Tony Parker and the Spurs Race Past the CavsThe Cavs again had no answer for Tony Parker, who scored a game-high 30 points as San Antonio beat Cleveland 103-92 to claim a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals. The series now shifts to Cleveland for Games Three, Four and (if necessary) Five. Parker only had two assists but he shot a blistering 13-20 from the field. Tim Duncan picked up the playmaking slack with eight assists as he nearly posted a triple-double (23 points, nine rebounds). Duncan was not officially credited with any blocked shots but his presence in the paint deterred or altered numerous attempts and contributed to Cleveland shooting just .407 from the field. The third member of San Antonio's "Big Three," Manu Ginobili, also had a big game: 25 points, six rebounds, two assists, three steals. LeBron James rebounded from his subpar Game One to post 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists but he shot just 9-21 from the field and committed six turnovers. Daniel Gibson scored 15 points in 32 minutes of action off of the bench.
James demonstrated a very aggressive mindset early in the game but was relegated to the bench with two fouls at the 9:05 mark in the first quarter. Cleveland trailed 7-4 at that point but matters quickly went downhill and the Spurs led 28-17 by the end of the quarter. James has been the Cavs' most effective defender on Parker, who scored all seven of his first quarter points after James left the game. James played the entire second quarter, scoring 13 points but, as Charles Barkley might say, by that time the Spurs' brushfire had become a raging inferno. San Antonio led 58-33 at halftime, the third biggest halftime margin in Finals history. The Cavs looked sluggish and confused as the Spurs beat them to rebounds and loose balls and took advantage of several Cleveland mental errors. No one had looked this bad in the Finals since Utah staggered to a 96-54 loss to Chicago in Game Three in 1998.
The Cavs basically played the Spurs to a standstill in the third quarter and there was no reason to think that the outcome of this game would ever be in doubt. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points in the second half--but then a funny thing happened on the way to a blowout: Cleveland Coach Mike Brown went to a lineup of James flanked by rebounder/hustle guy Anderson Varejao and three three-point shooters (Gibson, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones). That group played with intensity and purpose and by the 4:53 mark in the fourth quarter Cleveland only trailed 95-87. Amazingly, the Cavaliers had a legitimate chance to win the game--but Parker hit a jumper and Ginobili converted a four point play to avert the potential monumental collapse.
Naturally, you can be sure that the "experts" will wonder why Brown does not play the James-Varejao-Marshall-Gibson-Jones quintet for all 48 minutes in Game Three. One reason is conditioning: other than James, none of those guys regularly starts or logs heavy minutes. Another reason is the element of surprise: teams can adjust to a steady diet of anything and if that group is on the court too long then the Spurs are sure to exploit their obvious defensive deficiencies. Brown will surely go to that combination of players again and he may even do so earlier in Game Three than he did in Game Two but he is not about to completely scrap his regular rotation. Players know and are comfortable with their roles and wholesale changes are not likely to help the Cavs individually or collectively. It is no secret that point guard Larry Hughes has not been the same since he tore the plantar fascia in his left foot in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals. Hughes has bravely gutted it out to this point, so Brown has elected to keep Hughes in the starting lineup, but if you look at the boxscores it is clear that Hughes' minutes are inching downward while Gibson's are increasing.
I expected a close contest in Game Two--and by that I don't mean an eight point game in the fourth quarter after Cleveland trailed by 29 at one juncture. The most disappointing thing about this game was the long stretches during which the Cavaliers seemed to play without a purpose, both mentally and in terms of their intensity/physicality. James started the game aggressively, so we will never know what would have happened if he had not gotten into foul trouble or if Brown had rolled the dice and left James in the game. Still, the Spurs blew the game open in the second quarter even with James on the court, so it was not just a matter of what the Cavs were not doing well but also the fact that the Spurs kicked it into another gear. Maybe they really were rusty in Game One. The natural tendency at this point is to write off the Cavaliers but it is premature to do that until we see how they come out in Game Three at home. The Spurs took a 2-0 lead in the 2005 Finals only to get blown out in Games Three and Four at Detroit. The Cavaliers are an excellent home team and they rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals versus Detroit to win four straight games, so any obituaries for the Cavaliers' season must wait at least one more game.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:55 AM