Granted, Sunday’s game between the Cavaliers and Celtics was questionably officiated, but J.R. Smith hardly has a case he didn’t deserve all four of his fouls — and maybe even more. But that didn’t stop the former NBA Sixth Man of the Year from complaining.
What did J.R. Smith learn during 4-foul, 19-minute game? “Don’t touch Avery Bradley. Apparently he’s like Kobe now, so I can’t touch him.”
So, apparently Smith thinks Avery Bradley is getting superstar treatment, which is … interesting … since the Celtics guard attempted all of zero free throws, and Smith somehow still managed to complain after trucking Kelly Olynyk like a linebacker.
For the record, superstar treatment by officials is a thing. Just not for Bradley.
Raptors guard Lou Williams beat Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year honor by a significant margin, the league announced on Monday morning.
Williams received 78 of the 130 possible first-place votes from a panel of sportswriters. His 34 second-place votes and 10 third-place votes gave him a total of 502 points. Meanwhile, Thomas received 33 first-place votes, 46 second-place votes and 21 third-place votes for a total of 324 points — the second-highest total in the voting.
Williams appeared on 122 of 130 ballots, as Jamal Crawford (131 points), Andre Iguodala (100), Tristan Thompson (33), Nikola Mirotic (24), Marreese Speights (20), Corey Brewer (12), Manu Ginobili (12), Taj Gibson (8), Aaron Brooks (1), Chris Kaman (1), Anthony Morrow (1) and Dennis Schroder (1) all received votes. How 30 writers left Thomas off the ballot entirely is a mystery.
We’ve already covered in great deal why Thomas deserved the award over Williams, so we won’t get too far into the weeds here, except to say Thomas averaged more points, assists and rebounds while shooting better from everywhere on the floor and submitting a superior player efficiency rating.
Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.
So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.
LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.
In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.
Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.
1. Crowder demonstrated good footwork in keeping LeBron in front of him and forcing a failed jumper.
2. LeBron made a tough running left-handed bank shot over Crowder and a crowd in the paint.
3. Twice Tristan Thompson set a pick for James, and each time Tyler Zeller hedged, allowing Crowder to recover and initially force LeBron to reset the offense before ultimately missing a contested jumper.
4. LeBron beat Crowder off the dribble, but Zeller forced an errant shot in the restricted area.
5. With Marcus Smart defending and not Crowder, James converted a pull-up 3-pointer.
6. Crowder defended James straight-up in the high post, and then forced another failed jumper.
7. James beat Crowder off the dribble for a layup.
8. Crowder twice worked his way over and around Timofey Mozgov picks and showed tremendous footwork to remain in front of James and force yet another contested long jumper that sailed wide.
Not bad, right? Only once did Crowder truly get burned for an easy basket. Now, contrast that performance with LeBron’s 10 field goal attempts without Crowder on the court, and it’s a completely different story.
1. Smart and Turner, who both beat LeBron down the floor, failed to contest his transition layup.
2. LeBron beat Smart off the dribble and made a tough layup over a helping Kelly Olynyk.
3. LeBron backed Turner down from the elbow and converted an easy layup.
4. Seeing Turner isolated against LeBron in the left corner, Zeller came out to help, forcing an errant turnaround jump shot, but Zeller’s double team left Thompson alone underneath for an offensive rebound and an easy dunk.
5. With Turner chasing and failing to deliver a hard foul, James scored an easy transition layup off a steal.
6. LeBron missed an ill-advised long 3-pointer in an attempt to go 2-for-1 in the final 30 seconds of the half.
7. LeBron beat Turner off the dribble for an easy layup.
8. Brandon Bass switched onto James once Turner got picked, and James missed a contested 3-pointer.
9. As Turner tried to recover and contest, LeBron missed an open catch-and-shoot jumper as the shot clock expired.
10. LeBron attempted to back Avery Bradley into the post, but managed only an errant turnaround jumper.
While Turner often required help — setting a series of defensive rotations in motion that often led to a) open Cavaliers, b) a LeBron make or c) second chances off a miss — Crowder stood a better chance of defending the Cavs star 1-on-1 and thus allowed his teammates to stand their ground and be in better position to rebound.
