The pendulum swings both ways. Tonight, LeBron James swung it through the Celtics’ fortress walls and left their homecourt advantage in ruins.
James took over in a way we haven’t seen, maybe since his Game 5 performance against the Pistons in 07, completely dominating at both ends of the floor while getting his teammates involved. He outscored the Celtics in the first quarter, en route to a virtuoso 38 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks performance that, regardless of your personal leanings, had to leave you breathless.
But it’s hard to give James all the credit, as his team racked up 124 points on only 87 (estimated) possessions. Their efficiency was incredible, scoring 142.5 points per 100 possessions (estimated). That’s absolutely absurd. The Celtics’ defense, which has been so prolific in the playoffs, was completely overrun, unable to stop anything.
There were several wrinkles the Cavs created with their adjustments in this game. First and foremost, they chose to switch Anthony Parker on Rondo, which, amazingly, was very effective. Rondo had 18 and 8, but had a terrible first quarter with Parker on him, being forced into a long-range and mid-range offensive game, at which he’s still unsteady. By the time Rondo adjusted and started getting aggressive, the outcome was decided.
The Cavs also started using Antawn Jamison (20 points, 12 rebounds) off the cut, instead of in ISO, and the result was phenomenal. Having Jamison curl off screens, getting the ball mid-move, and flip up leaners, runners, and teardrops was much more effective against the bigger Garnett and man-help Celtics defense.
For the Celtics, this was a pretty depressing performance. Paul Pierce (11 points on 4-15 shooting) was an outright disaster. He couldn’t do anything to even slow down James and offensively had no lift or cohesion. Kendrick Perkins was 2-2 for 5 points, and played decent defense on Shaq, though the big man finally wound up getting some production. But Perkins was never given the opportunity to produce, with only two shots. Kevin Garnett was nearly flawless, but only had 11 shots, nailing 8 on turnarounds, hooks, and mid-range jumpers off the pick and pop.
So Paul Pierce shoots 15 shots, Ray Allen shoots 9, and Perkins and Garnett shoot 13 combined. And that pretty much says what you need to know about the Celtics’ offense. But for the pace of the game, the C’s could have lived with the offense. A few tweaks here or there, and that would have been fine. But the defense? The defense was a nightmare.
And in this nightmare, LeBron James was the boogeyman, the Freddy Krueger, the thing that went dunk in the night. Shrugging off the talk of the elbow, James had everything going. The long-range, the transition game (including a give-and-go-and-get with Jamario Moon that was sheer poetry), and the drive.
So Cleveland gets homecourt advantage back, and the pressure is off of them. The momentum has now swung dramatically back in their direction. But a blowout of this proportion almost guarantees a Celtics response in Game 4. Each team now has a dominant win, and we’ve seen the best from both clubs. Where we go from here will determine the legacies of both of these teams and their leaders.