As the Boston Celtics squared off with the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday afternoon, everyone flashed back to the exhilarating seven game series during the 2008 Playoffs, when a tight-knit Celtics squad used defense and intensity to beat Cleveland on their path to Banner 17.
Oh, how the times have changed.
Cleveland trampled the Celtics at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland yesterday, 104-93. The Cavalier took full advantage of a sluggish Boston squad, out-running, out-hustling and out-playing the limping, lumbering Celtics.
Cleveland simply brought more energy to the game then an ageing Celtics team. Anderson Varejao (17 points, 10 rebounds) personified the Cleveland attack, owning the offensive the boards, and ultimately helped the Cavaliers outscore the Celtics 27-10 on second chance opportunities.
With an energetic attack, Cleveland asserted itself as the cream of the crop in the eastern conference. With a less then spectacular showing, the Celtics asserted themselves as a talented team that simply cannot keep up.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the first quarter, until with the scored tied at 16-16 with 3:05 left to play, Varejao entered the game. His presence sparked the Cleveland offense, and he and LeBron James (30 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) worked Cleveland ahead by pushing the tempo of the game and executing crisp passes.
The Celtics played solid but looked lethargic and could not catch a break. Late in the quarter, James appeared to lose his dribble against a defending Marquis Daniels; he barley gathered the ball and proceed to hit a ridiculously difficult fade-away three. At the end of one quarter, Cleveland led 24-18.
Varejao continued to push the Cavaliers in the second period. He dominated the offensive boards and brought unmatched defensive intensity. The relatively un-athletic Varejao out maneuvered every big the Celtics assigned to defend him.
And with high energy cam high tensions. Glen Davis bit on an Antawn Jamison (15 points, 12 rebounds) pump fake and slammed him to the ground. Garnett was tangled up with Varejao and J.J. Hixon, the injured Shaquille O’Neal’s replacement at center.
But the Celtics did not match the intensity as the Cavaliers began to pull away. Mo Williams (14 points, six assists) drained a 3 with 8:10 left in the second quarter, to give Cleveland a 35-25 lead.
The Celtics chipped away, but Cleveland remained ahead, and a Varejao lay-up with 3.5 left in the half gave Cleveland a 53-45 lead. A Paul Pierce (18 points, 3 rebounds) flop in three territory gave the allowed the Celtics to chip back, and the first half ended 53-48 in favor of Cleveland.
The Celtics pushed back, tying the game at 66 with an Allen 3-pointer with 5:14 left in the third. But The Celtics then went on an offensive cold streak, and the Cavaliers never looked back.
The Celtics failed to score with 2:05 left on the clock in the third until there was 6:56 left in the fourth. By that time the Cav’s were far ahead and would finish the game 104-93 and take a two games to one lead in the season series.
While the bench of the Cavalier’s brought intensity and energy; the Celtics bench looked uninterested and tired, highlighted by the continued underachieving of Rasheed Wallace (five points, four rebounds) who was abused by Varejao.
Overall, the team was outplayed in almost every category by the Cavs. Despite tying the game late in the third, it was never very close.
Many point to the fact Celtics have also suffered from the injury bug. Kevin Garnett continues to slowly improve from off-season knee surgery, while Paul Pierce has suffered from injuries to his foot and shooting-hand thumb.
But the Cavaliers, who lost Shaquille O’Neal (Ironically in a game against the Celtics, when he was fouled by Glen Davis), have also suffered team injuries, but that has not stopped them from playing energized basketball.
Indeed, it seems the aging Celtics squad has been bored and uninterested at times this year. Despite a 22-11 record on the road, the hold only a 19-12 record at home. Even coach Doc Rivers said “This isn’t the Playoffs. The guys know that.”
The uninspiring play of the Celtics this season has led many to question why their immense talent cannot win. Many believe the Celtics are simply bored by the regular season. The reason against Cleveland was obvious. “The glaring difference,’’ said Ray Allen (20 points, six rebounds, five assists) “was just their effort.”
If the Celtics want to win a NBA title this year, then they must quit being “bored” with the regular season and bring some intensity and effort, a-la Varejao. Otherwise they could find themselves extremely bored come the end of April.