The Cavs dropped Game 5 to Boston 120-88, marking the most lopsided 2-2 game in NBA history.
By all accounts, LeBron James turned in a flat, disinterested performance on a night where he needed to be spectacular, as he was in Game 3.
And as James goes, so goes the Cavaliers. When James gets going, he brings his team along with him, at least to some extent. Players like Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison are never on the same level with James, but on nights where James takes over, he gets his role players involved and the team as a whole turns in a more complete game.
On nights where James does not show up, nobody else does either.
After last night’s game, the Cavs are suddenly a team where everything is going wrong. The superstar is not performing. The role players are not performing. The coach does not seem to have an answer.
So what exactly is going on with a team that dominated the regular season? Why are they suddenly in so much trouble?
As mentioned, James disappeared in Game 5, and so did the rest of his team. Why James did not play anywhere near his superstar potential is a difficult question to answer.
Maybe the elbow is bothering him. Maybe he does not know how to dominate a game when he has an off shooting night. Maybe he was trying to teach his team a lesson. Maybe he really does not have that killer instinct; never forget that last year against Orlando he passed up on taking a possibly game winning lay-up by kicking the ball out to the perimeter.
It could be anything. But there is enough analysis on James alone.
What about the rest of the team?
The Cavaliers minus James is an interesting group. Sometimes they are great role players who should be able to help James to his first championship. Sometimes they are not anywhere near good enough, and they do not give James enough help.
Either way, they are a distant second to James. And it may be affecting the team mentality. Let us face it, even when the Cavs play like a team, it is 90 percent James and 10 percent everyone else. Nobody on that roster is there to be a star; they are just playing to help James.
With all the talk of James possibly leaving town, maybe playing for him is not enough inspiration for the rest of the Cavaliers. James checking out of the game last night could not have helped.
This is not exactly a great attitude, as a ring for James would also be a ring for them, and if James is on his way out this may be their only opportunity.
Even so, there has been talk in articles in Cleveland’s Plain Dealer of discord on the team. Rotations and minutes have been changed and switched around. They are not winning, and there is a lot of pressure to do so. It is creating tension and frustration among the players.
And that’s translating on the court.
When James was not hitting his shots in Game 5, the rest of the team fell apart. It was clear from the expressions of the Cavaliers’ players on the bench; they knew they weren’t even in this game.
On teams like the Lakers, Celtics or Magic, when one superstar is having an off night, the rest of the team knows they need to step up and play hard.
Case in point—Rajon Rondo. He hasn’t been considered one of Boston’s major superstars, but he played like one in Game 4, a night where Paul Pierce struggled mightily and Ray Allen was a little less than stellar.
Perhaps it is unfair to compare Rondo with Mo Williams, but it would not be unfair to ask players to step up.
The problem is the role players do not seem to know they should.
And Coach Mike Brown is not telling them they should. Instead, he keeps looking to James, waiting for him to flip the switch.
In Cleveland, James is not showing up every night. The rest of the team still does not know their role, or simply lacks the talent to help James. Knowing their star may have one foot out the door; the team may be feeling less than inspired to play their hearts out for him.
The Cavaliers may still win this series, but they will have to change the way they play if they want to get any further.
Let us not forget to congratulate the Celtics on how they have played. This team has stepped up. Before this series, they were pegged for the Old Folks Home, not the Semifinals. When the Celtic’s are clicking on all cylinders, they are a very fun team to watch, and they give you great basketball. If they move on or if they are eliminated by the Cavaliers, at least their fight gave us an interesting and compelling series to watch in a postseason that has featured numerous sweeps.