Monday, May 21, 2007

Defense Impressive, but Offense Chokes

The game was won, all they had to do was hold on. All they needed were a few stops and a few inside feeds to the big guys who had been producing all game. That's it. But of course, things are never that easy and the Cavs lost a game, at Detroit, that will likely come back to haunt them.

Two things led to the downfall of the Cavs: the first was Lebron being held to only 10 points on 5-15 shooting. In an otherwise solid performance (11 reb, 9 ast, 4 stl), Lebron couldn't give the team the extra points it so desperately needed. Detroit's defense hounded James every time he got the ball, making it especially difficult for him to penetrate inside without getting several hands on the ball on the way there. The result was many broken plays that would have resulted in easy layups or turn-around jumpers against a lesser defense.

The second was the poor shooting percentages both at the line and in play. The most maddening, inexcusable, despicable part of losing a close game like this, is that nagging chink in the Cavalier's armor: free throws. Yes, the one shot you would hope a professional basketball player would be able to make nearly every time he's at the line had a fair hand in the Cavs loss tonight. The Cavs offense was anemic in general with 37.2% shooting, but only 64.7% of free throws made as a team.

Down by two, Cleveland missed their first shot in the last seconds of the game, but got the offensive rebound and a second chance to tie it up. Rather than go for a high percentage shot and force overtime, Lebron kicked it out to an open Donyell Marshall who missed the three and essentially ended the game. I'm guessing the team's poor free throw shooting had something to do with the decision not to drive to the basket and face an almost certain foul by Detroit. This is one of those hindsight calls that fans will be second guessing for the rest of the playoffs and then some.

There were some positive signs, despite the crushing manner in which the Cavs erased all their hard work. The Cavs had the right idea from the start and gave Big Z and Wild Thing plenty of opportunities on offense. The two big men took advantage of their time with the ball, finishing with 22 and 13 points respectively (the top two scorers on the team). Ilgauskas looked as sharp as he has been in the playoffs, racking up 13 rebounds, tipping in shots at the rim, and setting the net on fire late in the game. Likewise, Varejeo created havoc on the floor, playing 27 minutes and hustling every one of them. It seemed like every time there was a play for a rebound or a turnover, Varejeo was in on the play. If Z and Varejeo can combine their high level of play with a "normal" performance from Lebron, the Cavs have a very good chance of winning the next game.

Game 1 of the Conference Finals is the best I've seen the defense play in any playoff game this year. There was no quit in the Cavs tonight, but unfortunately their lack of a consistent offense and Lebron's inability to raise his game in the face of a tough opponent resulted in a loss.

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