The Boston Celtics looked lost, confused, and frustrated with 7 minutes remaining in a blow out loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday night. Hard to blame them, really, after the beat down they received for most of the first 3.5 quarters. The Cavs dominated an opponent for the second game in 3 days, improving their home record to 19-0.
The atmosphere was loud and raucous, bringing back memories of last year’s epic playoff series against the Celtics. However, on this night there was no match for LeBron James. Where Paul Pierce seemed to go shot for shot with LeBron in the playoffs last year, he simply was not allowed to do so at The Q on Friday. James’ defense was stifling as he tirelessly ran down Pierce and forced him into difficult shots. The result was a 4-15 shooting performance for the only member of the Celtics who has played well during their recent run of bad form.
For his part, LeBron shot better than 50% from the field, made all of his 9 free throws, and added 3 blocks to a game high 38 points. All this, and he only played 36 minutes. He got help from Anderson Varejao, who nearly had a double-double with 14 points and 9 rebounds, and Mo Williams who added 13 points on 5 of 9 shooting. But the stats only tell part of the story.
LeBron and his teammates simply wanted this game more. Right from the start, the Cavs out-hustled and out-worked the Celtics. They chased down loose balls, knocked down open shots, created easy baskets in the paint, and frustrated their opponents with great team defense. When LeBron went diving across the baseline to keep a loose ball in play, that is a sign that the Cavs were not going to be denied by anything less than an act of God.
On top of the stellar overall play by the Cavs, the crowd at The Q was in “playoff mode.” Chants of “overrated,” and “Boston sucks” rained down on the Celtics in the second half, while chants of “MVP” were thrown up to honor LeBron James. Boston’s frustration boiled over on several occasions, with Pierce mouthing off to courtside fans and Doc Rivers and his bench throwing a hissy fit during one stop in play. Rivers resorted to the “Hack a Ben” strategy with 5 minutes left in the game, sending a signal of desperation that smelled to the Cleveland crowd like chum does to a shark. Rivers ordered 5 fouls on Ben Wallace and he responded by nailing 5 of 10 from the free throw line, much to the delight of the home crowd. The Celtics then self-imposed a mercy rule with 4 minutes left, benching Garnett and Pierce and effectively giving up.
This was one of the finest displays a Cavaliers team has ever shown. At the very root of it all, the Cavs are just playing great team basketball right now. And when they have the kind of crowd behind them that they did Friday night, as they hopefully will at every remaining home game, the opponent matters little. The Cavs have the ability to steamroll everyone they face, and I think they know it.