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Road reaction

Apr 23, 2015 -- 10:41pm

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

CLEVELAND – LeBron James put in an individual workout one hour before the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers took the practice floor for shoot around in Boston early Thursday morning.

He knows what it takes – inside and out -- to play at a high level inside TD Garden against the Boston Celtics and their faithful fans.

James has scored 45 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to avoid elimination on that very parquet court while playing for the Miami Heat. He has also been eliminated from the playoffs there, walking the proverbial green mile, infamously removing his Cleveland Cavaliers uniform in the tunnel on his way out.

The 2015 edition of James is a little different than the athletic specimen who used to jump over defenders and maneuver around anyone in his way. James is 30 years old now, he’s methodical, playing with finesse and sticking to the process that helped his Cavs secure the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference.

That process is steadily making its way thought the first round of the playoffs – the Cavs defeated Boston 103-95 in a back and forth sparring match, leaving Cleveland just one win away from advancing.

James led the way with 31 points and 11 rebounds, requiring a complete effort until the final whistle. Kevin Love contributed 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, including six three-point shots. Meanwhile, five of Tristan Thompson’s seven rebounds came on the offensive glass.

J.R. Smith is starting to find his range in the playoffs, after shooting 6-of-21 through the first two games; he went 6-of-12 for 15 points including three from distance.

Because Cleveland leads the series 3-0, here are the three biggest takeaways and trends to keep an eye on.

Team basketball

When Kobe Bryant defended James on Twitter a few weeks back, he cited that winning championships isn’t an individual accomplishment. The Lakers had the dynamic duo of Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. Michael Jordan played with Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. James had Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh when he won his first two rings.

The 2015 Cleveland Cavaliers – without a doubt – have one another.

When Kevin Love got off to a 2-of-11 start in game one, Kyrie Irving picked up some of the slack, scoring 30 in his playoff debut. Game two was clinched when James took it upon himself to score 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter.

In game three, Irving wasn’t credited with a field goal attempt until midway through the third quarter. Although he scored 13 points and ended up taking 11 shots, it was Love complimenting James in the scoring category this time around.

In all three games, role players have come up clutch as well. Thompson’s efforts on the glass, Timofey Mozgov has been able to alter shots providing competition at the rim, and Iman Shumpert has been a defensive pest – guarding everyone from Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart.

The Cavs aren’t winning basketball games by riding the coattails of one specific player. Their team effort and rhythm has been the difference maker. While the Big Three may get a ton of the credit, head coach David Blatt and the rest of the staff knows that it truly does take a village.

Toughness

Mentally and physically the Cavs have been poised from the opening tip.

In back-to-back home games Cleveland trailed by at least seven points in the second quarter and powered their way into overcoming and taking halftime leads. On the road, Boston turned their nine-point deficit to a four-point advantage in the second quarter before Cleveland yet again flipped the script and took an eight-point lead into the locker room.

Countless times this series there have been guys knocked to the ground while driving to the rim. Questionable charging, blocking calls or flopping whistles have been rampant. In just game three alone, Smith was issued a technical foul when coming to the defense of Irving after he was thrown to the deck. Turner essentially tackled James on a fast-break layup and Mozgov caught an elbow to the throat courtesy of Brandon Bass while rebounding.

Irving and Shumpert were both visibly shaken up multiple times, yet stayed in the game to compete.

Did we mention that this is the first time a lot of these guys have been on the playoff stage?

For the Cavaliers to remain so calm, cool and collected throughout all of the physicality, by not throwing punches or retaliating, they have shown the bravado of a veteran and championship-caliber team.

Respect the Celtics

Boston is arguably overmatched at every position on the floor. The Cavs are far and away the superior talent on the court. But, that doesn’t mean that the second youngest team in the NBA is going down without a multiple round fight.

Led by their head coach Brad Stevens, Boston has battled through a lot of adversity this season. Injuries, trading of All-Stars and starting the final month of the year out of the playoff picture – this historic franchise is trending upwards once again.

The Cavs said going into the series that they wouldn’t even think about over-looking or underestimating this team, and for the most part they haven’t. But either way, a tip of the cap goes to their nightly gritty performances. Because although you may want to count them out and start looking at the second round matchups – the Celtics have demanded respect from the league and the Cavs, rightfully so, are giving it to them.

 

 

Organically grown teammates

Apr 22, 2015 -- 7:22am

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

CLEVELAND – Great players do great things.

