Justice Is Served

May 9, 2010 8:04 PM

Ugly display brings Cavaliers home in despair


Now, it's a best-of-three series.

So, how did LeBron James and the Cavaliers get there?

They were ahead in games, 2-1, and then they played Sunday as if winning and advancing were a foregone outcome. They underestimated the resolve of the Celtics, an aging team with a storied history - a history that wouldn't allow Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo or anybody else in kelly green not to persevere.

And persevere the Celtics did Sunday in Boston, putting more energy into winning than James and the Cavaliers did. Theirs was an utterly carelessness and unkempt performance, a performance so sloppy that it didn't befit a team with claims of contending for an NBA title.

Titles aren't won with displays like the Cavs produced on the road. At times, they kicked the basketball around as if on the pitch of World Cup venue. The James Gang played the sort of loose defense that would anger the coach of a bad middle-school team.

None of it pleased coach Mike Brown. Looking ahead to Game 5, he is still waiting for somebody to slow Rondo, who is playing with the temerity of a great Celtic from an earlier era. Brown sounded puzzled that Rondo grabbed 18 rebounds.

Eighteen rebounds for a smallish point guard like Rondo? How does that happen? How can it happen?

OK, Rondo's been unstoppable in this series; he'll likely be so until this series ends. Let that be understood. But Brown's Cavaliers might still have eked out a victory Sunday had they done a decent job of handling Tony Allen.

Tony who?

Ray Allen, right?

No, Tony Allen ... that quintessential role player. He came off the Celtics bench and displayed more hustle than Delonte West, J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varajeo and Anthony Parker combined. Allen even outhustled James himself, a rare thing to saddle on the best player in basketball.

James didn't have a vintage, King James-like performance (seven turnovers, ugh!). His play resembled what he had done in Game 3 in no discernible way. In this 97-87 loss, he never grabbed the reigns and controlled play with his powerful hands. At times late in the game Sunday, he proved timid, something unseen in him during Game 3.

It was an unremarkable game - for James and his teammates. The Cavaliers had a chance to return home Tuesday with a ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals all but assured. They wasted that opportunity.

Theirs won't be an easy trek to the next round now. That fact seems clear as fresh air. Each adjustment Brown has made in his strategy, Celtics coach Doc Rivers has devised a counter, which explains why this series is deadlocked at 2-2.

For Game 5, Brown needs to adjust again. He might not have anything on his clipboard that can tell him how to contain Rondo, but Brown must look to it for answers on how to keep Tony Allen from playing like a clone of Karl Malone.

All of that is necessary; all of it is an airtight formula that will help Brown's Cavs. Yet what will help them more is for LeBron James to play with the swagger and the verve he showed in the two games the Cavaliers have won.

A redo of Game 3 would be fine. A redo of Game 4 would send the Cavs back to Boston with their theme of "One Goal" in tatters.

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