If 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.