LeBron James scored 15 points in the fourth quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 99-91 slugfest victory over the Boston Celtics, finishing the game with 30 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

When James grabbed a post-game stat sheet, the only number he dialed into was “six.” Following game one, that number was “five.”

James operates a little differently than the average professional athlete who wants to see their feats, not faults. The numbers that James finds him looking at first are his turnover totals.

“I just have to be more conscious about certain passes and certain plays that I am making,” James said of his turnovers. “That’s 11 for me in two games, five-and-a-half per game and that’s just not going to cut it.

“You can make a couple more mistakes at home than you can on the road. I have to be better with the ball in order for us to be successful.”

Consistently throughout the season – and during his career – James carries a ‘never satisfied,’ persona, where individual accolades, statistics and even team wins in the opening round of the playoffs aren’t satisfactory for him. When the Cavs clinched a playoff berth, followed by a Central Division Championship, James felt more of a sense of accomplishing the expected, but he wasn’t relieved.

The other part about great players is their ability to lead by example, and have their championship mindset be contagious in the locker room – especially to players who have never made it this far before.

Head Coach David Blatt said before game two that the relationship between James and point guard Kyrie Irving has grown “organically” throughout the season in a “good and positive way,” citing that from day one, the duo worked on learning to play with one another.

“Both of the guys are performers and competitors,” Blatt said. “They recognize that they need one another.”

Irving – in order to achieve the team success that he desires – needed all 15 of James’ points in the fourth quarter. James on the other hand, needed all nine of Irving’s in that same period. The Cavs required the total 24 from their combined efforts because they were the only two who scored during the final 12 minutes of the ball game.

“I am always analyzing the game,” James said of his ability to takeover late in a ball game. “Whether on the floor or on the bench, whatever the case my be, just trying to figure out ways I can help the team. Me personally, and at the same time helping my teammates. My mind is always figuring out the positions on the floor and where I can be successful.

“Coaching staff and teammates give me all the leeway that I can be successful.”

The first half wasn’t as successful and James would demand from himself, committing three turnovers and shooting just 3-of-8 from the field. As the student stepped into a teaching role, Irving pulled him aside to let James know everything was going to be okay.

“Game to game we pick him up, we pick each other up,” Irving said. “I told him going into halftime, ‘you have to be yourself and come out and be aggressive and just dominate like we know you can.’ He did that, especially in the fourth quarter and he carried us to a victory.”

Irving’s high level of maturity – especially for this just being his first ever week of playoff basketball – didn’t go unnoticed by James, on and off the floor.

“It’s a treat to have a guy like that who can score with the best of them,” James added about his point guard, a teammate he has openly referred to as ‘youngin’ and son,” in the locker room this year. “He is very poised for a young guy in the environment and it’s great to have him out here.”

Budding friendship, team chemistry and success aside, Irving still knew that the conversation he and James will have while watching film won’t be about the crossovers that had Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart skating on the floor. They probably won’t touch on the and-one layups or even Irving’s keen ability to finish at the rim amongst giants. It will be about his turnovers, the teams’ turnovers and how they can execute with more fluidity on offense and more tenacity on defense.

“You know he is going to come up (to the podium) and be pissed about his turnovers, as well as mine,” Irving said confidently.

But, in order to be great, they can’t have it any other way.

“You’re just at ease,” he added of playing with a player of James’ caliber. “You are playing with guys that know the game extremely well and have been in this position before.

“They know what to expect out of me and I know what to expect out of them.”

 

 

Pay attention to details

Apr 22, 2015 -- 12:15am

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

CLEVELAND – Leading into the series, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers emphasized time and time again that they are 100 percent dialed into their first round opponent -- deeming it unacceptable, unprofessional and unwise to overlook the Boston Celtics.

Even if the Cavs had wanted to play out of character, taking a few nights off to play lackadaisical basketball expecting to scrape by, credit the Celtics for demanding their full and undivided attention.

Cleveland’s concentration and due diligence thus far is the exact reason why they won game two 99-91 and hold a 2-0 series lead over the Celtics before heading to Boston with the goal of closing things out on the road in games three and four.

“So much of the game has to do with really really locking in on detail and on little things,” David Blatt said. “There aren’t going to be many blowouts at this stage. You have to get long rebounds and you have to get 50/50 balls and you have to do a great job taking care of your man in your area and helping when necessary.

“It was a good hard tough game and we needed to win and we did.”

A double-digit second half lead diminished to just two in the fourth quarter, and when Kevin Love missed a three-point shot the reaction from the crowd seemed worried, as if the Cavs could possibly go down late in the game – until, Iman Shumpert came flying in from the weak side to snatch the offensive rebound, one of 12 for Cleveland.

