NBA Playoff Recap - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 1
(1) Cleveland 101, (4) Boston 93 - Cavs lead series, 1-0
After a regular season filled with struggles, the Boston Celtics began to show the quality and competence which marked their run to the 2008 NBA championship.
However, as was the case in all too many regular-season games in 2010, the boys from Beantown couldn't close the sale in the second half. As a result, a familiar narrative unfolded on Saturday night at Quicken Loans Arena, as the Cleveland Cavaliers drew first blood in this eagerly-anticipated best-of-seven brouhaha.
For two and a half quarters in Northeastern Ohio, coach Doc Rivers' roster comprehensively outplayed Mike Brown's ballclub. With Ray Allen shooting over the top of a smaller Mo Williams and Rajon Rondo running roughshod against the Cavs' hesitant defense, the visitors from New England racked up a 69-58 lead with 5:30 left in the third quarter. It appeared that Boston had truly regained a measure of swagger in its five-game first-round win over the Miami Heat, and that the Cavs' struggles against the Chicago Bulls were carrying over into the second round of the postseason. Cleveland partisans who are thoroughly accustomed to playoff heartbreak in all major team sports were silently absorbing how natural this scenario was to their eyes and ears.
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But then, with the Celtics very much in command, the ghosts of the regular season returned and swung this series in Cleveland's direction.
Throughout the 2010 campaign, Boston didn't have a problem accumulating leads in the first 24 minutes of play. It was the second half, and especially the fourth quarter, that regularly sabotaged the C's. Late-game turnovers, stagnant offensive sets, and a lack of the deadeye jump shooting that marked previous seasons all combined to bump Boston downward in the Eastern Conference pecking order. All basketball junkies know how dysfunctional the Atlanta Hawks are, but that team actually finished higher in the East standings than the Celtics did. That was and is alarming, and it offered a window into the extent of the Celtics' struggles from November through mid-April. Yes, Boston righted the ship against Miami, but Cleveland - with an NBA-best 61 wins - offered the true test that would take the measure of the 2008 champs, who are intent on making one more run at the brass ring. It was all well and good to control the first 30 minutes of play, but the last 18 needed to be just as effective in order for this series to evolve in a manner different from what most people expected.
Safe to say, the final one and a half quarters did not proceed like the first two and a half stanzas.
Williams - for all his defensive liabilities - scored 12 third-quarter points as the Cavs outscored Boston 36-24 and took a one-point lead to the fourth quarter (79-78). Then, in the final period, the C's simply lost their edge.
Yes, one could say that Paul Pierce got fouled on several plays that produced no whistles from the officials, but then again, the 2008 NBA Finals MVP hit only 5 of 17 shots and blew ample open looks at the basket. Pierce's teammate Kevin Garnett also biffed some very makeable shots, including a costly three-footer with 2:45 left and the Cavs clinging to a tenuous 94-91 lead.
On the other side of the divide, LeBron James carried Cleveland down the home stretch once again, quieting worries about the health of his right elbow. King James scored 35 points in a spectacularly unspectacular manner, given the national obsession with his chicken wing. More importantly, he scored four of his team's last six baskets, including two buckets in the final two minutes. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored just three points and hit only one field goal in the final 5:11 of regulation.
It's really rather simple: LeBron is going to deliver the goods, at least to some extent. If the Boston Celtics don't start scoring big in the fourth quarter and playing second halves as well as first halves, they'll get run out of this series in short order.
By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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