Well, here we are. The most hyped second round game in NBA history possibly. I am not sure if world peace is precisely on the line, or even if LeBron’s immediate future is determined by this game. However, it is big – and it represents the Celtics’ best chance to pull off a shocking upset, an upset that even I never saw coming — at all. There are a lot of variables and factors that are going to come into play – and as a Celtics fan I am decidedly apprehensive. But, if other Celtics fans can be brave, I guess I ought to be.
- The Cavaliers defense – LeBron was awful, but the Cavaliers gave up 70 points in the second half and 40 points in the 4th quarter to the Celtics, who were only 12th in the regular season in offensive efficiency. The Celtics were not playing a breakneck pace by any means either – this was just old fashioned crap defense. Everyone has to defend better – whether it be Mo Williams on whomever, or Antawn Jamison – whose post defense Boston has targeted all series. Shaq and Jamison on the floor together have been molasses slow.
- Paul Pierce’s swagger – in Game 5, Pierce had a terrific 21-11-7 stat-sheet stuffing performance, after being hounded by LeBron for four games. Part of this is related to #3 on this list, but still. Is Pierce up to it again – especially with only one day rest?
- Mike Brown’s brain waves – the Cavaliers were the top record in the league. They sliced through Chicago in 5, split 4 games with Boston, although their Game 3 win was the most authoritative of the bunch. This was not a team that needed an overhaul. But Mike Brown panicked. He mothballed JJ Hickson for Zydrunas Ilgauskas, put LeBron on Rondo for stretches – and thus opened up mismatches for the other Boston wing players. LeBron as a power forward would make tubby Glen Davis cry or lazy Rasheed Wallace look terrible … but they have not tried it. To say Brown has suboptimally deployed his lineup would be an understatement.
- The stars. Hey, we knew it had to come up. LeBron cannot deliver like he did in Game 5 – his teammates just are not good enough to overcome that. On the other side, Rondo has been wonderful all series – and he needs to control the tempo again for the Celtics to have a prayer.
I am cautiously pessimistic – and maybe there is some reverse jinx working here too, but … Cavaliers 103, Celtics 87. It feels like Cavaliers have so many simple things they can do to close loops here. The bet is that they do.