Thursday, May 04, 2006

Cavaliers 121, Wizards 120

There are so many thoughts racing around in my head from last night's Game 5 overtime thriller, I'm going to have to do this list-style.

TNT commentators Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley came to the postgame show not to praise LeBron James, but to bury the Wizards defense.
Neither one of TNT's ex-jocks gave LeBron any credit for his game-winning layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, choosing instead to dump a bowl of cold oatmeal in the Wizards' laps.
Most of their criticism centered on the fact that it was a layup LeBron shot, and not a twisting, fading jumper with four hands in his face.
To an extent, Smith and Barkley were right. Antawn Jamison did a lousy job of sealing off the baseline. He might have been playing tentatively, afraid of fouling LeBron and sending him to the free-throw line, but once Jamison let LeBron drop his shoulder and move toward the hoop, it was over for the Wizards. The best they could hope for was a blocked shot or a LeBron fumble. Hey, it's Cleveland. You never know.
Those are the mistakes the Pistons don't make. Once they have you in the corner, you are staying in the corner. If you try to get out, one of the Wallaces will probably knock you senseless. Just something to file away should the Cavs finish off the Wizards and advance.

Advancing is something that is actually probable for the Cavs now. In 128 seven-game series in the NBA playoffs, the team that has won Game 5 has won the series 107 times.

I really want the Cavs to finish off the Wizards in six. But why do I get the feeling that this series is coming back to Cleveland for Game 7? This really has been an amazing series, full of huge performances by star players, razor-close finishes, and a pair of game-winning buckets by LeBron. These are two evenly-matched teams, as a 4-5 series should be. Both teams can score loads of points, and both teams play spotty defense. Both teams have stepped up in the fourth quarter, and both teams have had costly mental lapses in the fourth quarter.
My original prediction, Cavs in seven, looks very possible now.

We've all seen the national media scoff at this series, pointing out that the winner earns the right to get their brains beat in by Detroit. That might be true. But I'm taking this series at face value. This is the Cavs' NBA Finals this season as far as I am concerned. No matter how many they win afterward, if the Cavs advance to the second round, this season will be a success.

The one matchup that has really surprised me is the coaches. It is actually quite even.
I thought Cleveland's Mike Brown was going to get schooled in his first playoff go-around against four-year veteran Eddie Jordan. I thought Jordan was going to be the one to make all the effective adjustments and be the one with the cooler head under pressure.
That theory exited stage right last night. The Cavs tried really hard to hand the game to Washington, but the Wizards kept one-upping Cleveland's would-be choke jobs.
The final sequence was the most glaring example of Jordan's handle on the game dissolving at the worst possible time for his team. Apparently, in the huddle before LeBron's winning basket, Jordan did not hammer home the fact that LeBron is a streaky free-throw shooter.
You'd think that if all else fails (i. e. the Wizards give LeBron a clear lane to the basket) Jordan would probably want to foul LeBron so Washington could take their chances with LeBron at the line shooting the two most important free throws of his young career. Odds are about 50-50 he makes both. Even if he makes both, the Wizards could then call a timeout, advance the ball to halfcourt and bet that Gilbert Arenas was going to get a clean look at a game winner before time expired.
If any of that crossed Jordan's mind, he didn't make it known to his players.

And let's not forget about the timeouts. The Wizards had two left, but with nine-tenths of a second remaining, they apparently panicked, damned the torpedoes and allowed Arenas to heave a 60-foot airball as time expired. I'm a Cavs fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed the outcome, but let's be honest: the way the Wizards handled the end of the game was brutal.

LeBron gets player of the game honors, but I have to give props where they are due, and Eric Snow deserves some accolades. He played a starring role in getting the game to the point where LeBron could win it.
Snow made a series of major buckets to start overtime. They were huge for the Cavs, who were reeling after coughing up a seven-point lead in the final 90 seconds of regulation. Without Snow's scoring run to start overtime, the Cavs could have fallen behind by six or eight points, and it could have been curtains right there.
Fans have been riding Snow all year for his lack of offense. Some have gone so far as to say he is no longer an NBA point guard.
He is past his prime. He won't stuff a stat sheet. He is not an elite NBA point guard. But if you want to know why Snow and his 77 playoff games are so valuable to this group of postseason neophytes, you saw it last night. Snow knew that getting off to a good start in overtime was critical, and he made sure it happened.

1 comment:

Zach said...

You'd have thought Jordan would have hammered home the timeout situation in the huddle before the shot. When the Wizards threw the ball in quickly, I just figured they were out of timeouts. To not call one, not take advantage of that ridiculous NBA rule is pretty inexcusable.