Monday, May 19, 2008

Help Wanted

Photo by David Liam Kyle/Contributor/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics got past the Cleveland Cavaliers. Barely. The triumvirate of Pierce, Garnett and Allen got a lot of help from Posey, Davis and Powe but credit for Boston’s game seven victory has to be given to players with names like Wallace, Ilgauskas and Szczerbiak. Honorable mention goes to Sasha Pavlovic for committing the dumbest fouls on the floor. When Danny Gibson negotiates a bigger contract he should give Pavlovic a percentage for making the case.

That was the big difference. Daniel Gibson has been the spot shooter who can help out on defense. A healthy Gibson kept the inconsistent Pavlovic on the bench through most of the season but when Gibson tore up his shoulder in game 6, Mike Brown had to put Sasha in the game. After James and Delonte West Pavlovic played more minutes than anybody else but delivered the least.

The thing is nobody expects anything out of Sasha. He’s a decent shooter who can pull the ball down and drive the lane once in a while but he gets lazy. He turns the ball over, makes bad decisions and lacks the heart to play any defense. This isn’t a surprise to the Cavs. The surprise came in the form of a magic act:

How do you make a giant disappear?

Put a #11 jersey on him.

Zydrunas Ilguaskas went 2 for 8 from the field scoring only 8 points. It seemed as though every time LeBron or Delonte West looked for the big guy he was somewhere out on the wing. The result was one of the biggest and most athletic players in the NBA pulling down only five rebounds. Z didn’t even come close to getting into foul trouble. With Paul Pierce taking the ball to the rack and Kevin Garnett finishing several pick and roll plays, Z failed to assert himself in the middle of the floor on either end.

The Cavaliers have been aware of Z’s penchant for getting lost in physical games which is why Ben Wallace seemed like a great acquisition. Big Ben let the ‘fro out for game seven but he left his game tied up. He seemed old and tired. Ben only blocked one shot and he tallied just four rebounds. More importantly he hurt the Cavs by refusing to take advantage of open looks at the basket. Nobody expects Wallace to split a double team and finish strong to the hole, but in 30 minutes he took one shot. LeBron zipped several nice passes to the human tree trunk only to have them kicked out to a cold shooter on the perimeter.

Wally Szczerbiak lost his shooting touch the minute his plane touched down in Cleveland and while he looked like he was getting into form in the first round, he went cold again in game 7. He was 0-3 from the floor and his lack of confidence compelled him to pass on open shots and drive the lane. The result was disastrous. Wally did play tough defense and he gave up good fouls to force the Celtics to the line when an easy bucket was imminent but Wally’s a hired gun and he was shooting blanks.

It’s not fair to say that LeBron didn’t have any help because Delonte West played hard for 45 minutes. He brought 15 points to the table and drilled a couple of threes to keep the game close. West also played tenaciously on defense. He’s not a pure defender because he lacks lateral mobility and explosion but he knows how to take away angles and stay between the ball and the basket. West also doesn’t shy away from contact and gives as good as he gets.

In fact, that’s the bright spot in this loss for the Cavs. West might be the point guard they’ve been looking for. He’s not exactly cut from the same cloth as a John Stockton or Steve Nash but he’s like a poor man’s version of Jason Kidd. If West can embrace being playing Pippen to LeBron’s Jordan and he puts in the off season work to get better West might be a key ingredient to a championship juggernaut.

The Cleveland Cavaliers fell short this year but Boston was supposed to go through the Eastern Conference with a broom and challenge the Spurs for NBA supremacy. Everybody dismissed Boston’s first round scare as a wake up call and most of the experts figured that was bad news for Cleveland. Now people are wondering if Boston was overrated or if Cleveland was better than they were given credit for.

The final verdict will come over the next couple of weeks but after winning 66 games over the regular season there’s no question that Boston was a very good team. They managed to make LeBron look mortal for a few games but the Cavaliers put up a fight. With two players showing up to play in Boston the Cavaliers almost pulled off the big upset. Imagine if Danny Ferry can find a third.

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