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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

This "Guaran-Sheed" was Bogus

In a gritty, hard fought game that lacked artistry but had plenty of dramatic moments, Cleveland defeated Detroit 74-72 to even their second round playoff series at 2-2. Cleveland set a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a playoff game. LeBron James again led the way for the Cavaliers, playing all 48 minutes and producing 22 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots--but he also had eight turnovers while shooting just 8-23 from the field and 5-10 from the free throw line. James topped both teams with seven points and three assists in the fourth quarter as Cleveland outscored Detroit 21-13 but he also had two turnovers and only shot 2-9 from the field and 3-6 from the free throw line in the final stanza. James is averaging 30.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 6.4 apg in his first 10 playoff games; the only player in NBA history to average at least 30-8-6 during a playoff season is Oscar Robertson, who averaged 31.8 ppg, 13.0 rpg and 9.0 apg in 12 games in the 1962-63 postseason.

Anderson Varejao supported James with 10 points, six rebounds and tons of energy; he also took a charge against Chauncey Billups with 29.6 seconds left in the game and the Cavaliers clinging to a 73-72 lead. Rip Hamilton led Detroit with 30 points. Detroit's Rasheed Wallace "guaran-Sheed" victory immediately after Detroit's game three loss and again after practice on Sunday but all that is certain now is that this series--which at first looked like a walkover for the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions--will last at least six games. Wallace came up lame literally and figuratively--he had just seven points on 3-13 shooting from the field and he sprained his right ankle with 9:22 to go in the second quarter. Wallace left the game briefly before returning to action but he was clearly hampered by the injury and Detroit Coach Flip Saunders pulled him from the game for good with over four minutes left in the fourth quarter; in his postgame remarks, Saunders lamented that a healthy Wallace could have been a viable offensive option down the stretch but that in his current physical condition he was unable to fill that role.

So far, James and the Cavaliers have responded well to each new challenge that they have faced--first playoff game, first road playoff game, first series win, first time facing a playoff tested team, two games (and counting) played without the grieving Larry Hughes, whose 20 year old brother died. After the game, James noted that the pressure is on Detroit now to win game five at home, because no one expected the Cavs to extend the series this far. Indeed, the Pistons face several questions now: Can Flip Saunders lead this team as far in the playoffs as Larry Brown did? Will Rasheed Wallace be healthy enough to contribute in game five? Why has Detroit suddenly looked so flat for two games after dominating the first two games? Supposedly Detroit was relaxed and overconfident in game three, but great teams should not have two performances the likes of which the Pistons just had. Logically, the Pistons still have to be favored to win this series because they have two of the last three games at home and are a battle tested team--but there are some cracks showing around the edges of this team and if they mess around and lose game five they could be in serious trouble.

The Cavaliers had 19 turnovers which led to 16 Detroit points and only shot .426 from the field but won anyway because they held Detroit to .333 field goal shooting. After the game, James said, "On the defensive end we got it done...It's not about the offense. It's strictly about the defense." He added, "You have to be mentally focused, especially against a great team like this." James claimed to disregard what critics--including Charles Barkley--say about him and his team but then he rattled off a list of specific aspects of his game that have been critiqued and that he has worked hard to improve: defense, shooting, hitting game winning shots. He certainly seems to be very aware of what is said and written about him--and, like all great players, very eager to prove his critics wrong.

Cleveland Coach Mike Brown's motto remains, "One day, one game at a time." He said that the key for his team is consistency, that the Cavaliers spent a lot of the season riding waves up and down but in the playoffs their defensive effort is becoming more consistent.

Saunders is frustrated that his team is not making shots or closing out games, two areas that have been strengths for Detroit throughout the year. He candidly admitted that his team was tight, saying, "We've played more not to lose than to win," although he later tried to back away from that statement by saying that his team is not tight; anyone who watched the game believed him the first time. Saunders concluded, "We're in a dogfight right now."

Before game three, I asked Saunders how Detroit would avoid a letdown after two easy wins and with Hughes being out indefinitely. He replied, "That's what we're going to find out." Saunders can't like what he found out in two games in Cleveland.

