Editor's note: Many thanks to Rudy W. for the top picture and to stephanie g for most of the other pics.
The Cleveland Cavaliers: What can I say? I was stunned last night when the Celtics eliminated the Craboliers, and I'm still stunned today. Not only was Cleveland the league's best regular season team led by the best player in the Nine Realms, but Boston was supposed to fail. I mean, the Celts had been failing all season...they were a bunch of broken down (or breaking) old geezers who didn't give a shit anymore. I've seen bugs explode on my windshield that weren't as left for dead as the C's were at various points over the past six months.
And yet they're moving on while the Crabs have gone fishin'. The mighty Crabs couldn't make it out of the second round...couldn't even force a seventh game. What happened?
Offensively, however, the Cavs were disastrous, especially in the second half. Cleveland got to the break in decent shape thanks to a 20-point first half from Mo Williams, but scored only 36 points after halftime. While there's a laser focus on LeBron James' performance, he and Williams were the only two scorers who did anything.
The other Cavaliers were 12-of-44 from the field, including 2-of-10 from Antawn Jamison -- acquired at midseason to be the final piece of Cleveland's keep-LeBron-at-all-costs puzzle as he enters his free agent year.
And of course, there were the turnovers -- 24 of them, nearly a quarter of the Cavs' possessions. An average figure is barely half that. The Cavs struggled even when they kept the ball, as they misfired on 3s (5-of-17), missed 10 foul shots of their own and shot only 41.1% inside the arc. LeBron, of course, was a major contributor with nine turnovers, and he once again struggled from outside; over the final two games he was three-of-19 from the field.
Dr. Jack Ramsay thinks that, in addition to Mo Williams running out of gas, Antawn Jamison forgetting to show up, a collective no-show by the Cleveland bench and woeful coaching from Mike Brown, the Craboliers got jipped by the officials:
In the fourth quarter after LeBron hit those two 3-pointers to cut the deficit to four, I thought Cleveland caught a couple of bad breaks. Anderson Varejao was fouled twice and the officials didn't call either one, allowing the Celtics to get fast-break opportunities instead of sending Varejao to the foul line. The Cavs never got back into it.
Uh huh. I'm here to tell you there were some iffy calls going both ways. In other words, it was a typical NBA playoff game.
Let's face it, this was a complete team meltdown, one through 12 and the entire coaching staff. It was a choke job of near Biblical proportions. I actually thought that Mo Williams' offensive explosion -- 20 points in the first half -- would save them. After all, the theory was that LeBron only needed one of his teammates to step up, that Cleveland only had to keep things close, for King Crab to prevail.
But it didn't happen. Even when the Crabs took a brief third quarter lead, they looked flat. Even when LeBron hit back-to-back threes to cut Boston's lead to 78-74 early in the fourth quarter, you could kind of tell his teammates had stopped believing, if not in their leader then in themselves. On one possession, Williams bricked a wide open 15-footer -- and I mean bricked badly -- but Cleveland nabbed the offensive board. The ball rotated to an open Jamison, who's shot was both rushed and wide right (laces out!).
None of the Craboliers wanted the ball in crunch time.
The body language was as surprising as anything else: Dipped heads, slumped shoulders, guys just walking around, seemingly disinterested in whatever "play" Mike Brown was calling from the sideline. Even King Crab's triple-double -- 27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists -- was marred by 9 turnovers, 8-for-21 shooting, and a notable lack of aggression. The effort was there. Nobody grabs 19 rebounds in an elimination game without trying. But it seemed like his will was broken.
And how 'bout those final minutes, when the Crabs were still (technically) within striking distance but refused to foul to stop the clock. Here's how Basketbawful reader Clifton put it:
Gawd, watching the last 1:30 of that game was awkward. I mean, AWKWARD. You were literally watching the complete dissolution of a team's psyche. Just content to let the Celtics get it over with...Varejao standing 6 feet from Pierce with his hands on his hips for 10 seconds on the C's next-to-last possession might be the image I'll remember the longest.
That was horrible, though. It was like having two friends who used to be married, but have been divorced for a few years, and watching them argue over who "has to be saddled with" their 7-year-old this weekend...in front of their 7-year-old.
It would have been less painful to watch if they'd gone up to the scorer's table with 1:30 left and forfeited. Seriously, down 9 with 90 seconds to go? Steep climb, sure, but it's POSSIBLE. This wasn't like watching a team down 20 with 1:30 left playing full-court press. Cleveland still had a chance, albeit a small one, at the point when they gave up.
I'm still shaking my head. I can't fathom what I just saw. Hey, free-agency-world, it's LeBron! Guaranteed to actually quit on your team when the going gets tough. Whatever, someone's still going to give him sick cash, but I think the respective 4th quarters of the last two games have done more to cement LeBron's legacy in my mind than any of his "dominating" performances. You don't get the measure of a man by his actions when times are good. It's when the sh*t hits the fan when you find out what a man's made of.