Shumpert kicked the ball out to an open James who was standing outside the three-point line, who quickly swung it to Kyrie Irving so he could knock down the triple.

In the blink of an eye the Cavs re-extended their lead to five midway through the fourth quarter and never really looked back.

“Every game we may not shoot well, but we understand that the little things are going to make the difference,” Irving said afterwards. “We keep on preaching it. One rebound here or one loose ball there and that turns into a jump ball. Those are big time plays and we are diving on the floor for one another and it just gives the whole building energy when we are doing it.”

Irving finished the game with 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting, but missed five three-point shot attempts and committed two turnovers.

The Cavs as a unit fumbled the ball over 18 times, a game-high of six coming from James.

“I just try to read and react to the game,” James said of his performance. “Sometimes my mind gets caught up into it too much and I start being indecisive at times.”

James, however, was decisive when it mattered most. In the final quarter, where he scored 15-of-his-30 points, solidifying the win for his Cavaliers.

“I’ve been in this moment before,” he added. “A lot of our guys haven’t. Felt it was important for me to put a staple on this game the best way that I know how and that is to be aggressive.”

Aggression for James came in the form of attacking the basket in for fourth quarter, for other players it was blocked shots, rebounding and mental toughness.

J.R Smith led the team with five steals, helping to create 10 fast break points. Timofey Mozgov played a dominant game scoring 16 points before fouling out, but also had five blocked shots.

Tristan Thompson is the unsung hero once again, playing 26 minutes and not scoring a single point. He made his presence felt on the glass – corralling 11 total rebounds, five offensive.

“It’s not everyday you see someone play 26 or 27 minutes and not score and be so impactful,” Blatt said of Thompson’s gritty play. “He was so important to his team winning and Tristan was one of the main factors in us winning that game.”

While James attempted to stay aggressive on offense, the game was totally put away when he missed a three-point shot with two minutes to play, but, Thompson was there to clean things up, kicking his rebound back out to James who waited the full length of the shot clock before scoring on a layup in the lane.

The next closing possession, after Smith missed a three, guess who was there for the rebound to help run out the clock?

“Coach called my number and told me to come in and do my job,” Thompson said. “That is to get a couple of offensive rebounds. You have to give yourself to the team and whatever the team needs from you. Whether that is setting a good screen or getting a steal or a rebound that is what you have to do.

“A win is a win, whether it is ugly, or pretty, we are going to take the win.”
 

Quote of the night 

Head Coach David Blatt started his post game press conference by asking is anyone had an extra bottle of water, because he was “about to pass out.” Water was later delivered to the podium in a small paper Gatorade cup as to which Blatt replied:

“Is this the one with the vodka in it?”

(Media laughter)

“I’m sorry. I was thinking back to when I was in, wait never mind, I won’t say it because that will get to much play.”

Tweet of the night 

The Celtics are a team of fighters. A group of underdogs who have to believe in themselves because no one else will.

Head coach Brad Stevens used a motivational tactic to try and drive that underdog spirit.

Photo of the night

J.R Smith continues to shoot poorly in the post-season. After sitting all but two minutes of the second half on Sunday, Smith shot just 3-of-12 for seven points in game two – only connecting on 1-of-8 three-point shot attempts.

He is a combined 6-of-21 through the first two games of the series. 

 

Photo/AP

Video of the night

“I felt like Billy Hoyle in White Men Can’t Jump.” -- Kevin Love  
 

 

 

Energy off the bench

Apr 19, 2015 -- 10:23pm

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

CLEVELAND – If the Cleveland Cavaliers were to hand out report cards for their game one playoff win over the Boston Celtics, the reserves would receive an A-plus, and then some.

The Cavs’ bench players executed a key role in bringing energy, enthusiasm and toughness off of the bench to help Cleveland overcome an eight-point first half deficit, en route to winning – for many of the role players – their first ever playoff game, and the first for Cleveland since 2010.

“All we ask out of our bench is to defend and give us high energy,” LeBron James said of their efforts. “Everything else is extra credit.”

The numbers aren’t eye-popping. Bench players scored a combined 29 points and grabbed 13 rebounds – but their hustle and timely emotional lifts were things that didn’t appear on the stat sheet.

Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova, Shawn Marion and James Jones were the five reserves that saw playing time – and whether it was 52 seconds or 32 minutes, each and every one of them were ready at the helm.

LeBron James was so impressed with their performance, and ability to help the team in need, that he called each and every one of them out during his post-game presser.

