike Brown. And he can’t be happy with Antawn Jamison, Shaquille O’Neal or even Mo Williams, who scored well in Game 6, but was very up and down in the series. Shaq won’t be back, and Brown is probably on his way out too. He had a tough task of trying to keep team cohesion with the mid-season introduction of Jamison and the late-season loss of O’Neal. But the bottom line is that over the past two seasons he’s had more talent than his opposition and hasn’t gotten it done. If Dan Gilbert thinks that firing Brown increases the possibility that LeBron will re-up, then he’ll do it in a New York minute.

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Celtics/Cavs Fallout

Brian Windhorst, The Cavs were closer to beating the Orlando Magic last season than they were the Celtics this season. This is regression. Playing the way they did against the Bulls and the Celtics, they would not have beaten the Magic this season. Or the Lakers. Or probably the Suns. Right now the Cavs maybe, maybe are the fifth-best team in the league, and James and Shaquille O’Neal are headed for free agency. This was not the team that won 61 games, obviously. The Cavs haven’t been that team since they beat the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks in the first week of April to pretty much wrap up the No. 1 seed. They took the foot off the pedal after that and they never recovered. It was compounded by the fact that O’Neal didn’t return until the start of the playoffs, which had him in the starting lineup with Antawn Jamison for the first time ever and pushed a player who started 73 games in J.J. Hickson out of the rotation. Stuff like that doesn’t just happen and everything is OK, there’s damage from those types of changes. With a couple exceptions, when frankly they just got red hot shooting the ball, the Cavs were a shell of themselves in the playoffs. Some of it was rhythm. Some of it was effort, actually a lot of it was effort. Some of it was chemistry problems. Some of it was coaching. Some of it was the opponents they were playing. The Celtics were masterful. Guess what? The Magic would have been even tougher.

Terry Pluto, Cleveland Plain Dealer: Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has to be distraught by watching his team lose their last two home games by a combined 50 points to Boston. He watched his team being out-hustled, out-rebounded and out-defended by the Celtics, who averaged 100 points per game in this series. It was the Cavs who were supposed to be a physical, gritty team. It was Brown who was supposed to prepare the Cavs to win in the postseason. It was James who was supposed to finally win a championship in his seventh year in Cleveland. All of it is gone in less than a week. Brown has done an admirable job in his five seasons. But since reaching the 2007 finals, the Cavs have been eliminated in the Eastern Conference finals in 2009, and been knocked out twice by Boston in the second round (2008, 2010). Gilbert bought this team to win a title. He knows that James is The Franchise, and James has said he’ll make his decision on where to sign as a free agent this summer based on where he has the best chance to win. While not criticizing his coach, James also has not offered much public support for Brown. That could mean a coaching change with the Cavs.

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Celtics win Game 6, LeBron’s season is over

I’ll write more about the ramifications of Game 6 (94-85) tomorrow — for a preview check out this post — but needless to say, this was a huge win for the Celtics, in more ways than one.

This wasn’t your average, everyday conference semifinal win. The Celtics’ victory in this series not only means they’ll have a chance to play the Magic for an opportunity to play in the Finals, but it may have shifted the landscape of the NBA for the next decade.

How did they win? Defense.

Cleveland shot a miserable 38% from the field and turned the ball over 22 times. LeBron posted a triple-double (27-19-10) but missed 13-of-21 shots and turned the ball over nine times, the most TOs he has had since 2008 (also against the Celtics).

Mo Williams posted 22-7-4, but missed 10 shots and turned the ball over five times. Antawn Jamison went 2-for-10 from the field and didn’t justify the Cavs’ decision to trade for him in February. Shaq looked old and slow, but managed 11-5 and five fouls. In short, the Cavs newcomers were an epic failure.

The chemistry just wasn’t there for Cleveland. Everyone seemed to be pressing and when the game was on the line, LeBron deferred and his teammates missed shots. There were times late in the fourth quarter when the Cavs were trailing by eight or nine points and LeBron was retreating to half court when the shot went up instead of getting on the offensive glass. What good does getting back on defense do you when you need to score on every single possession to have a chance at winning the game?

Who was the hero for Boston? Rajon Rondo posted 21-3-12 with five steals and was coolly effective throughout the game. Kevin Garnett (22-12) was big in the first half and in the clutch, hitting turnaround after turnaround over Jamison. (In trading for Jamison, the Cavs were so concerned about matching up with Rashard Lewis, that they overlooked KG’s length in a potential matchup in the semis.) Lastly, I have to mention Tony Allen (10 points), who played excellent defense on LeBron throughout the night. I don’t think the C’s would have won the series without him.

Boston’s win is especially impressive considering that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce combined to go 6-of-21 from the field for 21 points. The Celtics were smart in the way they attacked the Cavs offensively. Aside from a couple of possessions, they didn’t force the ball to Pierce, who has trouble scoring on LeBron. Instead, they fed the ball to Garnett on the block and utilized Rondo on basket cuts.

As I was watching Game 5 and Game 6, I really could not believe what I was seeing. There was (seemingly) so much riding on the Cavs’ playoff run that it seemed inevitable that they would at least make the Conference Finals, but this early exit throws everything up in the air.

On the “good sportsmanship” front, it appears LeBron learned his lesson. He stopped and spoke with each of the Boston players, but he really didn’t let them say anything. It was a little forced, actually. He’d pull each guy in for a hug, say something into his ear and then he was on his way. It was like he was the Godfather or something. Listen to me as I say some motivational words.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Look at what’s riding on Game 6…

With Boston’s impressive win in Game 5 on Tuesday night, the series has once again swung the Celtics’ way, and they have a chance to close out the Cavs in Game 6 on Thursday.

Has there ever been more riding on a conference semifinal playoff game?

While there are those that believe LeBron James is more likely to leave Cleveland if the Cavs were to win the title, the general consensus is just opposite. If the Cavs suffer another pre-Finals flame out, most NBA fans believe that LeBron will sign elsewhere this summer.

But it’s not like LeBron had one of his monster near-triple-double games and his teammates let him down. The other Cavs shot 46% from the field, 45% from 3PT and hit 18-of-22 free throws. Shaquille O’Neal posted 21-4 (hitting 7-of-10 free throws) along with four blocks.

Meanwhile, LeBron shot 3-of-14 from the field (0-4 from 3PT) and scored just 15 points. For the first three quarters, he settled for long jumper after long jumper and missed most of them. Once again, his unwillingness to go in the post limited his options in a game when his jumper just wasn’t falling. Two of the game’s great wings — Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant — made/make a living on the block, especially when they were having trouble scoring elsewhere.

Defensively for the Cavs, it was another story.

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