Of course, Clifton's outlook contrasts starkly with a reader e-mail Henry Abbott published on TrueHoop:
You rarely see any athlete take the kind of criticism LeBron has over the past few days. I'm having trouble thinking of another instance where someone has had such a brilliant start to his career and had every part of his game and psychological makeup questioned.
There's nothing wrong with questioning someone's play after a bad game, but people have attacked his heart, desire, and even basketball IQ in the blogosphere. Supposedly he doesn't have a "killer instinct" despite the fact that he has single-handedly destroyed many teams in the playoffs previously.
All this, and we still don't have any real information on the seriousness of his injury.
I don't know if people are just jealous of his success, like to act like know-it-alls, or just get some weird enjoyment at being able to tear someone down behind the anonymity of the internet. But it's kind of gross.
I'm sure there are people who are, as that TrueHoop reader pointed out, attacking LeBron. It's sports, it happens, get over it. But I also believe there are a lot of people who are trying to make sense of what they've "Witnessed." For the last several years, we've all been subjected to a non-stop LeBron-a-thon...all LeBron, all the time. And most recently, the dude has received back-to-back MVPs, received praise by leading stat geeks as perhaps the greatest by-the-numbers player ever, and been proclaimed as The Guy Who's Going To Supplant Michael Jordan As The Greatest Of All Time.
Then this happens.
You know, people used to believe that leaving a pile of wet rags in the corner of their house would make frogs. I'm not kidding. Same as people used to think -- and some still do -- that walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror will cause bad luck. Human beings need answers for things that don't make sense. When the near-consensus BEST PLAYER ON THE PLANET and his BEST TEAM IN THE LEAGUE fail in back-to-back years as the undisputed favorite, our collective gasts become a little flabbered. So please forgive us.
And here are some more random comments from Bawful readers and contributors:
I love how ESPN has to have A Very Special Edition of SportsCenter in the wake of King Crab suffering from a New England seafood bake tonight!
I also love Paul "Wheelchair" Pierce telling the media straight up "We're not really proud of this...our goal this year was to win a championship, not just one series" when being asked "how do you feel about this accomplishment of actually winning a series as an underdog?"
I love how this dramatic ESPN segment is comparing King Crab losing in the second round...to things like The Fumble and other forms of Cleveland sports fail.
A few minutes ago, as the press conference camera panned on an empty chair with a Gatorade bottle...
WoTN nomination for the refs for the non-call on the Big Geritol's travel. He switched his pivot foot at least two separate times. Pure bawful at its finest.
Read Simmons book where he talks about Kobe. He's right, there are two sides of Kobe, the Fox and the Wolf. He knows the best way to win a game, he just always wants to be the one to make the big shot. That's his career: stuck between the best way to win and him being the hero. You can't always be both. Watch Game 5 against Oklahoma, when Kobe accepting the win and not the hero status.
We have to bring it up now, because the biggest free agent story just shit his pants in the second round. Let me call it for you: LeBron in New York. He'll go there and Stoudemire won't be far behind. Wade will stay in Miami and Bosh will go to Chicago. Isn't it funny that the supposed "three best players" and Joe Johnson will be watching the playoffs from here on out? Meanwhile Pumaman is heading towards his second Eastern Finals and possibly second Finals. MVP recount?
I can't remember a year where both Magic and Bird both missed the conference finals.
BTW. LeBron in Chicago is crazy talk. He would only go there if they traded Rose (too many ball handlers, if Rose stays), and Chicago would get nothing in return (Rose still in his rookie contract). Plus, he hates Noah. Hates him. Not hate-respects him, but hates him.
That would be like someone saying that in 1990 Jordan would go to Detroit because they had Laimbeer and Thomas. Just stupid. The Clippers have a better shot at LeBron than Chicago.
Last year when LeBron didn't shake the hands of the Magic players and was criticized for it he defended his actions, saying something like he wouldn't want to shake the hand of someone who beat him. If he really believes that, why did he shake the Celtics players' hands? I just hate that he never actually admitted that he was wrong, but he clearly knows he did the wrong thing (or he still doesn't understand what he did wrong, but his advisers told him not to make the same mistake again).
I wonder how much the whole LeBron's free agency thing was a distraction to the Crabs. Do you think the whole thing cost Cleveland a championship? How funny would that be if LeBron's ego trip with this free agency nonsense cost him a title and brought all this scrutiny on himself.
Yeah the Cavs just decided "Fuck it man, we are who you thought we were" at the end of the fourth. Didn't they watch the Reggie Miller documentary? Miracles can happen!! Well maybe its because from the sport cursed land of Cleveland.
