I didn't think game one of the Eastern Conference Finals could live up to what we saw last night, and for the first two quarters I thought I was right.
That was until Orlando woke up and started giving it to the Cavs, culminating in one of the better conference final games I've ever seen.
Here are some thoughts I had (too big for tweets... plus after eight texts in five minutes that shit can start to get annoying *cough* BILL SIMMONS *cough*... and hopefully, smaller in scope than last night madman rantings):
Most call him Michael Pietrus, I call him "The LeBron Stopper"
OK, nobody will ever live up to the ridiculous "Kobe Stopper" nickname that Rueben Patterson gave himself, but still, it's got a ring to it.
Anyway, Pietrus (as well as Anthony Johnson on a couple possessions) played incredible defense on LeBron who, up until the fourth, was having maybe the best playoff game in NBA history.
A lot of that should be credited to Pietrus who was about the only Orlando player that didnt look totally terrified of taking a charge on Bron Bron.
Cavs Have a Major Problem as Playoffs Progress
They were terrible offensively at the end of the game, and here's why: their late game offense is as follows: give 'Bron the ball, guards spot up in corners, watch and repeat.
While this may work sometimes, I just don't think it's a reliable end of game offense to run when you absolutely need a bucket, and we saw this when West made one three off a LeBron drive but then missed the final one that would have put the game away.
A good comparison is Boston, who generally plays final possessions in tight games better than anyone. They have a Pierce isolation option at the elbow, but then they also run Allen off of screens, or can have Rondo go to the bucket.
Honestly, if I were Mike James I might consider putting the rock in Mo Williams's hands a little more down the stretch, and seeing if he can break down Rafer (which he seemed to be capable of all night) and then getting the ball to LeBron as the defense collapses.
This is because most of his easy, monster dunks come when he is cutting off the ball as opposed to going 1-on-5.
The Matchup Issue
Frankly, the Magic did very little to exploit the awful matchup problems the Cavs have when on defense, especially in the first half (which Chuck pointed out at halftime).
Varejao has no business guarding Lewis, and he can't for that matter, as we saw on the game winning shot. West is too small for Turkoglu, which interestingly enough didn't play out in Hedo's scoring,(because he's uncomfortable exploiting the mismatch in the post) but instead in the passing game where, playing a sort of point-forward, he repeatedly threw the ball easily over West for wide open Howard dunks.
Hedo, after all, had an astonishing (for him) 14 assists. Yes, LeBron playing Alston early allowed him to cheat off Rafer and get some amazing blocks from the help side, but in the end he had to switch onto Turkoglu in order to stop the bleeding, thus expending more of his precious energy.
On a side note, Alston really needs to take LeBron off the dribble if he's guarding him, and then dish when he draws the second defender. Alston sort of gave up that attack after his layup got stuffed by 'Bron in the third quarter. However, Hedo picked up the slack and forced the switch anyway.
Furthermore, Z just can't guard or box out Howard, nor can he defend the pick and roll at the top of the key. Offensively, exploiting these mismatches is what brought the magic back into the game and what will make or break the rest of the series for them.
Their easy second half scoring also tempered the Cavs' transition game and thus helped their defense dig in.
Van Gundy made some great adjustments at halftime I have to say. And playing Pietrus (who is really looking like a baller all of sudden), Gortat and AJ when he did really paid off.
I think that the officiating from this game was way worse than last night's game between the Nuggets and Lakers. Literally, Howard committed an ACTUAL foul on 2 of his 6 fouls, AT MOST. The first offensive was very iffy, but let's say arguable. The second was a joke, and almost looked like they meant to call a travel but had a brain cramp and forgot the word for traveling and so they just called a phantom foul instead.
The third involved LeBron tripping on a spin move past Pietrus and falling into Howard who was standing still. The fifth was a clean block where Howard "brought his hands down on the ball" over LeBron.
Of course, when LeBron did that in the first half and actually made contact there was no call. And the sixth was just blatantly bogus, with Howard jumping straight up in the air and LeBron getting bailed out.
On the other end, Mo Williams picked up three inexplicable fouls in 10 seconds, putting the Magic in the penalty well before they deserved to be there.
Here's an interesting thought about NBA officiating. What if they called the entire game like they call the fourth quarters?In other words, they let the flow of the game continue, in place of calling ticky tack fouls, bailing out off balance penetration, and giving players unnecessary personals—kinda like they do at the end of games when all of a sudden the game becomes really fun to watch because the officials aren't dictating the flow of the action.
Why should that only happen at the end of games, and why should officiating change based on the score and clock anyway? Who knows—let's just blame David Stern again and call it a night. That always makes me happy.
Another thing that makes me happy are incredible NBA playoff games and both conference finals series have delivered. I actually jumped up, pumped my fist several times, and yelled (indirectly I'll admit) in Varejao's face (drawing a smirk from my girlfriend, who was reading the fourth Twilight book on the couch next to me—my turn to smirk) when Rashard hit that money three to win it.
Cavs Have a Better Chance to Win Than Lakers Do
Despite all the issues that the Cavs have matchup wise on defense, and "LeBron-watching" wise on offense, I still think they have a better chance of winning this series than the Lakers theirs.
In close games, the Cavs (the better team talent-wise) have about a 50 percent chance of winning because of their aforementioned problems, but (as we saw in the first half) they are very capable of blowing the Magic out, especially at home.
They are just too good as a team when everything is clicking and they are moving the ball and running. And their crowd (when it doesn't fall asleep, seriously, that third quarter was embarrassing for Cleveland fans) is a huge factor in home games.
I'm thinking the Cavs win the rest of their home games in this series (two of the three by a healthy margin) and then play three close games in Orlando, stealing one of the three(they are not gonna ever be blown out in this series, not with LeBron able to take over at any time).
So I still think Cavs in seven (I'll be rooting for the Magic every game of course) but it could come down to an incredible game six in Orlando if they are down 2-3 at that point...which would really be scary for LeBron and Co.
Of course, it never goes down how we think it will, and that's why these games are so fun to watch.
Why I Dislike LeBron—Sometimes
I dislike him sometimes because every defender that's ever guarded him refuses to hammer him in the lane or take a charge when he's coming full speed for a dunk (yeah I know how bad it would hurt), but I gotta hand it to LeBron who (except for that flop on Pietrus's offensive foul) played an incredibly physical, competitive, emotional game for every second he was on the floor.
When he gets the full killer instinct at the end of games (and he's almost, almost there) he will be by far the greatest to ever play the game, and I will be able to say I saw him come into his own. Which is amazing.
Can't wait for tomorrow night. Thinking about getting a K-Mart kissy lips tattoo to commemorate my excitement—wait, no I'm not.