Notes from Courtside:

Prior to the game, Campy Russell and Sedric Toney conducted a Jr. NBA Basketball Clinic at Quicken Loans Arena for over 40 students from the Cleveland area. After the clinic, Russell, Toney and Hall of Famer John Havlicek answered questions from the participants in the same area where the media interviews coaches and players for national TV after the playoff games. One youngster asked the players which current player or players they would most enjoy having as a teammate. Russell chose LeBron James because "he understands the game, is unselfish and is willing to share the ball." Toney selected Jason Kidd because he cares only about winning, not his personal statistics, and James because "although he is only 21 he understands what it takes to win." Havlicek chose Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, "because they move the ball and push it. I never wanted to handle the ball. I wanted to catch the ball and either shoot it or get rid of it." Havlicek singled out a third player for praise: "The guy who I think is maybe the best player in the league because of his attitude and his personality and his demeanor to be a winner is Tim Duncan."

After a 15 minute question and answer session, Havlicek, Russell and Toney autographed t-shirts for each participant and answered some more questions one-on-one. Before the young players left, Russell offered the group a final piece of advice: work on your off hand, because being able to dribble, pass and shoot with either hand is very important.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:14 AM



At Tuesday, May 16, 2006 9:13:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

Tim Duncan is a wonderful basketball player. The Spurs dont use him enough. The Mavs have no one to guard him. I dont understand it. During the season his foot bothered him a lot but he looks very good right now.
The Spurs can still win this series but it will be very tough.
The Mavs have done something that I havent seen a team to do them (except for the Suns because of style of play).
They have made this an offensive series. And the Spurs centers cant play because of the Mavs quickness. These things are very obvious to see if you are watching the game.
I also noticed why players dont like Bruce Bowen. He reminds of Alvin Robertson who used to harass you and play fundamental defense. He moves his feet beautifully and never goes for fakes.

At Tuesday, May 16, 2006 9:16:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

The Guaransheed is a joke. Of course all of the Pistons should feel that way. But the Pistons need to be very careful.

Because James hasnt gone off for that big game which is very possible. Plus the very sad Larry Hughes situation can give some inspiration.

At Tuesday, May 16, 2006 1:09:00 PM, Blogger illest said...

And the officiating..........wow

At Wednesday, May 17, 2006 4:28:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Bowen also has a tendency to "somehow" place his feet in a way that shooters land on him and twist their ankles. If you watch him carefully, when the player he is guarding takes a shot, Bowen invades the space where that player is going to land. He can say that he is simply contesting the shot but he really could (and should) be called for a foul, because the rule is that the offensive player owns the space from where he jumped--the principle of verticality says that if a shooter jumps straight up that he must be allowed space to land. Several players have sprained their ankles by landing on Bowen and have complained about this maneuver. I don't think that his on-ball defense is dirty but this particular tactic of his should be whistled; he gets away with it because the natural tendency is to watch the ball and the hand to see if there is a foul up top. If officials aren't going to police this, the offensive player could try the Reggie Miller stick out the leg to draw a foul tactic--only he could "accidentally" place his foot somewhere other than on top of Bowen's foot. That might make Bowen more respectful of the offensive player's right to an unencumbered landing.

At Wednesday, May 17, 2006 8:33:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

The Reggie Miller tactic should be called the World B Free because he started that tactic.

Bowen definitely invades space but also doesnt go for fakes and moves his feet well. The refs overlook his space invasion allowing him to get away with other things.

At Thursday, May 18, 2006 4:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I didn't mean to suggest that Miller invented the tactic, but he is probably the most recent and best known practitioner of it.

I think that Bowen is both an excellent, fundamentally sound defender and a borderline dirty player. All of the positive things that you say about him are true, but I know that if I played against someone who was sliding under where I was going to land that I would be very angry; I don't believe that it is accidental and it is not good defense--it has nothing to do with guarding the shot but could potentially harm another player's health and his ability to make a living. That is why Vince Carter, Ray Allen and others have gotten so ticked off at Bowen.

My opinion is that Bowen could be every bit as effective without sliding his feet underneath the shooter's feet at the last second. I had the same opinion of Karl Malone's wandering elbows that found other people's faces like heat-seeking missiles. He was a great player and a dirty player and the sad thing is that he could have been just as great without taking so many cheap shots at people. Some guys can only stay in pro sports by being "hatchet men" but I've never understood why a skilled player would demean himself by resorting to this kind of play.

At Thursday, May 18, 2006 8:32:00 AM, Blogger illest said...

I agree with the Karl Malone elbows. I used to hate that and he was definitely a dirty player.

I know you werent trying to suggest Miller invented it its just that you know what you are talking about and can definitely go back in the past with the NBA. Plus Free was the best at it.

Ray Allen looks like a little kid when he plays Bowen. Its frustrating but Allen should find a way to play mind games with Bowen and not worry about his tricks.


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