LeBron James: Like I said above: 9 turnovers for the near quadruple-bumble. And some of them weren't forced. They were just bad, bad decisions. And it wasn't just 'Bron's ball handling and shooting that was off. He was off. He was not the same player we saw during the regular season, or even the same player that single-handedly decimated the Pistons in the playoffs a few years back. Something was wrong. I don't know if it was the elbow, or the pressure of expectations, or the doubt about his own future. But this was not the King Crab we're used to seeing.
Heck, he didn't even try to contest this dunk by KG:
I will always remember the way LeBron glared around after he hit a half-court shot in Game 4 of Cleveland's first round series against the Bulls. Experts and fans were all like, "Oooo! You can see how determined LeBron is this year!" Watch it:
Mind you, his team was already up 20 points at the time. No offense, but it's easy to act like a badass when you're blowing away an inferior team. I didn't see many of those glares, or any dancing, or any of the other antics associated with the Crabs going on against Boston. Funny thing that.
Shaq: 11 points, 4 rebounds, zero blocked shots and 5 personal fouls in 24 minutes. At this point, The Big Geritol would make a slightly above-average backup center on a good team. Seriously, that's his ceiling right now. Remember back when Shaq said he'd retire when he was "only as good as David Robinson"? The Admiral closed out his career as an integral part of a championship team. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Most Dominant Ever couldn't even championship piggyback alongside the best player in the multiverse. Yeah, I think Shaq is done.
Antawn Jamison: Cleveland traded for him so that he could be, in Reggie Miller's words, "the Robinson to LeBron's Batman." His elimination game contribution: 5 points, 2-for-10 shooting, 5 rebounds, zero assists, and countless terrified, please-don't-pass-me-the-ball looks on his face. Speaking of which...
As Basketbawful reader Heretic put it:
Rasheed made a couple of threes...un-fucking-believable. That Tony Allen dunk was vicious as hell, he cocked it way back and wham right in the face of Jamison.
I live in the DC area and even though Jamison was half decent on the Wizards, I had the feeling that on a better team he would wilt. Good to know my Shitty Player In Disguise Detector (patent pending) is still working.
Can you believe that, as recently as the first round of the playoffs, people were still comparing the Jamison-to-Cleveland trade to the Gasol-to-L.A. deal? Ha!
Mo Williams in the second half: Mo giveth...and Mo taketh away. Williams kept the Crabs in the game in the first half by scoring 20 points, but he managed only 2 points in the second half and finished with a second-worst-in-the-game 5 turnovers versus only 4 assists. I think Bill Simmons put it best when he said Williams was the pimple on the ass of the All-Star game.
Cleveland's bench: Anderson Varejao's 6-point, 7-rebound performance was the best this group could muster. Did I mention Andy shot 2-for-7? Freaking J.J. Hickson -- who was so important during the regular season -- earned a freaking Mario. On that subject...
Mike Brown: Let's see: He still hasn't learned how to coach an offense and he randomly decided to scrap his rotation for the final few playoff games. Is Mike Brown the worst coach to ever win Coach of the Year? Quite possibly, yes. But you know what? I've been going after Brown for years now and I don't have the energy to do it anymore. Once you've beaten a dead horse into a rine, red paste, what's left? So if you want to pick up your torch and pitchfork to help drive Mike out of Cleveland, head over to the Bleacher Report to read all about why the Cavaliers should fire Brown.
LeBron James, quote machine: "The fact that it's over right now is definitely a surprise to me. A friend of mine told me, 'I guess you've got to go through a lot of nightmares before you realize your dream.' That's what's going on for me individually right now."
If the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 Cavaliers can't win a title, which team from the big three is going to break through and finally connect with the '64 Browns?
The answer is none.
It's not going to happen.
Cleveland will never win a championship in the NBA or another one in the NFL or MLB. Never. Not in my lifetime, not in anybody's lifetime from here on out.
As Alex put it: "Wow...I'd recommend a sad trombone, but this is cold enough."
Takin' pictures: Fun.
ESPN experts: Fail.
Kevin Garnett, scold machine: KG just loves spanking the Baby.
Lacktion report: And now for chris's Crustacean cookoff Thursday playoff lacktion report:
Crabs-Celtics: Zydrunas Ilgauskas finishes his second stint for Cuyahoga County's crab crew with a 3:2 Voskuhl (fouls against a field goal) in 14:53, while J.J. Hickson had to decide between Princess Peach and Pauline in 10 seconds for a Mario.
For Coach Kevin Garnett, er, Doc Rivers, Marquis Daniels collected a basket of creminis in just 6 seconds for a SUPER MARIO!