Posted May 4 2010 2:21AM
CLEVELAND -- Adjustments are everything in the NBA playoffs, one game to the next, one half to the next, frequently one possession to the next. What goes up on the white board in the locker room before Game 1 can be half-gone by the start of Game 2, and if things stretch out to Game 7, you might be looking at vastly different teams taking drastically different measures against overly familiar foes.
Then there are the adjustments that come from within, the sort that have far less to do with Xs and Os and way more with U and I. (Come on, can't you just see a coach scribbling that somewhere?)
For both teams Monday night in Boston's 104-86 swatting of Cleveland in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at Quicken Loans Arena, it was about getting back to who they are and what they do rather than reacting to the other guys and any wrinkles or strategies thrown their way.
Adjustments? Sure. The Celtics adjusted to the stuff they failed to do in Game 1, when their lead of 11 points at halftime vanished. The Cavaliers have some serious adjusting to do now after staying too casual from Game 1 to Game 2 and, for that matter, approaching these playoffs that way in general. The Chicago Bulls weren't that good, to limit the East's No. 1 seed to just one dominant performance in the first round.
And the Celtics are too good for the Cavaliers to get away with that any longer. That sure was coach Mike Brown's heated message in the postgame news conference, with longtime observers rarely seeing Brown so publicly angry.
"For 48 minutes we did not play with a sense of urgency," Brown said. "They kicked our behinds from the beginning. They got every 50/50 ball, they conveted every offensive rebound into points and we did not fight back until late. We have to decide if we are going to take the fight to them and take these games. Nothing is going to be given to us. ... Coming from behind in the first game, coming from behind in the second game, that's not good enough."
Compare that to Boston coach Glenn (Doc) Rivers, who said that his players "adjusted" by simply doing what they should have done from the series' start.
"We didn't make any. Honestly," Rivers said. "We felt that we just didn't do our jobs in the first game. We didn't do our defense. We weren't in the spots we should have been in, and all we talked about was, 'Let's see if we can do that first. Then if they score, we can make an adjustment.' The only adjustment we really made was doing it the way we should do it."
B-b-b-b-b-but the results were so different: Fifteen points shaved off Cleveland's total. Re-newly crowned MVP LeBron James was held to 24, almost six points below his season scoring average and more than eight off his mark (32.3 ppg) through the Cavs' first six postseason games. Four points from Mo Williams rather than 20. Defensive shooting percentage that bumped to 40 percent only when it was too late for Cleveland, compared to 48.7 percent in Game 1.
This time, Boston looked like Boston rather than the defensive impostors who showed up Saturday.
"Our whole team defense is the same all the time," Rivers said. "We always talk about shrinking the floor and letting everybody see five guys in the paint. In Game 1, there were so many gaps when we watched the film. Everybody was hugging up on their guys. I thought [this time] we did a great job in the paint and then on drive-and-kicks, in recovering back out."
The Celtics were more aggressive and more physical -- to the point that we heard an NBA head coach (Brown) wishing his team had been whistled for more fouls. Cleveland was called for 16 to Boston's 31, indicative of the teams' gap in tenacity. In the third quarter, with Rajon Rondo getting seven of his 19 assists, they put pace in the game and outscored the home team 31-12. It helped Boston, too, that Kevin Garnett is enough of a threat again to draw double-teams, which opened holes in the Cavaliers' defense. And that Rasheed Wallace finally deigned to join the fray.
Again, Boston did things it could have and should have done 48 hours earlier. That's not so much an adjustment as a do-over.
Said guard Ray Allen, whose 22 points were tops among six Celtics in double figures: "If you look back to Game 1, going into halftime, we were doing everything we wanted to do. Offensively we were moving the ball. We were keeping them out of transition. LeBron was getting to the hole but we were containing him, keeping him spaced, keeping him trying to shoot the ball over the top of us. So I don't think we were surprised [Monday] -- we were sitting here in the same predicament, we just had to close the game out."
Actually, the predicament was all Cleveland's. Since we can assume that a trip to Akron 40 miles to the south on their off-day -- site of the MVP-izing of James -- wasn't enough to mess with the Cavaliers' game prep, Brown's irritation was appropriate. With the exception of Game 4 in Chicago, the East's No. 1 seed hasn't much played like it. They trailed by as much as 25 points, turning The Q into a lower-case the q, as in quiet. Shhhhh ...
"I feel like tonight I was, eh, OK," James said. "All of us was just OK. That's why we got handed a loss tonight on our court. ... A game plan is always intact for me when I go out on the court and I have to be able to read that defense. They did a great job of shrinking the floor. They also did a great job of not leaving my point guard [Williams] so he could get off also."
James spent large chunks of Game 2 trying to warm up teammates, while never heating up himself. But he was a lot more calm afterward than his head coach, partly because he's less in the motivation business, partly because coaches always feel more frustration, limited as they are to watching. And pleading.
"It's no panic for me," Jams said. "I may handle it a different way from how Mike may handle it. This is a long series and I understand that. ... The postseason isn't easy. ... You're going to have losses, you're going to have bumps and bruises thorughout the course of a series. It's how you react to that next game."
Reacting to that next game? Sounds like more adjusting and, for Cleveland, particularly from within.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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