“Double T (Thompson) always comes in with all the extra activity in the world and gives us extra possessions,” James said. “He catches lobs and he does so many great things for us.”

Thompson finished the game with six rebounds, four of them were on the offensive glass – his first playoff basket came on an offensive rebound and put-back dunk in the first quarter.

“Coach challenged us to get some separation and bring a little more energy,” Thompson said of the bench productivity. “For myself and the other guys that come off of the bench, our role is to bring the energy, to bring that spark and that’s what we did.”

Shumpert played an increased role due to J.R Smith collecting his fourth personal foul in the opening minutes of the second half.

“Our bench just comes in, we play hard, and we try to do everything for the team,” he said. “We needed this from our bench just to get to the playoffs, and we’ve gotten it. We can’t have a drop-off now that we are in the playoffs. We know our key guys are going to handle the ball a little bit more, knowing that every possession means a little bit more in the playoffs.

“We have to be ready to come in and get production, whether it is offensively, defensively, bringing energy, whatever we have to do. It is our job. When the game starts we see what we are missing out there and we come in there and try to fix it.”

James agreed, compliment Shumpert on his energy and defensive versatility. Stating that in a pinch, Shumpert can guard any position from point guard to power forward, and he carries the mentality and maturity to lock in on those assignments.

Shumpert finished with seven points and six rebounds in 32 minutes of action.

Jones and Dellavedova made the most of their limited action as well. Jones, getting an earlier than usual call off of the bench hit a much needed three-point shot in the first half, then, he brought the crowd to their feet to end the third quarter, ringing in a buzzer beating three to extend the Cavs lead even further.

“Champ, whenever you need him, it can be one second and it can be 30 minutes, he is going to give us that ability to shoot the ball. And, he is just a great mind, he knows how to play the game.”

Dellavedova continued his scrappy play, hustling his way around defenders to dish out three assists and score two points in just under nine minutes of play. His spin move and lay-up around the Celtics’ Jae Crowder sent the home crowd into a tizzy – rooting on one of their underrated role players.

“Delle is going to go 110%,” James continued on his string of compliments. “Then when he burns out, he comes out and gives you 110% more. He’s not going to give you anything less.”

Saving the best for last, Marion played just under one minute in the third and fourth quarters combined, but made the largest impact according to James. The one nicknamed “The Matrix” grabbed two steals and helped jumpstart transition offense.

“I thought the most important guy off of the bench was (Marion), James added. “For ‘Trix’ to come in and in those seconds at the end of the third (quarter) to get back-to-back steals.”

Head coach David Blatt agreed.

“Look at Shawn Marion, who comes in there and gives us two steals, and we finished the (quarter) with a three-point shot, so that is basically earning you five points. Then he doesn’t play for the rest of the game, but that is an enormous contribution." 

The team also credited the experienced veteran Kendrick Perkins for getting them in the right state of mind before they took the floor, sharing bits of his championship wisdom to help the team focus. 

“We played it the way that we needed to, to win the game, and those guys stepped up when we needed it, each in their own way.”
 

 

 

Inside the numbers

Apr 19, 2015 -- 9:37pm

By Jason Gibbs | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

In honor of ten Cavaliers seeing action in today’s win 113-100 win over Boston, here’s ten LeBron James numbers to know.


1 – Blocked shot for James in today’s game. It was one of the high moments of the game for fans. LeBron found the fountain of youth and sent an Isaiah Thomas shot sailing into the stands with 2:06 left in the games’ opening quarter.

3 – The number of veteran Kendrick Perkins who pulled LeBron aside at the scorer’s table before his first playoff game in five years in Cleveland and in the 20-30 seconds before taking the floor, clearly got LeBron fired up for game one.

4 – The total number of free throw attempts for James who is among the league leaders with nearly eight trips to the line per game. James missed his first free throw but then went on to hit his next three.

7 – The total points LeBron scored in the second half of Sunday’s game one match-up against the Celtics.

8:57 – The amount of time between LeBron’s first field goal in the second half (layup with 8:29 left in the third quarter) and his next field goal in the half (26-foot three-pointer with 11:32 left in the game). After that basket in the fourth, LBJ would go another 7:44 before making another shot in the game, his final points in game one.

14 – Total points in the paint for LeBron today.

41 – The number of minutes James logged in today’s win.

44% - LeBron shot his exact season percentage from the field in game one going 8/18 including 1/3 from beyond the arc.