Even in a larger sample size, Crowder offered the C’s a better chance against James. In 17 regular-season minutes opposite Crowder, James scored 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting (5-of-8 in the paint, 2-of-5 from mid-range and 0-for-3 from 3) with two assists against a pair of turnovers. In 64 minutes sans Crowder, James netted 47 points on 20-of-35 shooting (11-of-15 in the paint, 5-of-11 from mid-range and 4-of-9 from 3) with 18 assists against four turnovers. LeBron remains impossible to stop, but Crowder at least lints the damage.
Surely, Stevens has seen this evidence, so don’t be surprised if Crowder sees a lot more time on Tuesday.
James finished with 20 points on 18 shots and added seven assists with five turnovers, so instead Kyrie Irving made the Celtics pay, scoring 30 points in a 113-100 victory that gave the Cavs a 1-0 series lead. Kevin Love added a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds).
The Celtics actually owned the lead 20 minutes into the game, thanks to 55 points from their bench, but couldn’t overcome Cleveland’s 15 offensive rebounds and 13 3-pointers. Isaiah Thomas led six C’s in double figures with 22 points and 10 assists. Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner added 12 points apiece, while Brandon Bass, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder each added 10.
After the first quarter, this series seemed like it might go longer than anyone anticipated. The Celtics scored 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting, taking a 31-27 lead into the second frame. Tyler Zeller did the damage with six points against his former team early, Turner drained a corner 3-pointer to tie the game at 11 midway through the first quarter, and the bench carried the load late to take a 31-27 lead.
Olynyk couldn’t have enjoyed a better start to his first playoff appearance. Demonstrating the breadth of his offensive skill set, Olynyk drove baseline to score his first basket a minute after checking into the game, and then knocked down a 3-pointer on his next trip down the floor to give the C’s a 16-13 lead. Two minutes later, he threw down a driving dunk past fellow Canadian Tristan Thompson, and his second 3 of the game gave him 10 points in the opening quarter.
STARPOWER Cleveland’s stars were bound to take over at some point, and Irving was the first to make the Celtics pay, scoring 12 of his 20 first-half points in a second quarter that saw the Cavaliers drop 35 points and turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead by halftime. The All-Star point guard made eight of his 12 shots in the opening 24 minutes, including all four of his 3-point attempts — the last of which came at the buzzer and gave Cleveland their 62-54 halftime edge.
In what may very well have been Celtics coach Brad Stevens‘ first between-quarter sideline interview on national TV, he wasn’t satisfied with his team’s four-point lead after the first quarter, if only because of Cleveland’s 27 points at the time. The C’s were defending well, but giving the Cavaliers too many second-chance points, and the rebounding edge caught up with them in the second quarter and beyond. All in all, the Cavs grabbed 14 offensive boards and out-rebounded the Celtics 35-12 through three quarters, taking a 91-76 lead into the fourth.
CLOSING THE THIRD QUARTER
The Cavaliers opened a 20-point lead with 4:33 left in the third after four straight points from Kevin Love, but the Celtics answered with a 14-0 run to cut the deficit down to six on the strength of reserves Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart. And then it all went to hell. The Cavs closed the quarter on a 9-0 run, including a James Jones 3 for their second buzzer beater in as many quarters, and established an insurmountable lead going into the fourth.
Greg Dickerson and John Tomase discuss the amazing season for the Celts and if they have any chance against Lebron and the Cleveland Cavs in a seven game series. If they do, HOW ... how do they get it done?
Truth is, the Celtics aren’t going to push this series beyond five games, right? … Right? … I mean, it’s not like Brad Stevens has a history of taking Cinderella to the big dance or anything … RIGHT? OK, I’m going to talk myself into this thing if I don’t look at some cold hard facts real soon, so let’s do this.
