Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Boston 104, Cleveland 86
; series tied, 1-1

The Boston Celtics are gaining more and more momentum with every passing game, picking up speed with a set rotation of healthy players that are cognizant of their station, and the team's offensive execution has picked up.

But with all that in Boston's back pocket, I can't help but slam the Cavs. This team is just wandering, looking for inspiration. They're playing with a sense of entitlement that seems a bit odd when you consider the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers have yet to win a title. Not only are the Cavs letting their opponents dictate the terms of competition, they're taking plays off.

And I've got news for Cleveland. There are eight teams left. None of them can take plays off, on either end, and survive. Even the team with the most regular-season wins.

It really does come down to effort. Because while Boston was lauded for its defensive effort in the team's Game 2 win, Cleveland's defense deserves as much scrutiny as Boston's defense (or offense) deserves plaudits. The Cavaliers were constantly losing Celtics on screens, back-screens, screen and roll ... any kind of movement, really. Cleveland knows what it is doing, mind you, so Mike Brown's crew is not exactly new to this defensive thing, or averse to dominating on that end. They know better.

They just had to bring the effort. And in Game 2, the Cavs declined. And because we're done with the regular season, and done with a should-be lottery participant in the Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers are going to have to learn how to earn wins again, instead of just backing into them.

Boston was fantastic. It overcame a series of terrible calls to work what isn't an option-rich offense on paper into becoming an option-rich offense on the court. Rajon Rondo(notes) was active without having to dominate the rock, Ray Allen(notes) developed all sorts of cross matches and confusion with his work off screens (the Cavs just didn't talk, at all; it was clear through the TV screen), Rasheed Wallace(notes) played terrific defense and even came out nailing perimeter looks after a solid post-up jumper started his night.

When Rasheed nailed his second 3-pointer of the game, making his third straight shot to start the evening, I swear you could hear all the laptops on press row pop right open, as everyone began their column for the night. He then topped that with a nice post-up score on J.J. Hickson(notes).

And Paul Pierce(notes)? Well, Paul Pierce is struggling: Forty percent on the season against Cleveland, struggled against them last season, and 33 percent shooting in this series after a 4-10 night on Monday. He's forcing LeBron James(notes) to guard him, though, which is enough.

James had a poor defensive night. He was constantly out of place on that end, including some of Pierce's makes, and though he changed (or persuaded opponents not to shoot) shots and blocked a pair of looks, James was a problem on that end.

And he was a huge problem on the offensive end.

James wandered. He missed some looks on the interior that he usually follows through on, he wasn't committed to working within the flow of the Cleveland offense and that comes down to effort. That comes down to wanting to make an impact, and could you really point to a time (save for a furious Cleveland rush toward the middle of the fourth quarter) where you really saw James looking to make this game his own?

Even down the stretch with his ears perked, James just didn't have it. Missed shots, poor rotations, missed free throws.

If James is hurting, he needs to let his team know, and the Cavs have to find a way to work around it. He has to be honest about his limitations.

And if he can play though this pain? If he can dominate with it, as was the case late in Game 1? Then he needs to get to dominating. Because while this is the best supporting cast he's ever head, this is still a beatable supporting cast. I don't care if Mike Brown is botching the rotations, the lineups and minutes allotments. He can do better.

His whole team can, as well. Miserable showing from Cleveland.

And, man, I'm telling you -- Boston thinks it can win it all. That's never gone away. And when you pair that up against a team that thinks it's about to be handed a championship? Dangerous stuff.

***

Phoenix 111, San Antonio 102; Suns lead series, 1-0

A terrific little game that highlighted the increasing attention the Phoenix Suns are paying to the defensive end. This team knows how to close out, nowadays, and that's a moving gesture to take in. Especially while the Suns offense remains nearly as potent as ever.

Especially while Jason Richardson(notes) (27 points) enjoys the finest month of his life, and Steve Nash(notes) (33 points, 10 assists) is seemingly always able to get a lay-up whenever he feels like it.

Nash destroyed George Hill(notes) at the start of this one, which allowed Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to come with Tony Parker(notes) as a starter in the second half, a move that somewhat slowed Phoenix's roll. Parker still watched as Nash put up 12 points and five assists in the second half, but it was an improvement over Hill, and Parker likely played himself back into the starting lineup.

Twenty-six points on 21 shots for Tony, who couldn't hit from the perimeter down the stretch. Manu Ginobili(notes) was firing away in that second half, but in the end his 27 points on 9-20 shooting wasn't all that bad. Tim Duncan(notes)? Had a superb box-score game (20 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, four assists), but his weak-side defense was truly lacking. Not sure if this observation is relative to his usual play on that end or just how it's supposed to be for all big men.

Twenty-three points and 13 rebounds for Amar'e Stoudemire(notes), who did struggle at times with Duncan's one-on-one defense. The Phoenix bench played well, though Channing Frye(notes) was clearly quite nervous, especially in the second half as San Antonio worked its comeback.

First blood for the Suns, though, and that's significant. The Spurs have a way of breaking your heart, early, and Phoenix was having none of that on Monday. Good to see.

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