72 – The number of Cavs post-season playoff appearances for LeBron. With today’s game he moved ahead of Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (71 playoff appearances) for first place all time in a Cavalier uniform.

1,026 – The number of playoff assists that LeBron has in his career. With his fourth assist today, James passed Michael Jordan for ninth all time in NBA history.
 

 

 

One down...

Apr 19, 2015 -- 8:54pm

By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

CLEVELAND – A phenomenal debut.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love played in the most meaningful game of their NBA careers to date, anchoring a 113-100 win for the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of their opening round matchup with the Boston Celtics.

“I thought they were phenomenal,” LeBron James complimented while sitting between the two during a post-game press conference. “(Irving) is our floor general and he set the tone early on with his ability to make shots and his ability to get in the lane. Obviously he can shoot the ball and he can mix it up. I just thought he was phenomenal.”

Irving finished with a game-high 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting, connecting on five three-point field goals.

“Even with (Love’s) shot not falling early, I felt like it was just a rhythm that he was in. The aggressiveness that he was in would pay off for us later,” James continued. “He turned it around in the second half and he was very aggressive. Getting the ball where he wanted. Getting touches where he wanted and when (Love) shoots eight free throws that let me know that he is very aggressive.

“Those two guys succeeded for their first time being in the post season.”

Love was able to dig himself out of an early shooting slump. He took the first shot of the game for Cleveland and failed to even draw iron. Two of his first four shots didn’t even hit the rim. He went into the halftime locker room shooting a putrid 2-of-11 with just six points.

“I really liked the way that Kevin was locked in the whole game,” head coach David Blatt said of the overall performance. “He was playing the game regardless of whether the shot was going in or not. He was 2-of-11 in the first half, and had some good looks, but he continued to play. Then he finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. He played a really great game for a first playoff game.

“Everyone was worried about what Kevin and Kyrie were going to do in their first playoff game. I guess that was the answer.”

The Cavs got off to a much slower start than most would have expected – surrendering 31 points in the first quarter, allowing Boston to shoot 57 percent, including 10 points off of their bench from Kelly Olynyk in the opening 12 minutes.

They trailed by as many as eight points in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Until. James took it upon himself to motivate, regroup and rally the team to make a run.

“It was just the nerves,” James said of the flat-footed defensive start. “For us as a ball club, we just have to play the game. Don’t worry about the refs. Whether you like a call or don’t like a call, that’s not what it’s about. It is about our game plan and how we can get better each possession.

“You just have to maintain your game plan and go out and focus on the next possession and I thought we did that.”

A 16-point swing after James gathered everyone together gave Cleveland an eight point halftime lead and the Celtics never fully recovered.

James finished the game with 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting with six rebounds and seven assists – surpassing Michael Jordan for 9th place on the all-time post season assists list.

Every member of the big three emphasized that this team – in order to continue winning games and to advance further into the post season – needs to personify the word itself, “team.” Acknowledging that if each member of the trio remains true to themselves while focusing on the bigger picture, the goals – that they set when coming together and meeting for the first time as a team last summer – are well within reach.

“It’s all about winning with my brothers,” Irving said.

“It’s all about the name on the front of the chest,” Love added.

Quote of the night 

“I was watching the (Milwaukee) Bucks and (Chicago) Bulls last night. It was 22 – 22 with four minutes left in the first. My wife and I were sitting there having dinner and I said, ‘if it’s 22-22 at the four minute mark we are in trouble.’ 

“It was 22-22 at 3:19, so, I guess we weren’t quite at the four minute mark but you knew that we had not done a very good job up until that point making it as difficult as we needed to for them to score.” 

-- Celtics' head coach Brad Stevens on why he thought things went poorly for his team “right from the start.” 

Tweet of the night 

Just as it did when the Cavs made it to the NBA Finals in 2007. the ceremonial countdown and check-off list for a title can officially begin. After winning game one of the opening series, the Cleveland Cavaliers are just 15 wins away from claiming the city’s first championship in 50 years. For some Cleveland fans, it has been decades of close calls and heartbreaks, for others, they just hear the tales from parents and grandparents, or watch YouTube video of “The Shot,” because they weren’t even alive yet. 

Photo of the night

A few weeks after checking out of a rehab clinic, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel made his first public appearance in Ohio – sitting courtside to take in the game. It is well documented that Manziel and James have developed a strong off-the-court relationship.

Manziel has been spotted at a Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks game within the past week as well.

Video of the night

Cavs' fans have been dreaming about watching their "King," take flight in the post-season once again. Four years later, that dream finally became a reality. 
 



 

 

 

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