NBA Playoffs Celtics Cavs Game 5: Celtics dominate as LeBron James fails in the big time

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James_Oneal.jpgIf it’s true that the sports Gods hate the city of Cleveland, Ohio, tonight was an especially delectable act of maliciousness by the deities.

The Boston Celtics walked into Cleveland, dragged the Cleveland Cavaliers outside, and executed them as if they were a lottery team, 120-88.

LeBron James had 15 points on only 3 of 14 shooting, in what many will consider the worst single performance by an elite player in playoff history. James was defended, well, no doubt. The Celtics had plans for simply everything the Cavaliers tried to do. But James also simply missed everything. He was timid, constantly deferring in the first quarter, which set him up to be simply frozen. It was a rather pathetic performance from the MVP of the league, there’s just no way around it.

Meanwhile, this Celtics team looked very much like the championship team from 2008, simply unstoppable from every angle. They cut off every penetration angle, had huge performances from Ray Allen (25 points), and in the second half, Rajon Rondo (16 points, 7 assists), and the bench showed up as well. But Paul Pierce was the story, finally coming out of his slump to draw 21 points.

For Cleveland, the reality sets in that this may have been the last time Cavs fans see LeBron James in a Cavaliers uniform. This wretched performance may be the last time they see James as a member of their team, especially as the rest of the squad Danny Ferry assembled to support James consistently failed at every angle. Mo Williams could not light it up like he did in Game 1, and his defense on Ray Allen was simply laughable. Antawn Jamison was not the Rashard Lewis type stretch four they hoped. And Shaquille O’Neal had 21points, on 11 shots. They forced the ball to the old big guy time and time again, apparently thinking he was the way to salvation.

The Cavs went away from everything that has produced wins for them against Boston this season. Running and gunning? The Cavs walked their way into offensive sets watching the clock hit sometimes 10 seconds before executing.They habitually allowed Boston’s defense to set. And on their side of defense, the Cavs simply failed to defend anything. Glen Davis hit open jumpers. Rajon Rondo had his long-range game going, making him essentially unstoppable. And Pierce had everything working. The Celtics are hard to stop when all that is going, even when your best player, the best player, isn’t having himself the worst night of his playoff career.

Cleveland allowed a 130 efficiency for the Celtics, and mustered up only a 95 efficiency of their own. That’s an amazing differential in a home playoff game. In a bad way.

There will be questions about whether James “pouted” in this game because he was not allowed to guard Rajon Rondo. There will be questions about if James will ever be seen in a Cavs jersey again. There will be questions about curses and bad luck and LeBron’s legacy.

But the one thing there will be no question about is that the Cavaliers, as a team and as a franchise, now face oblivion in a Game 6 in Boston.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

AP Photo/Phil Long
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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.