Rivals Regroup Before Beantown

Ray Allen said something interesting on Monday night after his Celtics blew out the Wine and Gold in Game 2.

He said that the year they went to the Finals and won, they “learned their way” through the Playoffs. And Allen said they continue to do that in this year’s postseason.

“I think every game, every quarter, every possession, we learn something about each other,” said Allen. “Even though we’ve been together for a while, it’s a new team, different guys in playoff situations. And we’ve learned, being on the road here early, that we have to take advantage of every situation.”

After Monday’s thumping, the Cavaliers are obviously still learning each other. In two games against Boston, they haven’t looked like the team that led the league in wins. They’re too talented, too deep to not find a combination to prevent what happened Monday. And they definitely haven’t taken advantage of every situation.

The Cavaliers’ last five postseason losses at home combined don’t add up to the 18-point beating on Monday. The Cavaliers were outplayed in almost every facet of the game. Only two starters – LeBron James and Antawn Jamison – notched double-figures and the other three were a combined 7-for-26 from the floor.

Cleveland shot 40 percent from the floor, 19 percent from long-distance. Boston dominated Cleveland on the boards, 43-32, and on second-chance points, 21-10. The Cavaliers scored 12 points in the third quarter and allowed 31.

The best player on the floor for most of the night was J.J. Hickson, who’s provided an excellent spark in both games. Boston’s older bigs have no answer for J.J.’s fresh legs. In the three postseason games Hickson has gotten any significant minutes, he’s 12-for-17 from the floor.

(A sidenote: Something strange – and that’s putting it kindly – happened on two of J.J.’s free throw attempts on Monday night. With 1:53 to play in the third quarter, while Hickson was attempting his first free throw, Celtics GM Danny Ainge – seated in the first row to the left of the basket stanchion – stood up abruptly to distract him. It was barely noticeable, although J.J. missed the free throw.

On his second attempt, however, Ainge grabbed a ballboy’s towel and flung it in the air. That distraction was noticeable, although Hickson sunk the attempt. Interesting behavior for a 51-year-old general manager – trying to distract a 21-year-old kid in his first postseason. To J.J.’s credit, Ainge’s sideshow didn’t faze him.)

The Wine and Gold’s biggest concern coming in to the series – Rajon Rondo – has lived up to his thorn-in-the-side billing. He set a Cavaliers’ opponent record with 19 assists, going anywhere he wanted on the floor and completely dictating the pace.

Rondo had a big Game 1 as well, but he was offset by Mo Williams, who netted 20 points of his own. That was not the case on Monday, when Williams went just 1-for-9 for four points and five assists. To his credit, Mo faced the media after Cavaliers practice on Tuesday.

“As a unit and as a team, we have a lot of firepower and a lot of people who can step up and make plays,” said Mo. “We just have to do a better job of making adjustments in the course of game when we see a team playing us differently than the game before.”

You’ve heard countless coaches point out that the Playoffs are about adjustments. From game to game, from quarter to quarter. Mike Brown pushed the right buttons on Saturday night. Doc Rivers on Monday.

On Monday, Coach Brown was as upset and animated as many in the media had ever seen him. There was no hiding Brown’s displeasure when he took the podium.

“We have got to come out and fight better than we did tonight,” said simmering Brown. “Coming from behind the first game, coming from behind the second game…that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for anybody in that locker room and if we expect to win this series, we have got to bring more of a sense of urgency than we what we brought tonight.”

It’ll be Brown’s job to make the adjustments Mo talked about. J.J. Hickson has obviously played his way into the rotation. Some combination of Mo, Delonte West, Jamario Moon and A.P. will have to figure out Rondo. The gameplan is solid with Shaq, but the Diesel just hasn’t been finishing – going 8-for-22 through two games.

The Celtics made an adjustment on Dwyane Wade in their First Round matchup. They “learned their way” through the First Round. A playoff series changes from game to game and as the Cavaliers ascend, the competition gets stiffer.

“No one said it was easy – it isn’t easy,” said LeBron, following the Game 2 loss. “The question I’m hearing right now is that it’s supposed to be easy for us. We had the best record during the regular season, we’re at home – it’s supposed to ‘be easy.’ It’s the playoffs. You’re going to have losses. You’re going to have bumps and bruises in the series."

“It’s how you react to that next game. I’m talking the way I’m talking because I understand what the postseason is all about. And for me, I’m focused on the next game.”

The Cavaliers have two more days to prepare for Game 3 of their Semifinal Series. And if LeBron and Co. thought it hasn’t been easy so far, wait until they take the parquet floor in Beantown.

“We won one and now we’re going back home to the jungle,” said Kevin Garnett after
the win.

On Friday, we’ll see what the Cavaliers have learned when they get there.