The Cavs weren’t really the Cavs until acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, adding the defense and 3-point shooting that helped LeBron James achieve legendary status in Miami. And the Celts weren’t really the Celts until acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, adding the scoring punch and lineup flexibility that helped Stevens achieve wizardry status. So, in the interest of fairness, any tale of the tape for these two teams should start with a completely arbitrary date between their current story arcs. Let’s say Feb. 3.
[Editor’s Note: Just kidding. Feb. 3 totally isn’t arbitrary. It’s the date that makes Boston look best agains Cleveland, because otherwise a tale of the tape between them would be like asking the late great Manute Bol to pose for a photo alongside Muggsy Bogues. And who would do such a thing?]
Here we go. All of the per-game and advanced statistics below were culled from NBA.com/stats.
Stating the obvious, the Cavaliers have a seismic advantage on the offensive end, where they own the NBA’s top true shooting percentage — including the fourth-best 3-point percentage (38.4) on 31.2 attempts from beyond the arc per game — and commit fewer fouls in a league that caters to its stars.
There are a few measures that offer the Celtics hope. Since Feb. 3, they possess a top-10 defense, and no team has guarded the 3-point line better — thanks to bulldogs Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart on the perimeter. The C’s also can make the rather strange claim that they rank second in field goal attempts and ninth in field goal attempts allowed, as they play at a furious pace, commit few turnovers while both forcing and scoring off them on the other end, and score often when given second chances.
All of those are positives against an offensive juggernaut, and it’s easy to see why Ainge told WEEI on Friday the two biggest keys for the Celtics are: 1) ‘We need to make a high percentage of our 3’s in order to win this series,” and 2) “We need to prevent them from getting open-court baskets.” So, the 3-point line — making them on one end and defending them in the halfcourt on the other — is where the series will be decided. Then again, outplaying the Cavs on both ends isn’t a revolutionary strategy.
“In a series like this, they just have a much greater room for error than we do, and we just have to play at our best,” added Ainge. “We need five or six guys playing the best basketball they’ve played, and our guys are capable of it. It’s a tough, tough mountain to climb, but it’s fun. It’s a fun opportunity for us.”
Now for the individual matchups. These Basketball Reference statistics are based on the full season.
While Smart’s size advantage and aggressiveness might slow the Irving, the smaller Bradley will share the defensive load, and the three-time All-Star’s offensive explosiveness wins out over both of them.
When engaged, Smith can be more than serviceable offensively, as evidenced by his 2012-13 Sixth Man of the Year campaign with the Knicks , but his streakiness can be just as much a detriment as an asset, and Bradley’s consistency as an All-Defensive talent with a decent jumper gives him a slight edge.
James is a four-time MVP and two-time champ. He is, as Stevens so often says, still the best player in the NBA, regardless of who takes home this year’s MVP honor. Turner, for all his progress as a facilitator, is still Evan Turner, and the only comparison between the two is their status as top-2 picks.
The numbers make this matchup seem closer than it actually is, as Love was one of the top-10 players in the league just last season, and while Cleveland’s proven incapable of properly maximizing his talents, he’s still a three-time All-Star with superior scoring, rebounding and playmaking capabilities.
Just think, if the Cavaliers had managed to hold onto Zeller over the summer, they probably wouldn’t have had to give up two first-round picks for Mozgov at midseason. And while the Russian is the better rim protector, the C’s center makes up for it with his superior mid-range jumper and passing ability.
The Celtics go 11 deep, bringing their best scorer (Isaiah Thomas), best rebounder (Jared Sullinger) and their four best floor spacers (Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk and Luigi Datome) off the bench, making for all sorts of matchup possibilities. While the Cavs have a potential double-double (Tristan Thompson), a 3-and-D stalwart (Iman Shumpert), a trio of veteran 3-point shooters (Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones) and a championship-winning statue of a center (Kendrick Perkins) at their disposal, the reserve tank is the C’s best hope of keeping their foot on the gas pedal.
Have you talked yourself into the Celtics winning this in six yet? No? Well, me neither. Their defense and depth can keep most of the games exciting, and Thomas alone could swing one with his scoring, but let’s be serious. The Cavs have LeBron, and 2008 Paul Pierce isn’t walking through that door to save the C’s.