Three weeks ago, I was hungrily looking forward to 40 playoff games in 40 nights. There’s nothing better than seeing the best players in the world night after night, pushing themselves to new levels of hoop.
It wasn’t always fun following a league that is only sprinkled with players who bring it every night—a league that forces you to watch bottom-feeding teams like the Warriors and the Timberwolves for six months, just so you can get to know players that might get traded to a contender.
But when the playoffs finally roll around, I know I am going to see the best basketball on earth. Toss in a daily serving of Barkley and I am stoked beyond recognition.
Three weeks ago, I was slobbering over a Western Conference more stacked than Christina Hendricks and an Eastern Conference with Shaqobe levels of bad blood between its top teams.
So what happened?
Luckily for us, this series has enough storylines and significance to keep us on the edge of our seats. After Game Five, in which the C’s balanced attack dismantled and frustrated the Cleveland LeBrons, my mind is teeming with questions.
Let’s start with LeBron, who has gone from the most indestructible player this side of Dwight Howard to a player who causes us to yet again wonder “Does he have it in him?” Throughout the series, BronBron has oscillated wildly between pedestrian and spectacular.
The Akron Hammer is leading the Cavs in points, rebounds, and assists (27-7.5-6.6), but he’s failed to score more than 25 points in the three Cavs losses, and hasn’t notched double digit assists all series.
In Game Five, he looked like a highly touted high school sophomore playing a team full of seniors looking to make one last run at a state title.
Multiple NBA championships once appeared to be LeBron’s birthright, but pressure is mounting in his sixth season. A damaged elbow isn’t helping much, but no one knows how much it’s hindering James’s game.
What’s more troubling, he seems to have a sprained hippocampus. The creativity, flair, and ferocity were all but drained from his fantastic physique in Game Five.
If he can’t receive the ball while moving at full speed, or doesn’t start posting up and punishing the much slighter Tony Allen in the paint, many wonder if this series will be his last as a Cavalier.
One thing’s for sure: The uncertainty is killing Cavs fans desperate for a title. The stress of LeBron’s potential departure even produced a smattering of boos from the crowd, just when the Cavs needed their encouragement to mount a last ditch comeback.
Now, I still believe LeBron is the best player in the NBA by a wide margin, but he hasn’t been the most important player in this series. That honor belongs to Rajon Rondo.
Rondo has eviscerated the Cavs porous perimeter defense, putting up eye-popping numbers throughout the series (21 PTS 12 AST 7 REB per game). So far, the Cavs have yet to find the right combination of on-ball and help defense to slow him down.
Part of this is due to the Cavs' mistaken tactic of backing off Rondo because he can’t shoot. The unintended effect is that this allows him to see the court clearly and dribble all over the court uninhibited.
Part of this is because Rondo is too crafty and quick for the Cavaliers to corral.
Neither star has claimed control of the series. In fact, they have played well in the same game only once. Not surprisingly, Game One was also the only game that wasn’t a double digit decision.
The story in Game Five was the throwback play of the Celtics' Big Three. It was shades of 2008 as KG carried them in the first quarter, Pierce in the second, while Allen and Rondo blew the game open in the third quarter.
Will this resurgence be enough to not only eliminate the Cavaliers, but return to the finals? My money is still on Orlando, no matter who wins this series. But remember: "Anything is possibaaaaall!"
The proud but aging Celtics are trying to make one last championship run on legs that may not be as springy as in years past, but know the path to success well. Led by their youngest starter, the old vets found ways to complement a player whose role was to set them up in 2008.
Meanwhile, the Cavalier role players have only played well when James does. That’s not going to be good enough to win a championship, or this series. At some point, Antawn Jamison or Mo Williams is going to have to get the Cavs going when LeBron isn’t firing on all cylinders.
With their backs to the wall, we will find out exactly what Mike Brown, LeBron James, and his backup singers are made of.
Will LeBron show he’s capable of the intensity necessary to dominate two more games? He certainly has the game, but does he have the will, and the force of personality, to demoralize a Celtic club that smells blood in the water?
Will Mike Brown remove his head from his behind and realize that Shaq is killing his team's defense and clogging the lane on offense? Will Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams justify the buzz that surrounded them when they first joined the team?
Have the Celtics found the form and nastiness necessary to win another title?
If I get my way, this will go seven. It’s been a close series that has featured no close games. The series still has the chance to be an all-time classic, however, if the last two games live up to their potential.
With this in mind, I’ll be rooting wholeheartedly for the Cavaliers in Game Six, and both teams to bring it in Game Seven.
This may be my dream, but it’s also why we love the playoffs in the first place: two teams with bad blood pushing each other to the undiscovered heights of intensity and execution. After following the NBA for seven months, I think we deserve it.