Posted May 8 2010 12:32AM
BOSTON -- After the Cleveland Cavaliers' lackluster performance in Game 2 of the conference semifinals on Monday, LeBron James was calm and unwilling to panic, though his team had just lost home-court advantage to a resurgent Celtics squad with championship experience.
It was as if he knew exactly what was going to happen in Game 3 four nights later in Boston, an offensive onslaught that may have completely changed the momentum and outlook of this series.
The Cavs think of themselves as a defensive team first and foremost, and they've certainly had one of the league's best defenses since Mike Brown became head coach in 2005. But over the last two years, with more talent surrounding James, Cleveland has also become quite efficient offensively.
In their 124-95 win over the Celtics on Friday, the Cavs took that efficiency to a new level.
Their 124 points and 59.5 percent from the field were postseason franchise records. They scored at least 28 points in every quarter and had six guys in double-figures. It was an offensive clinic, and it's not like they were playing Phoenix or Golden State. This was a very slow paced game (just 87 possessions for each team) against the best defense of the postseason thus far.
It started with James, he of the 38 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The MVP was aggressive from the opening tip. He shot pull-up jumpers like he was Ray Allen and attacked the basket like he was ... well, LeBron James.
In the first two games of this series, the condition of his right elbow was in the eye of the beholder. Was he hesitant? Was he afraid to shoot? Afraid to draw contact?
There were no such questions on Friday. And apparently, Celtics coach Doc Rivers saw the future as well as James did.
"You knew it coming into the game," Rivers said. "You knew he was going to grab the ball and he was going to attack all game, especially early."
That mentality permeated the entire Cavs rotation. Mo Williams put his Game 2 struggles behind him. Antawn Jamison was more active offensively, freeing himself from Kevin Garnett's clutches. Anthony Parker found his stroke from the outside and Delonte West was the go-to guy in the second quarter.
Through the first three quarters, the Cavs had the ball 64 times. They had nine turnovers, and they scored on 45 of the other 55 possessions. That kind of efficiency just doesn't happen in the playoffs, especially against the Celtics, and especially on the road.
"That's the type of basketball, offensively, that we're capable of playing," Jamison said.
It was a scary good performance.
Jamison had a play midway through the third quarter that may have summed up the night. He drove right on Garnett, and when Rajon Rondo poached and knocked the ball out of his hands, Jamison picked it right back up and finished strong over Garnett's outstretched arms. It was a display of toughness and resiliency that just wasn't there four days earlier.
"Sometimes, the ball goes in the basket," Parker said "And sometimes it doesn't. What you can affect is the energy you come with, the aggressiveness. And sometimes it's funny how the ball starts going in the basket when everybody's on the same page and being aggressive."
Rivers called his team's defense "awful." The Celtics' energy has certainly been better. But it was the Cavs that put them on their heels from the opening tip. Cleveland moved the ball better than it had in either of the first two games, getting better shots and getting them earlier in the shot clock. And if the ball didn't go in the basket the first time, the Cavs just got it back and converted on their second opportunity. This was much more than just a hot shooting night.
Though James and the Cavs have been much deeper in the playoffs, this was a critical game. The urgency to win a championship has never been greater, and going down 2-1 to a tough, veteran team is not a position the Cavs wanted to be in.
"They played with a Game 7 mentality," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "You could see it early."
Game 2 was four days earlier, but it could have been a month ago. After the Cavs' performance on Friday, that 18-point Boston win seemingly has no bearing on this series from here on out. The Cavs have put it behind them, just like James knew they would.
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