Game Report: Celts Survive Scare to Advance
The Celtics got a serious late scare Sunday, but remained undefeated on their home court as they finally dispatched a pesky Cavs team, taking Game Seven 97-92.
Cleveland, the defending Eastern Conference Champions, was not really given much of a chance to get back to the Eastern Finals by most, but a tremendous defensive effort kept this team in this series and allowed the Cavs to take Boston to the brink.
Of course, the fact that Boston still hasn’t won a road game in the playoffs sure helps, doesn’t it?
Boston jumped out to a nice lead early, courtesy of a 12-0 run. But Cleveland burst right back with its own 9-0 run. Celts led by five, 18-13, at the end of one, with both teams shooting like crap. It looked like we had another defensive tussle on our hands. Super.
Yet again, Ray Allen was a non-factor, finishing 1-for-6 for four points and finding himself mired to the bench for much of the fourth quarter. Allen continued his ridiculously amazing free throw shooting – he’s now 32-for-33 (97 per cent) in the playoffs to lead the NBA – but he’s simply been unable to find his range from the floor in the postseason.
While he enjoyed a nice effort in Game Four against Atlanta, Ray Ray has been almost invisible otherwise. Without him, Boston is going to be in big trouble against a well-rested Detroit team in the Eastern Finals.
Paul Pierce looked determined to match LeBron James shot for shot Sunday, and he almost did. Pierce hasn’t actually been that much better than Allen in the playoffs, but he has enjoyed a few fine games. Sunday, however, he came out like gangbusters, sinking 4-of-8 for nine points in the opening quarter, and The Truth kept canning them, going 13-for-23 overall for 41 points – his finest game of the postseason at the most opportune time.
He sunk four treys, dished five dimes and picked up a couple of steals. Pierce’s offensive heroics were definitely needed with both Allen and Kevin Garnett (to a lesser extent) struggling. While KG pulled down 13 rebounds en route to his third double-double in the past four games, he wasn’t sharp from the field, sinking just 5-of-13 for 13 points.
Pierce’s explosion also helped offset that monster James game the Celts have feared was coming. King James nailed 14-of-29 shots for 45 points, and after a sluggish start to the series, LeBron really turned it on over the final three games, but it was not enough.
As per his claim, LeBron James and the Cavs never appeared desperate as they whittled the Celtic lead to three points late, but Boston was able to thwart the upstarts, setting up the Eastern Conference final against Detroit that seemingly the whole world has been projecting for months.
For Boston, Rajon Rondo’s shooting troubles continued, as he went just 5-for-16 over the final two games after stringing together solid efforts in both Game Four and Five. On the plus side, Rondo helped out across the board with eight assists, eight rebounds, a steal and even a block. This kid is maturing into a fine point guard before our eyes, averaging 6.5 APG during the playoffs. I don’t like his chances going head-to-head against Chauncey Billups in the next round, but the beauty of the Boston attack is that it does not rely strictly on Rondo as a facilitator.
Unsung hero of the day for Boston: P.J. Brown. The veteran stepped up when the Celts needed it down the stretch, with ten points, six boards, a steal and an assist. But the rare scoring burst only told a fraction of the tale, as Brown turned in several hustle plays, including a huge tip to keep a drive alive late.
Cleveland’s lack of secondary scoring doomed the team again. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who came up big against the Wizards and was so good in the first two games in Boston, disappeared again. He went just 2-for-8 for eight points with just one block. And unlike Friday, when at least he played a key role on the glass, Sunday he managed just five boards. To his credit, Big Z was giving it his all, diving on the floor to force a jump ball with a minute to play. Still, 10-for-34 shooting for the past four games is not what the Cavs were counting on from their big man.
Delonte West continued to impress me, sinking 4-of-8, including two treys, for 15 points with five assists and a steal. I was very down on West, believing he just didn’t have what it took to be a one, while perhaps lacking the shooting touch to play the two guard spot. Clearly, he was lost in Seattle, a team so desperate for a point guard. But in Cleveland, where he is not expected to be the primary ball handler because James will carry that load, he’s found a home and surprised me with his steady play. The key for West has been his aggressiveness, as he’s doing a superb job of getting to the line. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s sinking 85 per cent of his freebies, either. If you’re looking for a 2008-09 sleeper, add West to your list.