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Monday, May 07, 2007

Pavlovic's Prince-Like Block Preserves Cavs' Win

Cleveland dominated the boards 51-38 and held New Jersey to .372 shooting from the field in an 81-77 victory in game one of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. New Jersey had a chance to pull within two with 1:45 left in the game when Jason Kidd stole Larry Hughes' errant pass and seemed to have a clear path to the hoop for a layup--but Sasha Pavlovic sprinted back and swatted Kidd's shot away at the last possible second, a play reminiscent of Tayshaun Prince's block against Reggie Miller in Game Two of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Pavlovic also scored a playoff career-high 15 points and was the only player on either team to attempt at least 11 shots and shoot better than .500 from the field. LeBron James had 21 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists but shot just 8-21, while Vince Carter posted very similar numbers in defeat: 21 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, 7-23 shooting. Drew Gooden added a double double for Cleveland (14 points, 14 rebounds), while Jason Kidd narrowly missed a triple double for New Jersey (seven points, 10 rebounds, nine assists).

The score was close throughout the game, with neither team ever enjoying a lead greater than eight points. With 2:30 remaining in the first quarter, Cleveland led 18-17 and both teams had shot 8-19 from the field; the only difference was that Cleveland had made two three pointers compared to New Jersey's one. The Nets had their greatest success in the second quarter as Carter shot 4-8 from the field for 11 points and New Jersey led 33-25 at the 7:55 mark. Pavlovic and Hughes countered with seven points each during the period and by halftime the Cavaliers were ahead 43-40. New Jersey took a three point lead briefly in the third quarter but by the end of the period the score was knotted at 59. While both teams shot poorly, the Cavaliers grabbed 20 offensive rebounds during the game compared to just nine for New Jersey.

Richard Jefferson's three pointer at the 10:49 mark in the fourth quarter put the Nets up 65-61 but a little over six minutes later the Cavaliers had turned the tables and taken a 75-69 lead. James led both teams with nine points in the fourth quarter. Jefferson's strong driving layup brought the Nets to within 75-71 and when Hughes threw the ball away on the next possession it looked like Kidd could cruise in for the layup--but Pavlovic's block maintained the all important two possession lead. The teams traded empty possessions after Pavlovic's block, so when Nachbar made two free throws at the :56.7 mark the Nets were still down two points. Hughes nailed a jumper, Carter hit two free throws and then James made a runner to close out the scoring. Without Pavlovic's block, the score--and thus the strategy for both teams--would have been different. After the game, Pavlovic said of his blocked shot, "I lost the ball on that pass and I just didn't give up on the play because it was very important. I knew Jason Kidd probably was not going to dunk, so I just followed him and tried to get the ball...It was important. I don't think it won the game but it was important for us. We just can't give up on plays."

Cleveland Coach Mike Brown said, "Sasha's play was a heck of a play. We call that a winning play. He did not give up on the play. He continued trying to run Kidd down. The block was an unbelievable play and kept the crowd into it. It really energized our team. We are going to need plays like that throughout the course of the series in order to get over the hump."

While Pavlovic's block was the game's signature moment, the main overall theme was Cleveland's rebounding dominance, a key factor in the thinking of both squads prior to the series. Starting guards Kidd and Carter got 23 of the Nets' 37 rebounds and if New Jersey's frontcourt does not provide more help on the glass then it will be difficult for the Nets to win this series.

*****************************
Notes From Courtside:

Less than a week ago, I wrote a post about Kobe Bryant being selected to the All-Defensive First Team, a squad that is chosen by the NBA's 30 head coaches. As I indicated at that time and in some earlier posts, I suspect that NBA head coaches have a better idea about who is playing good defense and who is not than fans and random writers do. I had never heard anyone actually ask any of the coaches what their thought process is regarding the All-Defensive Team but I always assumed that heavy consideration was given to players whose strong defense shows up in game film and/or scouting reports. During Coach Brown's standup prior to the game, I asked him this question: "Most of the postseason awards are voted on by the media but the one that is voted on by the coaches is the All-Defensive Team. What is the thought process that head coaches go through when they vote for the All-Defensive Team? Do you look at stats like steals and blocked shots or how various players performed against your team? What exactly goes into that?"

Coach Brown replied, "I think that it's an individual thing. I'm not a big stat guy when it comes to individual stats for defense because a guy might average three steals a game but if he's always gambling then he may be out of position a lot. The steals thing might look pretty stat-wise but not always be good for the team. For me personally, I just look at who gives our players and our team the most trouble when we go against that team. How tough do they defend LeBron, how tough do they defend Z, how tough do they defend whoever else it may be and how gritty they (opposing defenders) are. That's what I base it on."

I followed up with this question: "You've been on a few different coaching staffs during your career as an assistant and so forth. Do you think that the approach that you described is the approach that most coaches take?"

Brown answered, "I don't know. I know that Pop (Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich) does. He's not going to necessarily vote for a guy just because he averages a whole bunch of steals--and it's the same thing with blocks. I know that Pop looks at intangibles when voting for the All-Defensive Team."

So, if most coaches make their selections the way that Brown and Popovich do then their votes are not influenced by who writers think the great defenders are or who is leading the league in steals; their votes are determined based on which opposing players factor most heavily in their game planning and scheming regarding opposing defenses. Someone might say that certain coaches see some teams and players more often than they do others but all 30 coaches vote, so that kind of thing should cancel out. Plus, when scouting opposing teams the coaches see film of other players not just against their team but also against various other teams, so they are very familiar with the capabilities and limitations of the league's players at the offensive and defensive ends of the court.

***

During LeBron James' pregame standup (which was technically a sitdown as reporters gathered around a seated James at his locker), he said that the ankle that he sprained against Washington in the first round is not completely healed but that it is much improved thanks to the days off between series. James sounded congested and was coughing a little bit, which he dismissed as the effects of seasonal change. After the game, he seemed more under the weather than he had earlier. During his postgame press conference he draped a towel over his head and used the lower end of it to cover his mouth a few times when he coughed. Hughes and Gooden were seated on either side of him and when Gooden coughed James turned to him and asked if he (James) had made him sick. Gooden replied "No," and said that he had been sick for a few days.

***

Bill Cartwright, who won three championships as the starting center for the Chicago Bulls, is now an assistant coach with the Nets. Prior to the game, he worked with Josh Boone on various post moves. Before Boone arrived on the court, Cartwright showed that he can still make his awkward looking but very effective midrange jumper, nailing several in a row.

posted by David Friedman @ 2:04 AM

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