Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Air Booby

The more we put him out there, the more it seemed like his composure was off the charts for a young guy because he's not a four-year rookie from college. Every time we put him on the floor, he showed that. He has been no different in the playoffs.
-Coach Mike Brown, on Daniel "Booby" Gibson

Wow. That pretty much sums it up for me, just wow. Daniel Gibson came out in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals like a man with a vendetta to pay. I knew he was fully capable of filling in for Hughes at point guard, but nobody expected him to explode like that, in what was essentially a must-win for the Cavs. Over 35 minutes (only Sasha and LeBron played more), Gibson posted 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 21 points on 4-7 shooting, while going a perfect 12-12 on free throws.

Booby transcended his forme
r role as a three-point shooter by playing stellar defense (against his idol, Billups, no less) and clutch, physical basketball. Despite his lack of size on the floor, Gibson threw himself in the middle of the rebounding scrums and hounded the Pistons offense every chance he got. As his confidence grew, Gibson started to catch the Pistons off-guard by driving straight into the teeth of the defense. While not able to finish like LeBron, Gibson compensated by drawing frequent fouls driving through the lane. The Pistons had no answer for Booby as he racked up 12 points on fouls alone. He might not have sniffed a double-double, but watching him hustle like a maniac and constantly disrupt or create plays, I came away very, very impressed.

I really think Coach Brown made the
right decision in riding Gibson to a win, while resting Hughes. Hughes started to show some wear as early as the first quarter and would have been limited in how he could contribute to the team. Did Hughes' injury change the outcome of the game? Maybe. Coach Brown certainly didn't make his decision blind; Gibson has shown maturity and skill all season, but Brown was also forced to play his hand with a hobbled Hughes. This time, it worked out for the better, even if there was a risk going in (as always, hindsight is 20-20). The Cavs are in a fortunate situation, in that the starting point guard is healthy enough to step in for a few minutes to provide a veteran presence, but just injured enough that Gibson will see significant minutes in the games ahead. As harsh as it may sound, I think Hughes resting is a case of addition by subtraction.

The glaring roadblock for the Cavs this series has been the 3rd quarter. If you subtract the 3rd quarter from each game so far, the Cavs would have swept the series by now. Detroit has outscored the Cavs 87-58 in the 3rd quarter through their four games, a 33% differential. I'm hesitant to say that the coaching staff has pin-pointed the issue, otherwise it wouldn't have happened in four straight games, but if the team wants any chance at all of winning in Detroit, they will have to play a complete game. All James had to say after yet another collapse in Game 4 was "we need to clean it up." Coach Brown is going to have to find a way to get across to his players that they need to maintain their intensity level leaving the locker room at half time or they will never command a game in the playoffs.

It's all or nothing at this point. In order for us to win, I have to play this way. I have to be aggressive.
-LeBron James, following the Cavs Game 3 win over Detroit

When I read the above quote in the Plain Dealer after Game 3, I knew LeBron was ready. Ready to lead, ready to tear through the defense, ready to electrify the Q, ready to quiet the critics, and ready to win. Hearing LeBron endorse an aggressive style of play again was almost as encouraging as actually winning Game 3. The Cavaliers are 10-0 in the playoffs when James scores at least 21 points and his lack of production against Detroit was sinking the Cavs late in games. James has stepped up his game, scoring 12 and 13 points in the 4th quarter of Games 3 and 4, respectively. James raised his production against Detroit from 29 points in Games 1 and 2 combined to 32 in Game 3 and 25 tonight. He accomplished this by doing what he does best; driving to the hoop and playing aggressive basketball.

James' commanding style of play has a psychological impact on the game as well. The Cavs seem to ebb and flow along with James' energy level. The team seems to play with an extra boost of energy after LeBron jams one home after a breakaway. The bench rises up with the crowd and the opponent's armor is breached, if only for a moment. On the road, there is nothing more deflating for a raucous crowd than a slam dunk by the visitors to regain the lead. Game 4 is a perfect example of how basketball can be both beautiful and frustrating, all in a span of three minutes. The game is constantly flowing, each team surging towards the finish like a tidal wave. Momentum can be stolen in an instant, changing dead silence to a booming chant of Lets Go, Cavs!

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